A “Reserve” wine is simply one which has not been released for sale immediately after the wine is ready, but has been kept back for further maturation in cask and bottle for a given time period. Generally, the basic quality of a Reserve wine would be better (than, say, “Regular” wines) — it would be made from the best-quality grapes, and processed a little differently (more extraction and body, higher alcohol).
Reserve wines are almost always red. Because red wines also have tannins (in addition to alcohol, acidity and sugars), they are more complex and longer-lived than whites, and more amenable to barrel-aging. All the well-known wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy and the “cult” wines from the Napa valley and elsewhere are Reserves with at least one year in cask and many more years in bottle — most become drinkable only several years after production, and then some remain drinkable for decades!
The first Indian Reserve wine was “La Reserve” from Grover Vineyards which was unveiled in 1996 and quickly gained a loyal following. A Cabernet-Shiraz blend (the company has never disclosed the ratios of the grapes, like Bordeaux), this is still around, is still good, and sells for Rs 750 a bottle in Bangalore.
The second Indian Reserve was the Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz, probably launched in 2005 using grapes from their own vineyards in Dindori (near Nashik). Hitting the market at a time when La Reserve was struggling with quality and distribution, the Sula Dindori soon became the price and quality leader in Indian wines. Interestingly, some years later it was joined by the Sula Dindori Viognier Reserve —the only white in this category.
Since then a number of Reserve wines have been launched: the Nine Hills Shiraz Reserve, the Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the Reveilo Reserve Cab and Reserve Syrah, Reserves from York, Vallonne and Zampa, and the recent, much-touted Vindiva Reserve Shiraz 2010 from Alpine Winey Karnataka.
But I am most impressed with the Big Banyan LIMITED Shiraz 2008. The grapes were harvested in the spring of 2008, the wine was ready in early 2009, then spent one year in imported French oak casks and another two years in bottles before being launched this June. Despite that, the wine is best decanted at least a half-hour before drinking to allow its firm and complex tannins to mellow down.
A deep dark red, the wine has terrific fruit, spice and oak aromas that carry forward onto the palate. It is full-bodied and complex, with hints of leather and wood, and a finish that’s better than any other Indian red I know of. Only 6,000 bottles have been made, each individually numbered, and priced at a modest Rs 800 a bottle in Bangalore. Grab the wine before others do, and stash at least a case away for the future, for you’ll never get this vintage ever again.
Other wines I’ve been drinking:
The Big Banyan Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, which came out head and shoulders above others in the “Regular” wine category at an informal tasting with my winemaker Andrea Valentinuzzi. The wine is just yummy: a good clean aroma of berries and red fruit, and a full-bodied taste, with soft tannins and good finish — all one would want in a wine priced at Rs 650. Guess it’s Big Banyan time.
As the Goans say, “Sussegad”!
Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant