On Invitation wine and spirits

Four Seasons Launches Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2016Me! In words

Thanks to it still being a nascent wine market India has seen a plethora of international wine brands enter the country. Perhaps not as many as we would like to have come in though, considering the harsh import laws. Great brands end up bringing a small number of their labels in at premium prices, thus still attaching to it an elitist aura, which is not altogether necessary. 

But what is wonderful to note, is that Indian wine brands have begun to hold their own internationally and more importantly, within the country itself. Diageo, under the wine arm of United Spirits and the brand Four Seasons, recently launched their premium "Vintner's Reserve" Select Barrels 2011 - the brand's first foray into blended wines. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) and Shiraz (30%) varietals each made from grapes chosen from the oldest of Four Season’s vineyards.

The launch took place at the palatial Four Season's French-inspired chateau at Roti-Baramati, an hour and half drive away from Pune. Perfect weather conditions, an elaborate 3-course sit down lunch by the team from Taj Vivanta, Pune and the company of more than 30 journalists and wine connoisseurs made from a wonderful afternoon of socializing and indulgence.

 The Four Seasons "Vintner's Reserve" Select Barrels 2011 -
the brand's first foray into blended wines

Speaking at the launch, Abhay Kewadkar, Chief Winemaker and Director of Four Seasons Wines said that the brand believes that they are now ready for the next stage, that is blends. "The Vintner's Reserve is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, which is the result of an elaborate process of shortlisting".

The best grapes from the oldest of vineyards are selected and wines created from them. The red wines which are heavier in structure in terms of good concentration of soft and ripe tannins are selected to undergo ageing in new French Oak barrels for a period of 24 months depending on quality and style desired. This process helps compounds in wine to evolve as tannins extracted from the wood complement tannins present in the wine. The barrel maturation also imparts vanillin aromas to the wine which develop into complex bouquet after the bottle ageing process, which is continued for another 24 months. Individual barrel tasting is done and some barrels (Cabernet and Shiraz) which are of exceptional quality (aromas/bouquet) are selected and blended together to create a Vintner’s Reserve blend.

Now that is as far as the creation of the wine goes. How it tastes is something you will read about a little later in the post. After all, there was quite a build-up of the experience of the launch so do allow me to take you through it.

 The view from the main dining room balcony of the Four Season's Chateau. You will read more about my experience of staying here in a separate post. The Chateau is open to guests.

I flew in to Pune on one of the red-eye flights from Bangalore with good company on the flight and drive to the Chateau. Once there, we stepped into the dining room for a quick second round of breakfast that not surprisingly was accompanied by yet-to-be-launched Rosé wine. What I loved was the fact that the breakfast buffet was a mix of continental and Marathi cuisines, bringing the best of both worlds to your plate.

We were taken around the winery and on a detailed tour of the wine making process from the harvest being brought in to the final bottling. Four Seasons is equipped with some of the best equipment available internationally.

 A look at a small part of the 50 acres of Four Season's vineyard that surrounds the Chateau. 

The idea of the Four Seasons Vineyard began to take shape in 2007 as a greenfield project. It was ready in 2011 and the expansive facilities added over the years. Four Seasons currently has seven varietals to its credit – Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Viogner for whites. For reds for Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot; and Rosé is a blend of Zinfandal and Shiraz. The Reserves from the brand are Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. All of these are single straight varietals.

With the tour done we were escorted to our rooms and given time to freshen up for the launch that was scheduled to begin close to noon.

Before the formal sit-down lunch it was wonderful to catch up with some well known faces of the wine and spirits world and make new acquaintances as well. This was enabled by a wonderful range of nibbles that were being passed around - from Dolmas (stuffed vine leaves) to Pesto Chicken Vol-au-Vents, Batter Fried Prawns and more, it all kept coming. These were paired with some wines from the Four Seasons stable such as the Chenin, Sauvignon, Rosé of 2016.

