Low in alcohol and light in body, Four Seasons seem to be fashioned as easy-to-drink products aimed at a wide segment of wine consumers.

One of the biggest stories in the Indian wine industry in recent years was Vijay Mallya’s buyout of Bouvet Ladubay, the second oldest producer of sparkling wine in the Loire Valley, with a history that goes back to 1851. With an annual capacity of four million bottles and sales in 36 countries, the winery — even if it sourced its grapes from local growers having no vineyards of its own — was a big one, a far cry from your regulation petite family-owned French chateau.

The story would have been much bigger had Mallya’s original bid come off. This was to buy the French champagne major Taittinger, of which Bouvet Ladubay was a subsidiary.

The story goes that his United Breweries 752 million dollar bid for Taittinger came unstuck partly because of resistance of local groups. So in a way, he had to forego the champagne and settle for the sparkling wine.

Bouvet Ladubay is one of the segments of UB’s wine business, another being imports of a range of wines. It is the third arm, the domestic wine division, that seems to be fetching most attention now — particularly, the five wines under the Four Seasons label, which have featured in a series of staggered launches all over the country.

The five single varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and a blush Zinfandel — were introduced to Terroir, the Madras Wine Club by Business Head and Chief Winemaker Abhay Kewadkar. The UB group’s foray into domestic wine is significant, the 2008 harvest having already produced a million bottles. The project envisages upping this eventually to a staggering 12 million bottles, according to Kewadkar.

There will be additions to the portfolio shortly, with a Merlot and a Viognier launched later this month. In October, oaked versions of their Cab and Shiraz served up as Reserves will enter the market. Kewadkar promises more varietals when its own vineyard surrounding the winery at Baramati is fully developed, including a Pinot Noir.

What about the wines themselves? Low in alcohol and light in body, they seem to be fashioned as easy-to-drink products aimed at a wide segment of wine consumers. The range reinforces the fact that domestic winemakers do far better whites than reds. The attendant truth — that by and large India seems most comfortable with Chenin Blanc — is also reflected in the Four Seasons range. I preferred this off-dry offering to the Sauvignon Blanc, which was lacking a little in tartness, despite managing to retain elements of the herbaceous style favoured in New Zealand and the austere minerality favoured in France.

The reds are soft and free from harsh tannins but — like a whole range of Indian reds — are affected by a green vegetal character, which impacts on the nose and palate structure.

Research has shown that a range of viticultural factors contributes to making the chemical that produces such herbaceousness.

These include soil moisture, fruit exposure to light, uneven ripening and the sooner Indian winemakers find a way of combating this problem, the better.

Having said this, some members of Terroir did enjoy the reds. And one must also remember that this is the very first vintage from Four Seasons.

With a modern winery, deep pockets, an ambitious strategy and someone such as Kewadkar heading it, we are likely to be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

(mukund@thehindu.co.in)

Keywords: WinealcoholFour Seasons

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