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Wine: There's nothing complicated about it - A day out at SDU Winery

Friday, August 16, 2013Me! In words


As a Mangalorean Catholic, I strongly believe that one part of our bloodstream is made up of alcohol. We just need an excuse to break it out. So perhaps that's why I started out as a rum and coke girl, progressing to vodka, regressing to beer - all the cocktails/tequila and whatchamacallits, filled the void in between these. The only wines I had, as an initiation so to say, were port wines and they didn't really work for me... at all! I always thought them to be purple vinegar and perhaps that's what put me off wine totally. 

Sudhakar was more of wine guy and taught me to appreciate it a bit, but even then, I preferred the whites to the reds and the ros├ęs to the reds and somehow always felt that it not the right way to feel. I always found myself squirming when people would talk of vintage, colour, vineyards, and sniff a glass and sprout the ingredients of the wine, all in a single breath. I still can't do that. So yes, though I did open up a bit to wine, it still remained - complicated, had a snob value to it and always made me want to dress up formally just to have a glass! (Ok so maybe this last one was an exaggeration, but you get my drift). 

So when the invitation to a tour at the SDU Winery came, along with wine tasting and pairing, I was a bit skeptical. What if I couldn't ask a single question (though mind you, I had plenty of them), without sounding "uneducated in the ways of wine". I was assured that this was a great introduction to the making of wine - a session that would demystify it all - and interestingly - allow me to see that wine is not as complicated as it is made out to be. 

Mohit Nischol, Business Head for SDU Winery

SDU has its winery in the Nandi Hills appellation and is a very pleasant 2-hour drive from the city. We made a small pitstop to look at one of the two vineyards from a distance and that's when Mohit Nischol, Business Head for SDU Winery who was to take us through the whole tour began to answer the first of the many questions I had racing in my mind -

Wine grapes are different from regular grapes that we have in our fruit bowls (sue me, I honestly did not know this and am not ashamed to admit it! I ain't a wine girl I told you). Perfect growing conditions for such grapes is in soil that has a low fertility. It pushes grapes to dig their roots deeper in search of nourishment and enhances the flavor of each one. It takes a minimum of 7 years of harvests before you get a batch of grapes that can actually turn into some good wine. 

SDU Winery is a boutique winery which means that it grows all of its grapes for the production of red and white wines. It produces its wines in a relatively lower quantity with the intention of giving you quality over filling up a dozen shelves in a store. SDU works with Andrea Valentinuzzi who is their wine-maker. Deva is the name of the brand of wines from SDU and is symbolized with a Diya (white for white wines and red for reds). This Sanskrit inspired name was chosen to represent the Indian nature of the way and the simplicity it can bring forth. 

Next on the agenda was an understanding of how wines are made and we were taken down to the the pristine clean wine-making area. I have always been curious about it and Mohit cleared that question up

It takes around a 1kg of grapes to give you a bottle of wine. Ah!!!

The making of wine is not too complicated a process - grapes are passed through a deseeder to get rid of the stems and from here it is passed through the crushers where the pulp is separated from the skin. From here they are passed into temperature controlled tanks to which yeast is introduced (not your baking yeast, no!). It is allowed to ferment for a 10-12 days, following which the process is pretty much done. The wines are left to mature in the tanks for around 3-4 months after which they are filtered and then bottled. In the case of red grapes however, once the deseeder has done its job, it goes straight into the tanks because the red skins with its tannins are what give the wine its colour. During the fermentation process the wines are regularly tested to make sure that their quality and character remains steady. Reserve wines go a step further and a matured in oak casks for up to six months.

The deseeder

The crusher

The Temperature controlled tanks

The oak casks

Wine can be matured in casks for a very long time, unlike in tanks which serve a limited time frame only. In casks, the wood absorbs the wine, enhances its character by adding in tones of "woodiness", a musky flavor, vanilla and more. These are what make reserve wines something to look forward to. 

