A friend of mine was over from India recently on a UK visit and happened to ask if there was anything that I’d like to be brought over. Of course, the first and only thing I thought of was a bottle of wine and, sure enough, he kindly obliged.
What he presented me with was a bottle from Grover Zampa, India’s second most popular brand, just behind market leaders Sula Vineyards. Producing around 100,000 cases of wine per year, the grapes used for this bottling come from their vineyard holdings in Maharashtra state which is in the centre of India on the western side. This is a hot-bed of agricultural activity with two thirds of the population employed in farming roles.
More specifically this wine comes from the Nashik valley which is India’s largest grape growing area, just north of Mumbai and Pune (where my friend is from), and this bottle was chosen as an example of his local wine.
Nashik Valley is located at 20° latitude and well outside of the usual grape growing comfort zone of 50-30°, meaning winemaking is a definite challenge in the hot and humid conditions. Aggressive pruning to avoid the monsoon season and plantings at high altitude to take advantage of the cooler night temperatures both help to carve out wines that can balance acidity levels with the ripened fruit flavours.
Wine making in India has seen a lot of investment in recent years and made good strides forward in terms of the quality (a Sauvignon Blanc from the aforementioned Sula Vineyards made headlines when it won a Decanter Silver Medal award in 2011). Plantings are focused on the main international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and back in 2011 this particular wine was one of the handful of Indian wines chosen to be stocked by supermarket Waitrose as part of their ‘World of Wine’ showcase. As I write, the bottle no longer forms part of their range.
Zampa ‘Hand Crafted’ Syrah, Nashik Valley, India, 2014, 14%, ~£7.00 (N/A UK)
In colour the wine is a dark purple, almost to the point of being opaque. The colour of the main body has just started to lose the vibrant signs of youth but the rim manages to keep the light hues in sight with a touch of a ruby red visible.
The nose of the wine is incredibly rich, warm and spicy. In addition to the dark blackberry, plummy stewed fruit, there are clear tertiary characteristics of both wood (this wine clearly states on the bottle that it is oak aged) and, more prominently, diesel. Overall, the sensation is chunky and one of deep intensity and fills every last part of your nasal cavity.
The diesel/burnt notes continue on the palate and, in addition to the seriously woody notes (which are freshly creosoted panels as opposed to subtle toasting) this wine packs a huge punch before you can even taste any fruit characters. To see if I could restrain this wayward character I decanted the rest of the wine for 6 hours but, alas, it was still the same.
The woodiness has an immediate drying effect on the palate but, even with a good medium acidity to drive it through, it overtakes any other characteristics and is way too heavy handed for my liking. There’s a light fine grained tannin with some dark fruit milling about in the background, but overall this is a chewy wine that only hints at the ‘smooth, mellow’ delivery promised on the bottle and is dominated by the woody spices.
Obviously I have no provenance on the bottle (it could well have stood on a hot Indian supermarket shelf for some time), and could not find any recommended drinking window on the web, so I do wonder what a few years in bottle would do for this wine.
As it stands this wine felt too over-oaked and a little too raw with not enough of the grape characteristics coming through, so perhaps it isn’t indicative of the brand/range as a whole. Aside of a few quick tastings at Vinopolis this comprises my first serious critical appraisement of an Indian wine and I hope it won’t be my last.
Many thanks to Amit for giving me the chance to try a bottle.