In case you didn’t know, the largest volume of wines imported into India are from Australia, selling an estimated 75,000 cases (30 per cent of the total) of all imported wine sales in India in 2010-11, having narrowly overtaken French wines.
The charge is led by wines like Hardy's, Jacob’s Creek and Yellow Tail, with others like Lindeman’s, D’Arenberg, Redvale, Golden Mile, Peter Lehmann, Tapestry, and whatnot bringing up the rear. Most Australian wines are sold at retail shops and in restaurants as five-star hotels in India still tend to favour French and Italian wines.
What’s even less well-known is that Australia has some 2,300 wineries, produces about 1.26 billion litres of wine, and exports 60 per cent of that, mostly to the UK and USA. While the market is dominated by a handful of large companies (14 corporations account for 70 per cent of total production), there are hundreds of smaller family-owned and-run wineries that turn out high-quality wines — some of great value. Here are a few from Victoria state, the capital of which is Melbourne:
Best's Great Western: Founded in 1866, this is one of Australia’s oldest continuously family-owned and -operated wineries, with some extremely old vines (that escaped phylloxera) that produce wines of great complexity and length, and 150-year old cellars dug by miners looking for gold. Producing some 24,000 cases from 150 acres of vineyards in the Grampians area of Western Victoria, Best’s wines offer great quality at very approachable prices.
Its Bin No. 0 Great Western Shiraz 2008 (95 points/ $65) (“Excellent” — Langton’s) is supposedly Australia's oldest branded wine. An intense mulberry/ dried rose aroma with some oak; medium-bodied, with “loose-knit gravelly tannins” and an elegant finish. Others in their portfolio are as low as $ 20.
Dominique Portet was started in 2001 by the eponymous wine maker (French, originally from Bordeaux, but settled in Australia for 35 years).
A boutique winery with 11 acres/ 6,000 cases production (now handled by son Ben who has made wines all over the world), the company has an enviable reputation for making some very good (and good-value) wines. Dominique was in India recently, and it will not be long before his wines are available here.
Yering Station is the oldest winery in the Yarra Valley, with a provenance going back to 1845 when about 45,000 acres (almost the entire valley) consisted of their “cattle run”. What remains today is 280 acres of vineyards fronting the Yarra river, a modern winery producing 60,000 cases of wines (some of which at $26 - $28 are of outstanding value), and a gourmet restaurant with an absolutely fantastic view of the vineyards and the distant mountains. The neighbouring 150-year old Chateau Yering heritage hotel (the original estate residence) has stunning interiors and some 250 acres of land. Part of the Rathbone Group, Yering Station has signed up with Aspri Spirits for India.
Wines I’ve been drinking: Jasper Hill Emily’s Paddock Shiraz 2009 (93 points, $125) at the Melbourne tasting, with owner and winemaker Ron Laughton. A very dark red, full bodied wine with intense slate/ red cherry/ dark chocolate aromas, and rich fruit and fine tannin flavours. The finish simply went on — “Outstanding”, says Langton’s.
Here’s more mud in yer eye!
Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant