Charosa makes a splash in the Indian wine market
The name Charosa invokes images of the Italian countryside - soft hills lined with rows of vines, medieval houses; valleys dotted with dark green cypresses and olive trees. What sounds Italian is actually Indian. Charosa Vineyards, located in the Nashik valley northeast of Mumbai, added its name to the list of vineyards on the subcontinent.
Recently the management introduced its wines to culinary experts and journalists in Goa. I left this wine tasting with mixed emotions. Two wines really excited me, several disappointed me, but overall I was impressed with the event.
Although the one million plus of Goa’s population is tiny compared to the more than 1.2 billions of the total Indian population, Goa’s wine market makes up about 20 percent of the national market. That means every fifth bottle of wine in India is sold in Goa. For this reason, Charosa Vineyards deigned Goa fit for a presentation of its brand new wines.
While perusing the glamorous press kit, I remembered when I started to live in India. The year was 1994 and it was impossible to find a good bottle of Indian wine. Marquise de Pompadour, a sparkling wine, was the only national brand worth buying. If you were lucky, the cork really popped. If not, you were left with a flat brew resembling white wine.
If memory serves right, in 1997 Grover vineyards delivered its wine in Goa and a new era started for us. We said good-bye to the insipid Kingfisher beer and began to indulge in wine – not too much because Grover charged 500 Rs per bottle even then. In 2000, Sula wines destroyed Grover’s monopole. Since then, many vineyards have opened and wine lovers all over India can rejoice.
The youngest player in this blooming industry, Charosa vineyards, dwarfs the rest of the competition. Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a giant that constructed the sea link in Mumbai, owns these vineyards. HCC’s boss Ajit Gulabchand invested more than 100 crore Rs in the wine bowl of Nashik district in Maharashtra. 230 acres, not yet fully developed, make Charosa vineyards the biggest in India. A five-star-resort with a Tuscan look will be added to the vineyards.
The goals of the company are equally huge. According to undisclosed sources, over the next three years the company intends to be the market leader in super premium and premium wine. “We want to create wines that compete in the international market”, said Parag Kamat, chief operating officer at the wine tasting. For sure, the prices of Charosa wines place them into the premium segment. The company introduced seven different wines at the event with the cheapest, Pleasures Sauvignon Blanc, demanding 600 Rs per bottle.
For me, the highlight of the varieties was the Charosa Selections Viognier, a wonderfully luscious white wine with the distinct aroma of apricots and a bit of cinnamon. I am not a wine expert and I cannot stand the way of experts describing wines in all kinds of fruity flavours. After all, wine is made from grapes and grapes taste like grapes, not chocolate or tropical fruits. But apricot really applies to this wine. The viognier grape comes from the Rhône valley, an ancient grape brought to France by the Romans. 850 Rs for this bottle does not seem overprized to me. It requires a lot of skill to produce a good wine from these grapes. Obviously the investment has paid off for this variety.
Kamat said that Charosa vineyards, as the only Indian company, cool the grapes before turning them into juice to preserve the phenols, responsible for the taste. The company’s equipment comes from Italy. For winemaking expertise, Charosa settled on Australian expertise – in contrast to other Indian companies who prefer French and Italian viniculteurs.
So far, I think Charosa vineyards have produced some good quality wines. The second best for me was the Charosa Selections Sauvignon Blanc (850 Rs), a remarkably fruity white wine and the perfect companion for a great meal.
However, I was deeply disappointed by the two showpieces, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Reserve Tempranillo. Both wines, priced at 1700 Rs (!), tasted really rough. The press note promises well-balanced tannins but I beg to differ. I blame the new French oak barrels, used for maturing the wine, for the quite unpleasant taste. When my palate is left with a scent echoing an old cupboard, I cannot recommend a wine. I think currently fresh oak barrels are overrated. I believe these barrels need some time to lose their harsh taste.
I also have to express my concern here about the liberal use of the term reserve. Charosa vineyards call the wines reserve when they are aged for a mere 12 months. In the USA, wine makers use this term equally freely while in Europe reserve really means something. In Europe laws determine the amount of time a wine has to mature before it can carry the name reserve. The length of time differs according to region, but a reserve wine must be matured at least three years on average. A Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino Riserva must be aged for five years at least.
Although I don’t like Charosa’s red wines at the moment, in two or three years the situation might look completely different. Vallonné Vineyards, who sponsor my book launches, introduced merlot to the Indian market and immediately won a prize for it. I did not like this merlot at all in the beginning for similar reasons, far too many tannins and a quite unpleasant aftertaste. Some years after, the situation has changed completely and the merlot has turned into a really good red wine. Let’s wait and see what Charosa will present in the future.