The bottling of wine is obviously the next stage - and one thing I wanted to know is about the kind of glass used for a bottle of wine. Mohit mentioned that in India there is no standard to the kind of glass used, whereas in French wineries there are exacting standards to the bottle - this is largely to make the particular brand distinctive than for any other reason. The ideal requirement however would be to have a bottle that is dark so that it does not allow light to come in and further ferment the wine. 

Cork v/s screw cap: Now there is something inherently fun about popping the cork on a bottle of wine but that's just about it - a perfect impression, a symbol of good times and a simple way to sock one to the pest that gatecrashed your party - that's as much as a cork can achieve. 

Corks are made of porous materials and hence run the chance of leaking air into the bottle, changing the characteristics of the wine. A screw cap on the other hand completely seals a wine in and does not allow anything to pass. If you do however have a cork bottle with you, store the bottle horizontally so that the corks absorbs a bit of the wine, expands and fills in the mouth completely reducing the chances of any air getting in. 

Drinking your wine - but of course we come to this! Wines are best served at 14-16 degrees and once opened have to had in 3-4 days else you might as well cook with them. Serving wines at 'room temperature' as many suggest does not really work because it is something you cannot control, and varies vastly, having a huge effect on the way your wine will taste. 

Wine, and this is where you can get a little snooty, has to be seen, smelt, swirled, smelt again and then sipped. And there is a reason behind it all. Look at your wine first - you do this to look at its clarity and the colour. Wine has to be clear and the true color you will be able to see when you tilt a glass and look through the mouth down to the base.

Smell your wine to know the initial notes (which will take some practice) - you can note acidity, sweetness levels, the presence of citrus, fruits, etc.

Swirl your wine in your glass and if you are a klutz like me, place your glass on the table, hold the base in your hand firmly and swirl on the table. Pick up the glass and watch the wine drape down the sides of the glass - this is called the legs of the wine and get tell you how full-bodied the wine is. 

Smell your wine again and you will be completely taken aback by the whole new bouquet of aromas you will get. That is the magic of getting some air into your wine and liberating it further.

Sip your wine and try starting by dipping just the tip of your tongue into the glass. You can gauge its sweetness levels this way as the taste buds at the tip of your tongue talk to your brains about sweetness. When you drink your wine, allow it to coat your cheeks and mouth - how long it remains in your mouth is referred to as the length of the wine - drier wines tend to stay longer.

The five things that you judge your wine on are its acidity, sweetness, body, length or longer, flavors and in the case of red wines, the tannins. 

All of this knowledge was acquired over some serious wine tasting. We began with the Deva Chardonnay, which will soon debut in the market. The wine is yet to run its course in terms of making and still was a bit cloudy, despite which the flavors stood right out. 

Next came two red wines - the Deva Cabernet Sauvignon and Deva Syrah - both of these wines are made exclusively from the grapes grown at the vineyards and are termed varietal wines. As with most across the table, it was the Deva Syrah that stood out as brilliant, willing us to have another glass. Mohit mentioned that the Cabernet has been really well received as well. We wrapped up the tasting with a taste of Vintage 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. 

You too can enjoy Deva Wines - in the market right now are the Deva Cabernet Sauvignon (Rs 600) and Deva Syrah (Rs 500). Both conveniently available in half bottles of 350 ml priced at Rs 325 for the Cab and Rs 275 for the Syrah respectively.  

What is wine if not to be had with some great food and there was no disappointing on this front at all. The initial tasting was over a brilliant spread of choriza, ham, smoked salmon, breads, herbed butter and more. Lunch was a simple yet delicious affair of garlic beans, chicken, vegetable bake, a fish in sauce and a lovely bread and butter pudding. 

At the end of this wonderful day out, I came away with the satisfaction that wine is indeed not complicated. The Deva wines we savored that afternoon were easy drinking and not difficult to understand at all. While reams have been written on the pairing of food, there is no hard and fast rule - bottom line is - if you like a combination and it works for you, its not wrong. Now, that my friends is enough for me not to go running for my pumps and LBD the next time I open a bottle of wine. 

PS: The winery does not do tours on a regular basis when we were invited for this. You may want to check if things have changed now. This visit also was great precursor to my visit to Austria for the Austrian Wine Summit 2015.

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