While the appreciation for wine, and the number of wine bars and varietals in India might be growing, unlike France, where wines are woven into the fabric of dining and socialising, there’s no denying that things are still at a relatively nascent stage in the country. In France, wine is sold by the appellation, a legally defined region from where certain wine grapes originate. And so there, you sell a Bordeaux. It is called Chablis and not a Chardonnay. Similarly, a Merlot is called Saint-Émilion. But, in India, where people would like to know more about what they are drinking, to understand it and hold a conversation around it, the wine label needs to tell you a lot more.
“This is why we decided to adapt new world practicalities with old-world heritage, and realised we can do that when we own the label,” says Abhay Kewadkar, MD Tetrad Global Beverages Pvt Ltd. The company’s long-standing association with Anne Arbeau, the fifth-generation winemaker from the Vignobles Arbeau family in France and her wine-maker brother, Geraud Arbeau, has resulted in the Early Dark wine series, a portfolio made and bottled in France exclusively for the Indian market.
Arbeau and Kewadkar’s friendship saw their discussions often centred on the wine market in India. They realised that in India you either had people who made wine, or importers who brought it in from other countries. But, with the venture they envisioned, there could be a wine that was bottled abroad, came back as a private label, and was Indian in its own right. “The idea was to always give to the consumer value for money and a wine of great heritage. All this, in a simple way,” says Kewadkar. It took just about eight months to go from thought to the first Early Dark bottle which launched in February 2019. Why the name Early Dark? “Well, people enjoy a drink a little late in the evening, usually when it’s dark. But with wine, we wanted to tell people, it’s never too early!” chuckles Kewadkar.
In terms of a flavour profile, Kewadkar felt that the Indian market needed something that was easy to drink and not fruit-forward. He also wanted to focus on wines that paired with robust Indian dishes, from a Mangalore Fish Curry to a Mutton Rogan Josh.
My first encounter with Early Dark was at a tasting to introduce it, and to put it simply, the Early Dark label educates. It talks about the grapes in the wine, and includes the varietal name. You will also know of the international rating of the wine, along with the awards it has received. More importantly, these wines are quality certified by the French government. In French wine quality standards of Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP), Early Dark wines rank between three to four of five, with five being the best possible.
As is internationally, the Indian market prefers red wines and so Early Dark has three reds in its line-up of six, two whites, and a rose, in line with international markets and the demands observed. The highlights of the portfolio are three wines – the Syrah-Negrette-Gamay red from their Reserve range, the Bordeaux, and the Sauvignon Blanc.
The first is an aromatic wine, a sip of which would probably remind you of a Pinot Noir. It has won a silver medal at the Concours Elle a Table (a blind tasting by a jury of wine professionals in France), and additionally, it is the first time the Negrette grape, sustainably grown in the Fronton region of Sud Ouest France, has come to India. With just enough tannins to suit the Indian palate and to be taken seriously by wine connoisseurs, it is a wine that pairs really well with pastas and pizzas, and also plays well with barbecues of meats and vegetables alike.
Early Dark’s Bordeaux is made in small batches. It is a classic blend of Merlot, which brings in soft notes of fruit and spice, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives it depth. Perfect to pair with red meats, cheese, and even paneer in rich gravies, this wine has tannins that enhance the flavour of these heavy foods. What is interesting is that this wine is made from grape vines that are 30 years old, which essentially means that their quality is higher. It can be kept for two-three years, and in ideal conditions will improve in terms of taste, though indulging right away does not take away anything from its experience.
The Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand is made from the grapes of the Gaillac region. Some of the plantings in this region are over 2000 years old, dating back to Roman times (award-winning wine writer Andrew Jefford refers to the wine from the region as being a millennium ahead of Burgundy and 1,500 years ahead of Bordeaux!) And it is available to us now in the Indian market, and perfectly partnered with seafood, vegetables prepared in Indian and Asian styles.
Early Dark Wines are currently available in Bengaluru, and start at Rs 1,685 going up to Rs 1,730. Indian origin reserves are priced at Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000, and Early Dark offers you a French origin, quality-certified, award-winning wine collection in the same price bracket. Plans are underway to take the distribution to other cities in India.
All images: Courtesy Early Dark Wines