Category Archives: Wine Review

Clos Rougeard : Drinking a Loire Valley Legend in Hong Kong.

Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong looked like any other wine bar from outside, till I entered and saw an entire wall lined up with vintages from hallowed French estates. The kind that you bow down and pay homage to.

Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong
Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong

This is where I was meeting Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker, wine aficionado and an avid wine collector, on a recent visit to Hong Kong.

Gordon was a facebook friend whom I had known for over a year. This was the first time we were meeting in person.

The world of wine has connected me with some wonderful people across the world. There is always someone in every city willing to share a glass or a bottle and talk about their wine journey. Cultural barriers are transcended, views aired and often an everlasting friendship is formed over wine.

Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a cult wine from Loire Valley.
Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a legendary wine estate from Loire Valley.

What Gordon had chosen for me that evening, was a Clos Rougeard “Brézé 2008”, a single vineyard Chenin Blanc from the legendary wine estate, Clos Rougeard, in Saumur region of Loire Valley, France.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

This was the first time I was trying out wine from this revered, though somewhat low profile estate, famous for its “cult” Cabernet Franc.

To say that Clos Rougeard is to Loire what Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is to Burgundy, will not be an exaggeration.

The estate produces three red wines Le Bourg, Les Poyeux and Le Clos, all from 100% Cabernet Franc, under the appellation label Saumur Champigny.

According to some, it is the finest expression of Cabernet Franc in the world and some vintages of Le Bourg, the leading cuvée of Clos Rougeard, fetch a higher price than Bordeaux classified growths such as Cos d’Estournel and Palmer.

Ever since the death of Charly Foucault, the eighth generation co-owner of Cos Rougeard, in December last year, the price of these wines has shot up even more.

Since production is limited to only 2500 cases a year, the wines get sold out very quickly and are hard to find.

Latest reports suggest that Clos Rougeard has been sold to Martin Bouygues and his brother Olivier, owners of Chateau Montrose in Bordeaux.

Clos Rougeard wines are truly artisanal in every sense and pioneers of organic viticulture (wines produced sans pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilisers) in the region.

The brothers Charly & Nady Foucault continued their father’s tradition of keeping vinification chemical free and made wines the way they should be made, with minimal oenological intervention. Wines are produced from low-yields, using wild natural yeasts and bottled without filtration.

More and more vintners are now turning towards organic viticulture, but Clos Rouegard has always been making wines in this manner without a drop of chemicals.

Saumur Blanc “Brézé” is a rare white wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc from hundred year old vines grown in just a one hectare plot. Brézé is acknowledged as the best terroir in Saumur appellation for Chenin Blanc, a celebrated white grape of Loire Valley.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

High in acidity and potentially long living, this is a white wine that can be aged for a long time. It is a “collector’s item” like the Cabernet Francs from Clos Rougeard and you are unlikely to find it on the wine list of restaurants, even in France.

Long and slow élevage (18-24 months) in cold Tuffeau cellars (local limestone of the Loire Valley) helps in adding complexity. 50% of the wine is aged in new barrique. This gives the wine great depth, length and richness.

Light gold in appearance with a dry sherry like nutty oxidative intensity, this precise, deeply perfumed and elegant Chenin Blanc with superb freshness and lively acidity, completely enveloped my senses. The wine expressed the complexity of the soil, such was its purity.

Reminding me slightly of a Hermitage Blanc, but with more richness, denser minerality and deeper concentration, the Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé 2008 is one wine I will not forget in a hurry.

With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a cult Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley
With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a rare Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley

By : Lavina Kharkwal


Trapiche Wines from Sula Selections : Malbecs and more

Argentina for me is the three M’s Maradona, Messi and Malbec. Of course there is much more to this beautiful country but then I am a wine lover and a football addict. So my interest stops right there.

