Chandon’s Sparkling Wine (made in India)
Before I came to India I, like many people, had preconceptions and misconceptions about Indian wine. I love bubbly so the idea of Indian sparkling wine definitely did intrigue me. The Nashik Valley is developing a reputation for sparkling wine production and that reputation now seems sealed with the entry of one of the biggest international players in the field, Chandon.
Chandon was founded in 1957 by the then president of Moet & Chandon, Count Robert Jean de Vogue. His vision was not to export champagne but export the method and traditions of champagne making. Since then, they have founded wineries in Argentina, California and Australia. In 2011 Chandon came to India.
Their first harvest was in 2011 and the winery in Nashik opened in 2014. It’s a beautiful complex with the winery being built into the hillside to take advantage of natural cooling and to escape the sun and heat of India.
Winemaker Amrut Vare was my genial host while I was at Chandon. Amrut has been at the winery since they started 6 years ago. Like most other wineries in the region, they have to contract out to farmers to obtain the grapes. However, Chandon closely monitor and work with their growers. In a sense, it is the same contract growers system as they have in France. The biggest difference here being that table grapes are worth more as a cash crop then wine grapes and foreign companies are not allowed to own agricultural land.
Historically, Nashik has been a table grape growing region. Even today, farmers can make more money selling their table grapes by the kilo to Europe and other overseas markets. So it did take a bit of convincing by Chandon now has enough growers on board to produce 50,000 cases a year.
Most sparkling wine producers in the Nashik Valley make their wines from Chenin Blanc and Shiraz but Chandon also use locally grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Amrut believes that they have finally cracked the secret to growing Chardonnay in the tropical climate of the region. Pinot Noir is still difficult but it does make up about 15% of their NV brut blend. 70% is Chenin Blanc and the remainder Chardonnay. The wines spend 12 – 15 months on the lees and a further 3 months in bottle after disgorgement.
As they are in the middle of harvest, I was able to taste some tank samples. The Chardonnay does not go through ML and had flavours of apples and citrus but a much rounder mouthfeel than tank samples from say, Champagne. These wines you could almost drink now, they were quite rich and full.
We also tried a Shiraz tank sample which was bright pink in colour. Amrut said that this was all down to the grape and that they don’t do any maceration once the grapes have been pressed.
I asked Amrut about his opinion of Indian wine drinkers and he thinks that the market is very receptive to sparkling wine. The industry is still young and growing at about 15% – 20% year on year. Compared to imported sparkling wine and champagne, Indian produced sparkling wine is reasonably priced at 1300 rupees for the NV and 1500 rupees for the Rosé compared to 7000 rupees to 50,000 rupees for imported champagne. Chandon is the market leader with 60% of the domestic market.
I tasted both the NV Brut and the NV Rosé. I found the NV Brut to be balanced with a fruity crispness to it and a creamy texture I was not expecting. The Brut has 10 gr/ltr of sugar while the rosé has 12 gr/ltr. The rose, made from 100% Shiraz was a pretty salmon colour, rich but not sweet, I found the rosé to be on the savoury side but still having red fruit flavours. This was no Australian sparkling shiraz but a refined dry sparkler. Who knows, one day we may see Chandon India sparkling wines on the UK shelves.