Peaceful amid the piquant and robust aromas of west India

Peaceful amid the piquant and robust aromas of west India

Vineyard at sunrise in the village and mountains in Nasik, Maharashtra, India. Photos: Shutterstock

Vineyard at sunrise in the village and mountains in Nasik, Maharashtra, India. Photos: Shutterstock

Could Aikya be the next Prosecco? Or the new Cava?

Will we attain spiritual harmony at Christmas and soon be seeing every New Year with Indian sparkling wine?

Made by Birmingham-based Soul Tree Wine, owned by former Oxford University graduates Akol Mathur and Melvin Souza, Aikya (meaning oneness) is made at the Oakwood winery in Nashik, the wine capital of India.

It is only available outside of India.

Wine and wine tourism are growing more popular in India.

The first time I invoked Varuni, the 18-armed Indian goddess of wine, was 20 years ago in Goa by opening a bottle of John Bir Blue.

After regaining consciousness, I asked the deity to let me breathe. The next time I sampled Indian wine was on the Golden Triangle’s Palace on Wheels train. One mouthful made the train shudder, despite being stationary.

Much has changed. India now has wine bars and restaurant sommeliers have begun offering pairing suggestions and consulting tasting notes rather their insurance cover.

India now consumes over three million bottles of wine a year. The annual market is worth over £5m. Wine tours are available. Wine tourism is picking up. You can stay in luxury vineyard resorts like Soma Vine Village, surrounded by the Sahyadri ranges, and Garwar and Motewadi vineyards near Nashik. Weekends stays range from £75-£200 during the harvest.

Once India’s largest market place and famous for its wadas (courtyard houses), the Hindu holy city of Nashik, 200 kilometres from Mumbai and Pune, has over 30 mainly ‘boutique’ wineries. The Deccan plateau accounts for three-quarters of the country’s total wine production.

Approximately 10 million litres are produced a year. India grows more grapes than Australia. Most grapes in India are eaten fresh or sold as raisins. Out of a million tonnes of grapes, only 10,000 are made into wine. The UK market is worth £2m per year and is growing at 50-60per cent per year.

Maharashtra state’s pioneer wine producer is Sula and its picturesque vineyards on the Godavari river in the northwest of the state, a three-hour drive west of Mumbai, are the main stop on the Indian viticulture pilgrimage route. It holds a major wine and arts festival every February.

A beautiful view from Nandi Hills at sunrise.A beautiful view from Nandi Hills at sunrise.

You can stomp your own, listen to bands playing in the vineyard’s amphitheatre and have your feet massaged while eating chocolate in the Bourneville Lounge.

In the tasting-room and on its panoramic balcony, you learn from your wine guide that wine-making in India probably goes back over 5,000 years.

Temple paintings depict ancient binge drinking and toddy tapping. Early wine made from rice, palm barley and saffron calmed Kashmiri soldiers before combat.

Macedonians travelling with Alexander the Great probably propagated vines. The Portuguese introduced port to Goa. In Victorian times, the British established vineyards in the Baramati, Kashmir and Shirat regions.

One of the earliest Indian wines was made by Shaw Wallace, the first importers of cars into India. The company produced a Golconda wine from the Bangalore blue grape. Named after an ancient ruined city in south-central India, the fortified ruby wine (port) is still available.

Sula was founded in 1997 by Stanford University graduate, former Silicon Valley software engineer and self-proclaimed ‘wine evangelist’, Rajeev Samant.

The first grapes from the red, iron-rich soil of Dindori (a taluka or administrative district of Nashik) were crushed in 1999. Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel followed. The first Riesling came in 2008. Sula also produces Mosaic (a blend of Grenache and Syrah), a sparkling Brut as well as a dessert wine.

The Soma Vine Village, a 23-room, ultra-modern, spa-like complex overlooking Gangapur Lake, bills itself as ‘the perfect antidote for stressed-out city folk’.

India now consumes over three million bottles of wine a year. The annual market is worth over £5m

Yet another cork popped.

We nosed. “Our Dindori Reserve Viognier is a wonderful blend of fruit and minerality. The off dry wine has intense aromas of ripe apricot, peaches and white fruit on the nose complemented with a savoury medium mouth feel of tropical fruit and hints of stony minerality. It goes down exceedingly well with curry.”

Another must on the Indian wine trail is Chateau d’Ori vineyard at Nhera-Ori, 20 km from Nashik. As well as a state-of-the-art winery it has a four-bedroom farmhouse plus jacuzzi and pool which can be rented.

Bangalore blue grape.Bangalore blue grape.

Akluj, about 190 km southeast of Pune in Maharashtra’s sugar belt, boasts Fratelli. The Italian word for ‘brothers’ commemorates the collaboration of Andrea and Alessio Secci, Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and the Mohite-Patil brothers, Ranjitsinh and Arjunsinh.

Starting at £76, weekend and weekday overnight stays and tastings are available with a traditional Maharashtrian bonfire and cultural performance welcome and free use of the pool and ping pong tables. The signature red is Sette. The best white is Vitae. Master Tuscan winemaker Piero Frasi oversees.

Roti has Four Seasons Wines (United Spirits Limited) Baramati winery which is housed in an imitation French chateau.

Director and chief winemaker Abhay Kewadkar, who trained in Champagne, produces wines like Barrique Reserva Shiraz and Sauvignon. Special packages are available including harvest time stays (February-March) in which your hosts invited you to “surrender to gastronomic decadence”.

Grover Zampa at the foot of the Nandi Hills near Bangalore also holds a wine festival and jazz stomp in February.

But, for wine fans, all starts and ends at Sula.

We clinked glasses and said Kai Ho!, Indian for Cheers!

My tasting session and winespeak tutorial not quite over, I asked my guru what sula means. I learned it means ‘peaceful’.

It was exactly how I felt.

Amid the piquant and robust aromas of west India and vineyards of Maharashtra.

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