While the birth place of both the legendary footballers is Argentina, not so of the grape varietal Malbec which comes from Bordeaux France. In fact, in the pre-phylloxera Bordeaux wines, Malbec was used more than Merlot, imparting spice and color to the blend. Now Malbec does not figure much in Red Bordeaux even though it is one of the six varietals legally permitted in the blend along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Carmenere.

Malbec is now the superstar of the South American wine industry and the “national varietal” of Argentina. This is where the cépage has found glory and reached its full potential. And when you talk of Malbec and Argentina it is but natural that Trapiche comes to mind. Trapiche is Argentina’s leading wine brand and its oldest and biggest winery. They are also the largest Malbec producers in Argentina making “value wines” suited to every palate and every wallet.

Located in Mendoza at the foothills of Andes Mountains Trapiche Winery (pronounced with the “e” at the end) was established in 1883 and has been running continuously since then. It owns 1,000 ha of its own vineyards, exports 27 million cases to more than 80 countries around the world and has the largest varietal portfolio in South America. Their Single-Vineyard Malbec created by winemaker Daniel Pi is, according to Wine Spectator, “the best wines that Trapiche has ever produced” and the most awarded Malbec from Argentina.

Even though Single Vineyard Malbec is not yet available in India, what we have here are four wines from Trapiche imported by Sula Selections, the import arm of Sula Vineyards; Malbec, Oak Cask Malbec, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

Trapiche Malbec (Rs 1270) is a bright ruby color wine with violet hints.  A decent wine that you order on a casual night out with friends, it has crème de cassis, plum, pepper and mocha on the palate. It is a great introduction for those who are not familiar with Malbec, a rich fruity jammy style with soft tannins . Though this one is a little one dimensional in terms of structure, it goes well with medium spicy dishes and even pizzas and pastas.

Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec (Rs 1580) aged for 9 months in French & American oak barrels has that intense purple color which makes Malbec so easy to identify in blind tastings. I would call it a great value for money wine. Smooth with velvety tannins you get ripe juicy dark plum, black cherries, blackberry and some lovely vanilla. Oak is present but does not overpower the fruit. It has a spicy finish with a touch of nutmeg, chocolate, leather, mocha and smoke and pairs well with steaks, sizzlers and South Indian Curries especially Chettinad lamb.

It was the Trapiche Pinot Grigio (Rs 1080) which took me by surprise as this is not a varietal that you look for from a country like Argentina. A highly quaffable wine with refreshing acidity and crispness it made a great pairing with the brilliant faux Ferrero Rocher that the three J’s Chef Jatin Mallick, Chef Julia & Chef Jamsheed Bhote had created for the Trapiche wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market hosted by yours truly and Sula Selections.

Trapiche Wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market
Trapiche Wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market

The only slightly disappointing wine for me out of the four Trapiche wines available in India was the Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc (Rs 1270). It felt a little flat in terms of acidity and the nose seemed muted not really conveying what a Sauvignon Blanc stands for. I guess we have all been spoilt by the wonderful aromatic Sauvignon Blancs coming out of New Zealand and Chile if you talk of comparisons within the New World.

It’s good to see Sula Selections expanding its portfolio to include wines from Argentina (Trapiche), Chile (Cono Sur), Australia (Hardys), New Zealand (Mud House), Italy (Ruffino), France (Champagne Piper-Heidsieck) and South Africa (Kumala). It gives customers a great choice, a wine suited for every palate and budget. It doesn’t matter if you are a connoisseur or a novice. “Acche Din” for wine lovers I guess if not for others.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

Trapiche wines are easily available at most liquor and wine retail shops in Delhi in Connaught Place, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar, Dwarka and in NCR.

Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury of Sula Selections with team Tres at the Trapiche Wine Dinner
Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury of Sula Selections with team Tres at the Trapiche Wine Dinner

To read more about Sula Selections you may click on the following links

Bottega Gold Prosecco : La Bella Figura

One look at a bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco and you will wonder how anyone can call it poor man’s Champagne. They say that one should never judge a book by its cover but when Katia Bonaguro, Export Area Manager (Africa, India, Israel, Oceania & Turkey) of Bottega SpA, invited me to La Piazza Hyatt Regency Delhi, to taste this premium Prosecco, I was spell bound by the beauty and opulence of this stylishly crafted hand blown bottle made in the tradition of the famous Murano glassware of Italy. Equally impressive were the contents inside.

Bottega Gold Pic courtesy Bottega SpA
Bottega Gold Pic courtesy Bottega SpA

However there is a price that Bottega Gold has to pay for designing such a spectacular bottle exuding elegance and luxury. Even though the Prosecco they produce is of the highest quality, it is can only be classified as DOC as the appellation laws do not allow an opaque bottle to be labelled as DOCG, the highest classification for Italian wines. Never mind that because the golden bottle protects the wine from any source of light thus preserving the aromas and freshness and also giving it a longer life.

One sip of this delightfully crisp fresh sparkling wine with fine perlage and fruity floral aromas of golden apples, white peach and lily of the valley and it becomes clear how the oft maligned Prosecco has moved beyond being just an ingredient which goes into making brunch time “Bellinis” and “Mimosas”.

Prosecco which is Italy’s answer to French Champagne is the most popular Italian sparkling wine around the world. Others Italian sparklers like Asti Spumante, Lambrusco and Franciacorta are not that well known outside Italy. Made from a white grape varietal called Glera, it is produced by the “Charmat Method” where the second fermentation (which causes the bubble formation) takes place not inside the bottle as in the case of champagne but in a large stainless steel tank. This helps in keeping the cost of production down thus making Prosecco inexpensive and very affordable.

Though it lacks the complexity of champagne (those toasty biscuity and oxidative notes) it is an easier fruit forward style making it the friendliest of wines to drink. Since it has low alcohol content, it makes a wonderful aperitif (before dinner drink) and pairs well with most cuisines especially sweet and spicy ones like Indian and Chinese.

However not all Prosecco is great. Some is frankly quite undrinkable especially if you are used to champagne. That is why it is always better to go with well-known producers and brands. This is where a premium product like Bottega Gold comes in.  It comes from an award winning estate located in Bibano, Treviso (45 kms north of Venice) close to Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, famous for its DOCG Prosecco, in the heart of Italy’s Prosecco and Grappa producing Veneto region.

The winery which was established in 1977 by Aldo Bottega is now run by his children Sandro, Stefano & Barbara. The other brands which the company manages other than Bottega Gold are Alexander and Cantina dei Poeti. The family is involved in making wines, high quality grappa, liquors and some premium food products. Other than Veneto the family also owns wine making facilities in Valpolicella where they make Amarone, Recioto, Ripasso and in Montalcino in Tuscany where they produce Chianti & Brunello.

However 70% of the total annual production of 11 million bottles is devoted to Prosecco which is exported to 120 countries. One of them is India and Bottega Gold is imported here by Mohan Brothers Pvt Ltd owned by the genial Rohit Mehra.

The hotels which stock Bottega Gold are Hyatt Regency and Le Meridien Delhi and soon it will be available at The Wine Company Cyber Hub Gurgaon where it will be it will be sold for Rs 5500. The retail price of a 750ml of Bottega Gold is Rs 4460 in Delhi and it is available at most private retail shops including Godrej Nature’s Basket Stores.

It may be a trifle expensive compared to other Proseccos in the market but it is still “the half price champagne”. Also remember this is a premium trendy product with an eye-catching packaging, ideal to give as a gift and to celebrate special moments. The wonderful Bottega Rose Brut sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Noir will be in the Indian markets from the next financial year.

Bottega Gold & Bottega Rose Gold One also hopes that other products from Bottega SpA like Grappa, liqueurs and wines like Amarone and Brunello will find their way into the Indian market. Till then enjoy this fresh aromatic and exquisite Venetian gold. This is one bottle you will not feel like throwing away after finishing.

