Bacchus, oh Bacchus, we worship thee…
There are hundreds of grape varieties worldwide and only a few of these have any real economic value. Wine grapes are of the Vitis Vinifera species and each is unique in their coloring, region, shape of leaves even down to the presence of tiny hair. They can be recognized by their distinct smell, such as the Muscat or by their color, like the Sangiovese. Grapes are partial to a region but some like the Syrah travel well and others like Nebbiolo fail. They have to be nurtured as per their characteristics and this is where the science of wine making makes a difference. Sula’s Dindori Shiraz is from the Syrah grape but the grape of that lively Beaujolais is alas not its namesake. It is the quintessential difference between the old world and the new world wines. Old world wines are known by their region, the most apt example being Chianti, the famous Tuscan red made from blending the Sangiovese grape with Merlot and Trebbiano. When Sangiovese travels, and it rarely travels far, it becomes an Indian Sangiovese wine, not Chianti; there can never be Indian Chianti. So while it is often easy to tell the grape in new world wines, you need to understand the region’s characteristics for the old world wine. That is when the whole debate of Terroir comes in, and the Dindori hills have their own special terroir, which we recommend you savor when you attend Sula Fest.
The following are some of the most well-known red wine grape varietals.
It’s everywhere and possibly the first wine you ever tasted. It’s a highly flexible product variety that is suitable on its own (varietal) or even as a blending wine to tame stronger, more tannic grapes like the Cabernet Sauvignon. It is best grown in the Bordeaux region of France, or so believe the conservatives. It can also be found in Switzerland’s Ticino, northern Italy, and southeast Europe. It is darkly blue and has a velvety plum flavor. It is a favorite of Indian producers as well. Sula’s Merlot Malbec is the perfect blend of two famous varietals and perhaps the vineyard’s most well known wine.
The most popular red wine grape, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is grown in almost every major wine producing country including India. A good cabernet will be deep red, smell of cedar oak and taste of blackcurrants. It has a bold structure and is the basis of the famous crus classes of the French Medoc. It is easy to cultivate because of its resistance to rot and frost and this very reason has made it one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. Aged in premium French oak barrels for over a year and then further matured in the bottle before release, Sula’s Rasa Cabernet is wonderful Cab.
This quintessential American favorite is the grape responsible for the famous red wines of the France’s Cot d’Or region. It is grown in Alsace, Austria, Switzerland, the northeast of Italy and Eastern Europe. It is a challenging grape variety for a grower since it is a low yielding grape that requires much attention during the vinification process.
Another grape with a French heritage and once widely planted in Bordeaux, this grape is now the mainstay of Argentina and is responsible for producing some interesting wines in recent years. It is used as a blending wine in Chile. It is a dark tannic variety that produces wine that ages well.
The base grape of the Tuscan Brunello, Chianti and Vino Nobile, Sangiovese, is the most widely planted red wine variety in Italy. The grapes ripen best in warm weather and are characterized by their lively acidity and delicate tannin stricture. While the Sangiovese is usually blended with Merlot to produce Chianti, it is the sole star in the Brunello and the Rosso di Brunello produced in the Montalcino region of Tuscany. While the grape does not travel well, it has managed to create a stir in California and has now arrived in India.
Gamay is the grape responsible for the charming and lively wine, Beaujolais. Its full name is Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc and is planted at a density of 3.600 to 4000 vines per acre. The grapes must be harvested by hand as they are fermented whole using Carbonic Maceration, which draws a lot of aroma compounds from the skins.
The greatest Italian red wine variety, Nebbiolo is grown on little more than 12,500 acres in Piedmont and Valtellina, Lombardy. It is responsible for the big red, Barolo, as well as the Barberesco and a few other D.O.C wines. It has enormous aging value and demands the very best sites or it will not ripen. It has also not performed well outside Italy.
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 I of our guide to SulaFest!