I t’s a truism that every wine maker thinks that his (or her) wine has some special features that sets their wines apart from all others, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a cretin — or, even worse, a critic.
No two wines are, of course, entirely alike, riven as they are by distinctions of grape and terroir and the winemaker’s skill. Still, since thousands of new wines enter the market every year, and since it’s physically impossible for any one consumer to get access to even a tiny fraction of the lot, it falls to the wine expert to mediate and differentiate.
This has now become one of the key activities at a wine fair: wines are tasted blind and ranked by a panel of experts ahead of the fair, and the results announced (and the wines laid out for tasting by consumers) at the fair. And this is what Robert Joseph’s India Wine Challenge 2008 has set out to do: a panel of experts from India and around the globe got together this week in Delhi to taste 350 wines, from both India and around the world. The results will be announced at the IFE (India Food, Drink and Hospitality) Exhibition at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, from December 2-4, 2008.
What is interesting is that for the first time a taste panel has its majority of wine experts from around the globe, all using this opportunity to try to understand the Indian market a little bit.
There’s Gina Gallo (32), winemaker for the Gallo Family Vineyards — part of the E&J Gallo group which is still the largest family-owned wine operation worldwide with sales of over 75 million cases annually. The eight vineyards of Gallo of Sonoma (as it is more commonly known) are run by brother Matt while Gina supervises the winemaking — and is the company’s public face.
Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines (Margaret river area, Australia) has been making wine since 1989 and is the second lady in this august group. Under her watch, Cullen wines have transformed from one of the region’s best into one of Australia’s premier boutique wineries — their Diana Madeleine Cabernet Merlot 2005 made to Langton’s “exceptional” list, shared by only 10 other Australian wines.
Then there’s Dr John Forrest and his wife Brigid, both renowned biomedical scientists who returned to native Marlborough (New Zealand) in 1988 and have since established six successful vineyards all over the two islands, and whose wines are among the most highly-rated from that country.
We’ve also got Roberto Bava (no, he’s Italian) who’s involved with wine and chocolate from his base in the Piedmont region and runs the eponymous winery (fourth generation) besides also being passionate about music. Talk about shades of wine, women and song!
Another expert is John Quarisa, the winemaker responsible for the Yellow Tail phenomenon (the only wine to have sold over 1 million cases in the year of launch) and for some of Australia’s most well-known wines including McWilliams Hanwood Chardonnay.
Last, but not the least, is Mike Ratcliffe from the Warwick estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa — a leader of the Cape wine industry who is closely involved with the Wines of South Africa (WOSA) movement.
The Indian experts on the tasting panel include Subhash Arora, Magandeep Singh, Harshal Shah, Abhay Kewadkar and yours truly.
It’s a tremendous effort by Robert Joseph to bring all these people to sit and evaluate wines in India. And it will be interesting to see which wines are rated as the top in their respective categories — howls of protest from those not so highly rated notwithstanding.