By :  Lavina Kharkwal

With Rohit Mehra owner of Mohan Bros & Katia Bonaguro Export Manager of Bottega SpA at La Piazza Hyatt Delhi
With Rohit Mehra owner of Mohan Bros & Katia Bonaguro Export Manager of Bottega SpA at La Piazza Hyatt Delhi

Rose des Riceys : A unique wine like no other.

I was fortunate to be part of the Media Group of IWINETC (International Wine Tourism Conference) held in April 2015 at Reims Champagne, France. A brainchild of Barcelona based Anthony Swift who runs Wine Pleasures; a company which organises wine tasting tours and workshop events for the wine import/export market, IWINETC is a great forum to unite wine tourism professionals & writers from all across the world. It was while touring the Aube department in the southernmost part of Champagne, close to Burgundy, that I came across this unique & legendary still rosé wine not known much outside France called Rosé-des-Riceys made from Pinot Noir grapes. This is a wine which is said to have seduced the Sun King Louis XIV.

It comes from the commune of Les Riceys which is the largest wine making village in the entire Champagne region. Actually it is not one but three villages, Ricey-Haut, Ricey-Haute-Rive and Ricey-Bas, forming one unit which has been granted three AOC designations, Champagne, Rosé-des-Riceys & Coteaux Champenois, the latter two being the only ones allowed by law to produce a “still wine” in Champagne, an anomaly in the region. And you thought La Champagne was only about bubbles.

So what is so special about this Rosé you may ask? Well for one it is nothing like the rosé wines you may have tasted before. Other than the intriguing aroma and incredible taste of wild strawberries, cooked cherries, violets, hazelnut & liquorice, it has complexity, structure and longevity (yes a rose which can be aged); most qualities not present in the “pink plonk” which floods the European market during summer and which a lot of serious wine drinkers look down upon.

Rosé-des-Riceys is exceptional & rare. Rare, because there are only a handful of producers (just about 15-20) who make this wine and that too only in the best harvests and not every year. Production cannot exceed 70,000 bottles per millésime. Pinot Noir grapes only from the sunniest vineyards are used. These are harvested when they reach the right ripeness and natural sugar. Whole bunches are pressed and vinified using semi-carbonic maceration (the same method used in the making of Beaujolais in which fermentation takes place in the whole intact berry in a carbon dioxide rich environment) This results in a wine which is lightly tannic and very fruity. The colour is several shades darker than the rose wines of Provence. It is matured in the cellar for 3-4 years before being released.

I was lucky to try Rose-des-Riceys from three producers of Les Riceys, Morize Père & Fils, Gallimard Père et Fils & Olivier Horoit. It will not be an exaggeration to say that just the appearance bowled me over, what to talk of the nose and the flavour. Intense deep pink color, aromas of wild strawberries, cherries and dried herbs with an incredible length which stays on the palate for a long time. Suffice to say that it was the most unusual wine I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Taking to Olivier Horoit I came to know that no region in France other than Les Riceys has the kind of versatility where, from one grape varietal Pinot Noir, they produce rosé, red, white, white Champagne and a rose Champagne. Olivier makes some wonderful terroir expressive Rosé-des-Riceys and Coteaux Champenois using only organic and bio dynamic methods. His wines are crafted according to his taste and he is a young man driven totally by his passion for wine-making sometimes resorting to unconventional practices which produce some great results.

Enjoying Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois with Olivier Horiot during the IWINETC tour of Les Riceys
Enjoying Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois with Olivier Horiot during the IWINETC tour of Les Riceys

So in case you are planning a trip to France don’t forget to try out this exceptionally high quality and unique rosé wine Rose des Riceys. Santé!

