I am a food nerd – a sucker for little pieces of information, a gatherer of trivia and a lover of all things food and drink related. Which is why, I could not pass up an opportunity to visit the SDU vineyard and their boutique winery last week. I came away a little wiser and a whole lot more drunk than anticipated! If you are a wine snob or a wine connoisseur or have a serious interest in digging deep into the anvils of the universe of wine – this post might not intrigue you. But if you, like me, enjoy drinking wine and have always wondered if there was an easy way to unravel its mysteries, read on!
The Nandi Valley appellation is considered by many to have the perfect conditions for growing wine grapes in India – a mixture of clay and red loam soil but with poor fertility. (Trvia 1: Poor fertility forces the vine to develop deep roots to dig for nutrition, which in turn contributes to a more concentrated flavor in the grapes). The two SDU vineyards call this picturesque location home and the winery is located close by. This boutique winery uses grapes solely from their vineyards for the production of their red and white wines. With a state-of-the-art facility, Italian machines and wine tanks that match international standards and renowned Italian winemaker, Andrea Valentinuzzi at the helm, the winery has launched their own wine brand “Deva” this year. Deva means divine in Sanskrit and epitomizes both the ‘Indianess’ of the wine as well as the simplicity they intend to portray.
We were lucky to have a quick tour of the winery to understand the wine making process before we sat down to an elaborate spread with different wines later in the day. Mohit Nischool, the business head at SDU was kind enough to explain the wine making process to us. Being a level 3 certified trainer from Wine Sprits and Education Trust (WSET), he was literally a vat of wine info! It will please you to know that I was paying rapt attention but I feel better lifting parts of the ‘process’ from their website for accuracy undiluted by the effects of alcohol 😉
WINE MAKING PROCESS: First the ripe grapes are plucked and taken in crates to the winery. When the grapes hit the crush pad, they go through a crusher-destemmer. If it is a white wine the grapes go through a pneumatic press to separate the skin from the pulp. (Trivia 2: It is the skin that provides colour to the red wine along with the tannins). The extracted grape juices are then fermented in a stainless steel tank with automatic temperature control. (Trivia 3: Yeast is added to start the fermentation process. The sugars in the fruit aid the fermentation). The tanks are insulated to ensure robust refrigeration to preserve the fruitiness of the grape.
After fermentation, the wine is allowed to age in the same stainless steel tank. It is subjected to routine analysis, frequent tasting and quality assessment – ensuring the wine’s character and quality is garnered. (Trivia 4: Wines have a maximum of 15% alcohol, because yeast cells will start to die after that) When the wine is ready, it is bottled and packaged in the winery using a machine for capsule placement and pressure-sensitive labeling. The entire bottling process is automated. (Trivia 5: Dark colored bottles are generally used to ensure the wine does not react to sunlight.)
The winery matures a selected portion of its wines in French Oak casks for a minimum of 6 months to produce its ‘Reserve’ wines. (Trivia 6: French Oak casks are used to impart a subtle flavor to the wine and sometimes for softening of the harsh tannins and flavors present at the end of fermentation).
After this information download and a gazillion ooh’s and aah’s at the fancy machinery, we headed upstairs to the most elaborate picnic spread of cold cuts, cheeses and fruit to enjoy our first taste of the wines. While we nibbled on candied pistachios, brie and figs and heaped on lovely smoked salmon on fresh bread, Mohit helped us to act all hoity-toity with our wine. There are few parameters that serious wine drinkers use to evaluate a wine.
Appearance – Color and clarity. The wine should be clear not murky and the deeper the colour the younger the red wine. It is reverse for white wines as they assume a deeper colour as they age. (Trivia 7: You can hold the wine glass angled over a white tablecloth to asses the true colour of the wine.)
