On 19th April there was an interesting event at Vintners Hall, London – a tasting of Indian wines, celebrating the book launch of The Wines of India, a Concise Guide, written by Peter Csizmadia-Honigh MW, winner of the 2014 Geoffrey Roberts Award.
The Geoffrey Roberts Award is an international wine-related bursary of £4,000, given each year to someone who can demonstrate to the judging panel a genuine commitment to New World wines. Peter Csizmadia-Honigh was a worthy winner of the award in 2014, enabling him to publish this interesting book about a country that has started to produce wine as recently as the early 1980s.
Named ‘A Concise Guide’, it is actually a lengthy, but worthy tome, of 452 pages which starts with detailed information about the history of contemporary Indian wine, subtropical winegrowing, grape varieties and wine styles. Modern winemaking began with Indians who had enjoyed wine on their travels abroad, in particular successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. There were already established vineyards in India, but for table grapes, so some realised growing grapes for wine wouldn’t present a problem.
However, the subtropical climate is more difficult for wine grapes. Although many better vineyards now have vinifera varieties planted on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks, the delightfully named ‘local’ hybrid varieties Bangalore Blue and Bangalore Purple, with their foxy and musky notes, are still used for cheap, sub-standard wines for the local market.
Following this scene-setting is a detailed explanation of how the author reaches his conclusions as to the wine quality and ratings in the context of Indian wines, leading into a classification of the country’s producers.
Peter classifies 36 wine producers: two with five stars – KRSMA Estates and SDU Winery, 12 with four stars, 16 with three stars and six with two stars – ‘wineries that produce modest wines… but often in styles palatable to the rural Indian consumer only’. Further lists follow in the next chapter with his highly recommended wines, divided up by grape variety.
The bulk of the book, in fact three-quarters, with more than 300 pages, is where the author really gets into his stride! He travels through eight regions in five states from landlocked Madhya Pradesh, where Ambi Vineyards reaches to just short of the Tropic of Cancer, via Maharashtra, which accounts for two-thirds of the national production, to Tamil Nadu 1,500 kilometres south, where the, possibly unfortunately named, Cumbum Valley Winery is the only producer in this state.
There are good descriptions of each area with details of geography, soils, grape varieties, as well as the all-important climatic conditions. These are followed by pithy descriptions of the individual wineries with, if they are good enough, a couple of wines singled out for praise in Peter’s Picks.
Fifty wineries are profiled – however the author only actually classifies 36 of them. By writing about wineries that he didn’t classify, he shows the Indian wine business, warts and all, justly damning the sub-standard businesses. And, making this book a complete overview.
I was pleased to see this book is well endowed with photos, but too many of them are textbook-like and some are downright ordinary. Some of the photos are captioned, but many are not, which is an oversight as I would love to know who or where we are looking at. The maps are attractive, but a tad vague with no key, apart from distance.
But, these are minor quibbles as Peter has written a well-researched, thorough and honest book about a wine producing country, which is entirely new to most of us. The book is imbued by his innate enthusiasm as well as an exacting personal criticism – it has inspired me with yet another reason to visit India.
Published by The Press Publishing, The Wines of India costs £25 and can be bought from the publishers. Indeed the book will be on sale at the tasting.
This book review was first published in Circle Update, the digital magazine of the Circle of Wine Writers.