The consistent winemaker

Sourish Bhattacharyya        Print Edition: November 15, 2009

Sourish Bhattacharyya
Sourish Bhattacharyya

It was ages back when I first met Rajeev Samant, the man behind Sula, on one of his early visits to Delhi, and I was struck by the fact that both he and his marketing manager, Adrian Pinto, had identical bald pates. Was it the dress code of the new entrant into India’s wine industry? Or was it the visual representation of a promise to deliver consistent quality?

Samant agreed with the second proposition after assuring me that he did not go around looking for bald men in the job market. It’s been eight years since our first meeting and after imbibing little too much of my favourite Sula, the easy-on-the-palate Sauvignon Blanc, which walks the tightrope between acidity and fruitiness with great finesse, I am happy to report Samant hasn’t gone back on his word.

Whenever I go out to eat Indian food, I like ordering Indian wines. Fortunately for wine drinkers, it’s no longer fashionable to ask for a Riviera or an Ivy—both have slipped precipitously, thanks to the desire of the Château Indage management to go mass at the expense of class. Grover has been delivering iffy wines of late, though I believe the company has got its act together and unveiled a truly exceptional Sauvignon Blanc. My all-time Grover favourite is the Viognier Clairette, an exceptional curryfriendly white wine that has never failed me. I’m not a great enthusiast of the wines that UB and Seagram — Bohemia and Nine Hills, respectively — are inflicting on the market, so when I want Indian wine, I can only think of Sula.

I like their Sauvignon Blanc because it is what I call a conversation wine—it’s not a blockbuster that gets critics excited, but it is great for good company. You can drink it at any time of the day with different kinds of food—I have had it with chicken pakoras and dal meat at the Embassy Restaurant in Connaught Place, New Delhi, and you can’t get more Punjabi than that. If a wine pairs well with the cuisine of a region that swears by chilled beer and Johnny Walker Black, it has to be a cracker.

Sula’s best, though, is the Dindori Reserve Shiraz, a voluptuous red wine with a hint of spices. Whenever I drink it, I mentally travel to Sula’s vineyards at a decrepit village named Dindori, whose access road, despite being in the much-industrialised Nashik district, is a back-breaker. I’ve been to the village, which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, where Sula’s team of agricultural scientists and chemists explained to me the intricacies of warm weather winemaking. The only other member of the audience was a mangy dog. And behind us was an advertisement for India’s poverty—a thatched hut housing a tribal family without visible possessions. What a setting for India’s incipient wine revolution!

I had my first Dindori Reserve Shiraz with Kolhapuri chicken cooked by Samant’s domestic at what was then his family home in the vineyards—now it has become a plush getaway for people taking a break from Mumbai. It was a marriage made in heaven. It’s very hard to get the wine in Delhi, but the last time I had it in the company of my colleagues, who’re gluttons for good wine, we paired it with chicken tandoori pizzas from Domino’s. We may have been pleasantly high, but let me assure you, there’s no better way to have a Dindori than with cheesy pizzas and, of course, chunky seekh kebabs.

Critics may turn up their nose at my suggestions, but isn’t wine meant to be enjoyed with good food and not analysed in deathless prose?

Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today

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