By : Lavina Kharkwal


Cono Sur Bicicleta : Sula Selections brings the official wine of Tour de France to India

You would think that a French sporting event of the magnitude of Tour de France would have a French wine company as one of its sponsors. No, it’s not a wine from France which is associated with this prestigious and legendary event; where cyclists have to traverse 3500 km of flat and hilly terrain and after a grueling three weeks, finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. It is the Chilean wine Cono Sur which is the official wine of Le Tour de France 2015.

Not all that surprising since the brand’s connection to cycling is through its Bicicleta (Bicycle) range of wines. Why the bicycle logo? Because bicycles play a very important role in the upkeep of their vineyards in Chile. Keeping up with its commitment of using sustainable agricultural practices, Cono Sur, meaning “Southern Cone” has developed viticulture which does least harm to the environment and there is emphasis on the use of non-chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc. Workers in the vineyards use bicycles to get around and how much of carbon footprints can that leave. Zero would be my guess. In fact Cono Sur is the first winery in the world to obtain Carbon Neutral status. Associating with a famous cycling event like Tour de France is thus a natural progression for the company.

Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery, founded in 1993 in the Colchagua Valley of Central Chile, as a subsidiary of Chile’s biggest wine company Concha y Toro, is the world’s largest producer of Pinot Noir in South America and among the top five producers of Pinot Noir in the world. Someone has even called it the world’s best value Pinot if one keeps in mind the price point at which it is offered. Though vinified in the traditions of Burgundy (Project Pinot Noir 1999) it does fall a little short compared to the elegance and restraint of the Old World classic, the Burgundian Pinot Noir. Yet it is way better than some of the cheaper Pinots from the new world which can turn out to be watery, thin and green or some of those from the US which are very often over-oaked. In fact the Decanter magazine in Sept 2013 voted the Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinor Noir 2011 as the Best Value South American Red wine under $15.

This is a brand which outsold Pinot Noirs from New Zealand in volume and was the top selling Pinot Noir in 2014 in the UK. Good news for Indian wine lovers is that this popular wine is available in India, brought by Sula Selections, the import arm of Sula Vineyards.

While Sula Vineyards are the biggest producers of wine in India commanding a hefty 65% of the market share, they also have an import arm, Sula Selections, which imports and distrubutes wines, spirits and beers in India. Their impressive wine portfolio includes Piper-Heidsieck Champagne from France, Ruffino from Italy, Hardys Stamp of Australia, Mudhouse of New Zealand, Trapiche from Argentina, Kumala from South Africa along with the Chilean Cono Sur.

Coming back to Cono Sur Bicicleta range, I got a chance to try out both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir at an excellent Wine dinner held at Pan Asian, Sheraton New Delhi. The Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2014 was very appealing in appearance, yellow with golden hints. The nose was a mélange of citrus and tropical fruits, tangerine, melon, peach, honeysuckle and pineapple. On the palate it had nice mineral notes, good acidity and balance. Not an outstanding Chardonnay, but a good one nevertheless and at Rs 1000 for a 750ml bottle, good value for money.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2014 paired with Spicy Tuna Uramaki, superbly prepared by chef Vaibhav Bhargava of Pan Asian, Sheraton New Delhi
Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2014 paired with Spicy Tuna Uramaki, superbly prepared by Chef Vaibhav Bhargava of Pan Asian, Sheraton New Delhi

It was the Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2014 (Rs 1120) which stole the show at the dinner. A fruit driven Pinot with cranberry, cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Medium body with soft juicy tannins and a silky texture, it finished on a spicy note. An elegant and refreshing Pinot Noir which combined the best of the old and new world. In Delhi both these wines are available at “The Taste” at Defence Colony Market and A to Z liquor shop in the Multi-Level parking premises near New Delhi Railway Station.

Cono Sur has a very interesting motto “no family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wines” Thanks to Sula Selections we have access to these eminently palatable wines which are a remarkable value for money.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

To read more about Chilean Wines in India click on the following link