Bacchus, oh Bacchus, we worship thee…
Remember heading to Uncle So and So’s house and dreading that welcome drink, ‘Beti, why don’t you try my home made wine?’ White wine has always been given a bad rap, especially in India, since it often tastes like vinegar yet Sula was among the first to produce a globally accepted white wine and set the gold standard for Wine producing in India. CEO Rajeev Samant planted his first crop of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc in 1995-96 and sold their first sparkling wine in 2001. Today Sula is synonymous with not just wine producing, having made us proud with its award winning wines like Rasa Shiraz, but also the destination music festival SulaFest which has become an annual homage to Bacchus, the god of song and wine. Eventraveler is proud to partner with SulaFest 2016 (6-7th February 2016). Over the next few weeks, we’ll provide a guide to SulaFest and discuss this year’s line up but for now, here’s a quick primer on white wine to wet the nose…
While a sommelier might shake his head violently in disagreement, I have found that a good white wine is much harder to find than a good red primarily because most white wines are light, acidic and the clarification process- done only for white wines once the white must is pressed and before fermentation begins, requires a certain level of perfection. Removing any suspended solids such as soil or stem cleans the white must, this is critical to the aromatic quality of the wine. Insufficient clarification clouds the wine and excessive clarification slows down fermentation. At the end however, stating the obvious here, it is down to the quality of the grapes.
Old world wines are known by their region-the most apt example being Champagne, a region in France that produces the world’s best-known sparkling wine using the grape varietal Chardonnay, among others. Any other sparkling wine, produced around the world using the same grape would just be called Sparkling Wine using Chardonnay. So while it is often easy to tell the grape in a new world wine, the label is enough, old world wines require a practiced palette and an understanding of the region’s characteristics, the grape’s nuances. Again, this is where the whole debate of Terroir comes in, which we will leave for another day.
Chardonnay originated in Burgundy (France), a country renowned for its whites such as the Chabli and lesser known Montrachet- all made from the same grape. It is a green skinned grape and a popular varietal because of its adaptability in terms of climate, soil and methods of wine making. Consequently it is now produced in every major wine making region from New Zealand to India. Almost every new world grape growing country began with this varietal, as a way to cut their teeth as they say. It produces pleasant wines even under trying circumstances. Chardonnay is one of the key grape varietals used in the making of Champagne.
This is the second most popular grape varietal after the Chardonnay, for much the same reason- its adaptability. It is also a green skinned grape, originating from the Bordeaux region of France. This is a grape varietal indigenous to South West France and produces a crisp, dry, refreshing wine. Sula’s award winning Dindori Reserve Viognier is a perfect example.
This, the most famous of German varietals, is an aromatic grape and has a mineral palette. While it probably ranks low on popularity around the world in terms of yield, it is considered the third most important grape in terms of quality along with the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc. This produces wine that is known by its varietal rather than the region even in the Old World with the exception of Alsace. It is a white skinned grape, most commonly grown in cold regions. Sula’s Riesling is the perfect summer aperitif with hints of green apple, grapefruit and honey.
This is a white wine variety quite popular in India and is again French in origin, its birthplace being the Loire valley. It has a high natural acidity and can produce a whole range of palettes depending on the vintage and the ripeness. It is popular in California and South Africa where as it works well in hot climates; conducive to the dry Indian climates. Sula was the first to do a Chenin Blanc in India and it’s award winning semi dry makes for the perfect accompaniment to South East Asian cuisine.
Are you now you’re wondering what the Italians do for a white? The Italians, it must be said, are not big white wine drinkers. So much so much so that Trebbiano, a white varietal grown largely in Tuscany, was previously only known as an ingredient used in Chianti because of its relatively neutral taste. Its main use in France is in the distilling of Cognac and Armagnac. The most popular version of this grape is the Italian Terbbiano Toscano. Because it delivers high yields while retaining some acidity, the grape is used to blend wines all over the world.
This grape is a favorite in Australia where it is blended to create dry and sweet white wines. It is easy to cultivate and is responsible for the sweetness in Bordeaux. It is golden in color and resistant to most disease other than rot. Today Semillon is primarily grown in the Hunter Valley of Australia and is often blended with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
This little known varietal has been included because it’s the main ingredient of one of the most famous of the Italian whites called the Soave. This dry white wine, perfect with clams and mussels, is only produced in the Soave production zone of in the province of Verona and can produce high yields leading to a thin almost watery wine.
Reshma is our in-house wine connoisseur, by which she means- she knows how to drink wine and spent a lot of time in Italy researching wine for her novel Fade Into Red, published by Random House in 2014. As part of her research, she had the opportunity to interview Rajeev Samant for the Hindu Business Line.
Do check out part II of our guide to SulaFest!