I like wine. I am no expert and my preferences are erratic, but I can tell a decent wine from a not-so-decent one. For the moment, the object of my obsession is Indian wine. I live here and I hate paying those excessive import duties for even something as mid-range as a bottle of Cloudy Bay. What gets my goat even more is that it makes no financial sense to buy expensive wines in India because of the ratio of import duty to the cost of the wine. So, in the interest of nationalism and saving money (more the latter), I have decided that I will mostly drink Indian wine; at least at home on a regular basis. The problem is that India doesn’t (yet, and that’s a big yet) produce great wine. The prudes and the pompous will tell you that India doesn’t even produce good wine. But here is one hare-brained solution: Why not age our wines?
Ageing wine is a topic that has as many opinions and obscure dissertations as any other in the wine world. And that is saying a lot. There are a lot of biases and unsubstantiated opinions such as the European view that Californian wines don’t age. This was proved wrong—as American wine writers will keep reminding you—in two famous blind tastings: The Judgement of Paris in 1976 and the fabled retaste in 2006, in which Napa wines were pitted against the French ones and won. Another view is that Americans like young wines, the English prefer really old ones and the French palate is somewhere comfortably in between. The New World wines—Australia, Chile and South Africa in particular—are meant to be drunk as soon as they hit the store shelves. If this is true of a Hardy’s or a Marlborough, you would think why even bother ageing a Sula or Grover?
Feedback: Consumers don’t demand aged wines, so there is little incentive.
Devesh Agarwal has tried ageing both Sula’s Dindori Reserve and Grover’s La Reserve and says that they improved, going from 82 points to 88. Agarwal is a Bangalore wine connoisseur; more than that, he is a great character, carrying custom wine glasses to parties and tastings. So I asked him, why can’t we age Indian wines? More to the point, why don’t Indian wineries age their wines?
The problem, says Agarwal, is that the number of people who own a wine cellar or even a wine-frig is minuscule. The wineries themselves can barely keep up with market demand and have little incentive to age their wines in oak barrels. Even so, the concept of ageing a wine is beguiling. Think of all those tannins dancing against each other, mixing with the oak, honey, wild flowers and spices, and bringing forth a fine balance of aromas. This balance, after all, is what we all seek when we swoon over a wine’s bouquet. Well-aged wines have a complexity and nuance that is lacking in the young ones. They are softer and rounder on the palate; and since I am throwing around the jargon, I might as well add that they have a fine nose and finish.
The second reason, and I may be stretching here, is that India may provide the perfect parameters for ageing. It may actually improve our wines. After all, the four main requirements for ageing wines are a cellar that is dark, damp, cool, and vibration-less. India’s wine regions have all those elements. Bangalore, for instance, is cool and damp as I write this column. The darkness and lack of vibration can be easily engineered in the cellars. Critics will argue that India doesn’t have the soil conditions (terroir) and grape varieties that require ageing; grapes that produce wines with brawny tannins and acidity that will mellow over time, allowing the fruit to come forth. Indian wines, if anything, are too fruity. Ageing them will turn them into expensive vinegar—so the thinking goes. I disagree. I think it is just a matter of supply and demand. Indian consumers don’t demand aged wines, ergo, there is little incentive for wineries to age their wines.
So far, another argument against ageing wines was that the world over consumers prefer ready-to-drink wines. We live in a here and now world; nobody has the time or inclination to age wines to savour them later. I would tend to agree, except that I think we are at a tipping point. Yes, people like ready-to-drink wines, but they are also at the point when they are getting tired of it. Like in every other area, the pendulum is ready to swing in the other direction.
Think about it: We had the fast food nation, now the slow food movement is gaining ground. We had mass-market cheeses, now the world is waxing eloquent about artisanal cheeses. We had bulk beers, and now microbreweries are the flavour of the moment. My guess is that the big wine-drinking cultures of the world will soon swing to aged wines. And, for once, India could be ahead of the curve.
(Shoba Narayan recently enjoyed some aged Barolos. Her favourite was a muscular 1999 Coparossa from the Bruno Rocca winery. Write to her at email@example.com)