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The next time you sit down to a fancy dinner and the sommelier comes by asking for your choice of wine, be ready with a more creative answer than just red or white. With scientists of Lucknow's Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture working to create wines from a variety of mangoes native to Uttar Pradesh, Dussehri or Langda may soon be the option you settle on.
Technically speaking, sugar extracted from any fruit can be converted into alcohol through the process of fermentation, and the resultant produce may be called wine. Going by that logic, of course, lychee, jamun, guava and wood apple (bael) could make for good desi wine fruits.
After all, the Indian wine market, which is growing at an impressive 30 per cent annually, is also quite adventurous.
For a fruit to become the source of a fine wine, the acid-sugar combination has to be just so. It is ideal in grapes but not so ideal, say picky vintners, in mangoes or guavas. But if the pro-grape wine lobby is vocal and strong, there are plenty of voices cheering the lesser fruits as well. HP Singh, deputy director general (horticulture ) at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in New Delhi, says mango wines are a workable idea. "The mango wines developed by scientists at the CISH will be economical in comparison to grape wines. In particular, this value added production will be helpful during the peak mango season when several tonnes of fruit are wasted everyday, " Singh points out.
Not surprisingly, there's palpable excitement brewing inside CISH laboratories. Microbiology expert Neelima Garg, the brain behind the unique endeavour, holds up a funnel containing Langda wine and sniffs it appreciatively. "I want these wines to be promoted as health drinks and not alcoholic beverages. These are unique blends of fruit juices and alcohol that can be consumed for pleasure as well as health. Since wines do not contain more than 12 per cent alcohol in any case, we don't want them to be regarded as beverages meant to give drinkers a high, " says Garg.
For the while, Garg need not worry about tippler troubles. She will have her hands full dealing with oenophiles harrumphing at the idea of a mango wine. Says Shailendra Pai, the Maharashtrabased vintner and managing director of Vallonne Vineyards: "Wine making experiments using other fruits have been conducted in many parts of the world. In Maharashtra, I've seen experiments with jambul (jamun), orange and milk but the fad faded within months. Even if we do end up with a mango version, it will never match up with the romance of the grape wine. "
Fruits such as mango, cashew, lychee and orange have definitive aromas, but wines made from grapes have a more expansive bouquet. Depending on the varietal, one can smell and taste anything from dark chocolate, cigar and plum to grass, pineapple or even capsicum in grape wines. When it comes to the grand tradition of wine appreciation, enjoying these aromas and flavours is essential. Connoisseurs look well beyond taste in assessing wines - the look, colour, texture, body, structure, volume, balance and complexity are all elements of the experience surrounding the liquor. These principles are also important in pairing wines with food.
However, it wouldn't be wise to dismiss the possible merits of mango wines just yet. Says Glyston Gracias, chef at Delitalia, the Mumbai-based fine dining restaurant: "I'd say a mango wine can replace a Rose when paired with desserts. Alternatively, it could be used innovatively for cooking instead of being paired with food. I would, for instance, use it for making desserts. "
Despite the debate, vintner MK Rustagi of Nirvana Biosys is upbeat about the market for wines made from varied fruits. Already retailing lychee wines in collaboration with Mauritius-based EC Oxenham and Company, under the Luca label at their Gurgaon-based winery, Rustagi has now approached CISH for help in producing mango wines. "We came to know that CISH is developing the technology for producing mango wines. Such products have been experimented with, and with a good deal of success in Australia, Canada, Philippines and Brazil. In time, the Indian wine lover will also warm up to them, " he says.
The good word notwithstanding, scientists confess that a lot has to be done before mango wines can challenge the traditional market. Says Hutchappa Ravishankar, director, CISH: "We are still in the protocol development stage. Several parmeters have to be optimised - filtering the pulp, aging the wine and balancing the viscosity of the pulp, for instance. "
According to experts, the process of filtration of the juice extracted from a fruit like mango is difficult because the pulp is thicker than that of grapes. Also, the recovery of juice from fruits other than grapes is quite low.
Despite the challenges, other fruits may eventually make an impact in the wine market. In Maharashtra, for instance, NCP MLA Bhaskar Jadhav is exhorting farmers to make wines from berries. In Himachal Pradesh, fruit wines made out of peaches, apricots, apples, strawberries and rhododendrons are being produced commercially. It is time, perhaps, to promote more such fruitful endeavours.
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