Aroma – Much of the romance of a wine is in the aroma. This is a complex blend of the type of grape, the fermentation process, the aging, the oak barrels and finally the myriad by-products of the process that make up it’s ‘bouquet’. (Trivia 8: Typical associated smells are apple with chardonnay, melon and citrus with sauvignon blanc, cherry and blackcurrant with cabernet sauvignon, blackberry and black pepper with zinfandel)
(Trivia 9: A wine that has gone bad on the other hand will smell of wet cardboard, musty smells, rotten eggs or look brownish)
Taste – The human tongue can perceive sweet, sour, bitter and salty tastes. A lot of white wines have citrus or fruity flavours that result in a sweet tatse. (Trivia 10: To figure out if a wine is actually sweet vs the feel of sweet because of the aroma – stick the tip of your tongue into the wine glass. This is where most of the sweet receptors lie).
Body – This essentially means how heavy or light the wine feels in your mouth. How dense is the liquid? (A more acidic wine will be lighter). Does it have a lingering taste in your mouth? (Trivia 11: The tannins present in the skin of red grapes have a dry, puckering effect on your mouth)
Overall – Is there an overall balance and harmony among the different elements in the wine like the fruit, alcohol, acidity and wood.
For us novices – we can still resort to the see, swirl, smell and sip routine. And then conclude – most importantly, whether our palate was impressed with it or not!
Deva wines though crafted with the utmost passion are still marketed as easy drinking wines. They do not want the wine lover to be overwhelmed with the wine but to have an experience that is enjoyable and pleasing to the palate. In this endeavor they have two wines out in the market right now – both reds. Mohit gently cajoled us into figuring out the different wines we tried that day and here is a quick recap.
The Deva Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from their own vineyard. This makes it a varietal, boutique wine. (Trivia 12: Wines made from one variety of grapes are called varietal wines, where as wines from different grapes are simply called blended wines). Tasting notes: Dry red – Fragrant and fruity, with a good body, accompanied by soft and smooth tannins, which lead to a lingering finish.
The Deva Syrah is a 100% shiraz (red wine) made from their own vineyard as well. (The difference lies in the type of grapes used) Tasting notes: Dry red – fruity and easy to drink with a hint of spice leading to a silky & smooth finish.
Out of the two, I preferred the Syrah and was quite amazed that being a white wine drinker, I easily drank quite a few glasses of this. (Trivia 13: Red wines need to be served at a temperature of 14-16 °C and not at the oft proclaimed ‘room temperature’).
We also tried a soon to be out (September?) Deva Chardonnay. Tasting notes: This was a medium bodied white wine with fruity aromas of pineapple and white apple. (Trivia 14: Chardonnay is an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including Champagne).
We took a quick walk to see the French Oak barrels where the Deva Reserve wines were being aged. It’s a beautiful sight to see these rows of neatly aligned barrels (Quite of few of us had a photosession here!). Mohit opened one of the barrels (don’t tell Antonio) and we were hit by the interesting aromas of wine and wood. We were also lucky to be served the Reserve variety of the Cabernet Sauvignon with our lunch. If I had to pick my favourite wine of the day – it would have to be this. Can’t wait for it to hit the market soon!
Who says wine needs to be reserved for special occasions? After relishing a wonderful lunch against the idyllic backdrop of the vineyard, capped off with copious amounts of their fine reserve wine and deep conversation (ok frivolous friendly banter) – I can finally admit that wine can be made for easy drinking! Forget all the rules and just open a bottle of wine for a night of long conversations with your best friend or even at dinner today – Deva is a great companion!
Since the founding of the Nandi Valley appellation in south Karnataka, SDU Winery has focused on crafting new age ﬁne wines. Our meticulously cared-for vineyards have perfect combinations of French grape vines, picturesque hillsides and ideal growing conditions. The bouquets in the Deva wines are a reflection of the pristine locale. The level of richness, balance and complexity found in our world-class wines are the impact of the gentle, authentic winemaking approach that has helped us deﬁne who we are.- Shaambhavi Hingorani, Director SDU Winery.
Currently available in retail outlets across Bangalore – Deva Cabernet Sauvignon is available in 350ml at Rs 325 and 750 ml at Rs 600, while Deva Syrah is available in 350 ml priced at Rs 275 and 750 ml priced at Rs 500.
P.S. They don’t do winery tours – we just got lucky 😉