Last night I attended a tasting featuring wines from one of India’s newest wineries – Fratelli. Fratelli is doing many things right. One of the main is that they use only estate-grown grapes – that is grapes grown in their own vineyards. This is a big plus point for quality. Sub-contracting grape-growing to outside farmers, which is very common in India, can result in variable quality.
Using estate-grown grapes does not automatically translate in to better quality wine, but it helps. The big clincher I believe is the attitude of the founders, particularly Kapil Sekhri. I’ve only met Kapil a few times but it is easy to see that he is very passionate about producing quality wine. This quality consciousness is critical and I believe that this will continue to be a big advantage for Fratelli.
In general I think most Indian wineries do a better job with their white wines than with their reds. Fratelli is more consistent across their rage – producing equally good wines of both colours. Of course, not all their wines are equal. Among the whites, I find the Sauvignon Blanc their best effort. The dry Chenin Blanc and the Chardonnay are also very competent. The reds also set a good overall standard. For its easy charm, the most impressive wine was the Sangiovese. It has very good fruit-presence and is juicy and delicious. The most surprising wine in their range was the red blend ‘Sette’ (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese). This is the top wine in their range, and deservedly so. I said surprising because I really was surprised with its polish and, more importantly, its structure. With is tannic structure, fruit presence and balance – this is the only red wine in India that I think is capable of improving in the bottle for a few years (at least up to 4-5 years). This is the first time I have thought of an Indian red wine as having ageing potential. The only red wine that left me unimpressed was the Merlot (which I felt was a bit unripe, and had a slightly unpleasant resinous or woody taste).
I can say without doubt that Fratelli is making some of the best wine in India – and are on track to establish themselves as the quality leaders. This should be something for Sula to worry about. However, Fratelli wines are priced at a premium to Sula (I think The Fratelli Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc will be around Rs. 100+ higher than an equivalent wine from Sula). The big question is whether they can get Indian consumers to pay the premium. It will all depend on how they tell their quality story and how successfully they tap into the quality-conscious segment of wine consumers (which in my opinion is significantly smaller than the Indian wine drinking population at large, for many of whom price is the main criteria).
Steven Spurrier, consultant Editor of Decanter magazine and a well-recognized wine expert, was present during the evening. He praised the Fratelli wines for their restraint – which he described as being closer in style to Old World wines than their ‘exuberant’ New World counterparts. He even said that the ‘Sette’ blend could be India’s iconic wine. Coming from Steven Spurrier, this is very high-praise indeed.