The wine, a Grover red blend, was surprisingly good, not sourish, like most Indians wines I had tasted. Fast forward a bundle of years, and I am tasting a Grover red blend again, not from a paper bag but at a respectable Indian restaurant in Los Angeles.
Grover has changed a lot over the years. The company is now Grover Zampa, the result of a merger, and produces quality wines that sell for as little as $9. Already exporting internationally, Grover is entering the American market starting with eight states, including California.
CEO Sumedh Singh Mandla (at the left) came from India for the Los Angeles tasting, held at India's Tandoori in Brentwood. The food was Indian, but not because Indian wines can't stand up to other cuisines.
"We usually do tastings with international food," Mandla said. "but Indian food is getting more refined, not as spicy, less oily, and well plated. We want to be part of that movement."
Wine-making in India started from scratch in the 1970s, despite the conviction that wines couldn't be produced in a tropical climate. At that time, Kanwal Grover, an Indian businessman, visited wineries in France and fell in love with what he tasted. Today, Grover vineyards are planted with French clones on American rootstock, and Kanwal Grover is regarded as the father of Indian viticulture.
The wines poured in Los Angeles were from vineyards in the Nandi Hills near Bangalore, one of three areas where the company has planted grapes, and the one that gives the best results.
In the 1990s, renowned French enologist Michel Rolland came on board as consultant. More recently, Grover added star power by connecting with Vijay Amritraj, India's most famous tennis player.
The two Vijay Amritraj wines are a Reserve Collection White (top right), which is a Viognier that is barrel fermented and aged on lees, and the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection Red (above), which blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Viognier. Amritraj is on the labels as he appeared in his heyday (above and at the top).
Grover is experimenting with additional varietals. Tempranillo is giving good results, Mandla said. Others with potential are Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Merlot is less promising so far.
Syrah has done "wonderfully well," and Mandla recommends it with Indian food, as well as Viognier. Missing from the line are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. "The climate is not cool enough for them," Mandla said.
Grapes are hand harvested and picked toward the evening, when the temperature is lower. White wine grapes go to a cold room to relax before the wine-making process begins. The vines are young, averaging 8 to 10 years, with 15-year-old vines producing the grapes for La Réserve. Tonnage is kept low.
"Given the climate, rosé is good for India," he said. The Art Collection rosé poured that day (at the right) was complex and assertive enough to be good anywhere, in my opinion.