An elaborate set up on wine barrels held some lovely canapés - the Salmon on Cucumber with capers being an interesting combination that went very well with the Chenin I was nursing. The cheese and crackers set up too, hit the most of the right notes, with the only exception of flies trying to play spoilsport. 

The Salmon on Cucumber with Capers and Dill

The Cheese and Crackers Platter 

The elaborate set up for lunch, complete with guest name placements et al

That was me!

And this is the fabulous view of the pool and jacuzzi from where I was sitting. Those impressive balustrades look over the vineyard. 

The afternoon's 3-course meal was conceptualized by Chef Sachin Joshi of Taj Vivanta, Pune. Chef worked extensively with the Four Seasons wines to ensure that his pairing worked well. Before lunch service began Chef spoke briefly on his menu stating that though he would have loved to present an Indian meal with these wines, but he went with a more crowd-pleasing option of Continental. Every dish presented had an element of grape or wine introduced in it ensuring that this was going to be an interesting meal. 

First course was a Greek Salad described as crisp iceberg lettuce, calamata olives and feta cheese with a drizzling of chia. This was paired with the Four Season's Sauvignon Blanc. Personally I did not much care for the salad which perhaps may have sat a little too long before being served. The vinegar-based juices that seeped out killed the freshness of the iceberg making it limp. I did not really see the chia and doubt that it was feta on that plate. The wine was a pleasant start to the meal, light, fruit forward and a good base on which to introduce the heavy Vintner's Reserve.


The Vintner's Reserve made its way to the table after having been decanted for at least an hour at a chilled temperature. The wine is a heavy red, strong on the aromas and the oakiness of the barrels. The decanting helps bring out several layers of the wine to the fore making it a very interesting bottle to have in your collection.

"We followed the development of the wine in the bottle,” explains Abhay. “With wines, once they are out of the barrel, ageing can go on for a decade or more. We have followed the development of the wine in the barrel and believe now it is ready to drink now... the way it is".

My Vintner's Reserve was paired with the New Zealand Lamb Chops in Wine Sauce. A generous portion, with well done chops in a jus that brought out some good flavours from the lamb. The oak in the wine made it a good pairing with this dish. Savouring the wine through my main course meant that the wine continued to open out some more, bringing a range of flavours through the meal's progression.

Among the other main courses served were the Fish Veronique, with herb crusted fish in a light grape and wine sauce.

For the vegetarians was the Wild Mushroom Ragout with Couscous. The little parcels were stuffed with porcini and a range of mushrooms and tied up with little vine leaves before being placed on a bed of cous cous.

  And for the one vegetarian allergic to mushrooms, this rendition of a vegetarian lasagne. 

Dessert was a Baked Rosemary and Grape Cheesecake that was paired with a Four Seasons Sparkling Rosé Brut. Created in the "Methode Traditionnelle", this bubbly made for the perfect partner with the baked cheesecake and its core of stewed grapes spiced with rosemary. The full bodied wine went well with the creamy nature of the dessert. In fact, I liked it much more with the eggless souffle rendition of the dessert that you see below.

Eggless Grape Souffle 

Following the long and eventful day, we had a lovely informal BBQ and structured wine tasting later in the evening. The property takes on a whole new and tranquil look at night with the fountains being lit up and on in full force. More about this in my travel post on the place a little later. 

Coming back to the Vintner's Reserve - Abhay does make a recommendation – to buy a case and savour the wine over a period of 3 to 6 months. This, he says, will help you study its development and taste profile with age and time. While the wine is ready to savour now, further ageing of 7 to 8 years will bring out some rich notes in the wine. 

Only 1200 bottles of this limited edition wine will be made available in each of the cities of Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Four Seasons Vintner’s Reserve Select Barrels, 2011 will be priced at Rs 1500.

I leave you with a small video on the wine bottling process at the Four Seasons Winery we were privy to as part of the tour of the winery. 

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