Being a wine taster can often get very boring. This is because most popular wine regions are trying to make wines to cater to popular taste which means that we professionals have to sit and sip a lot of stuff that tastes fairly similar. The intrinsic identity of the product is subsequently being lost as the wave of consumerism washes away all traces of individuality and characteristic traits.
So when we are not working (i.e. drinking) we try and look for something new to wet out teeth with (i.e. drink some more). This is where new wine regions can be very intriguing and engaging.
Contrary to what the old wine hands may want you to believe, it is not just a European phenomenon. History testifies that wine was made in different parts of the world, the first of which were surely not the current Western European stars of this art today. Sure the modern wine is more international a phenomenon but that doesn’t discount the original efforts. Well, it shouldn’t. Here then is a modest collection of wines from lesser-known yet equally gifted regions.
Moldova: This is a country where winemaking (or at least grape-growing) dates back to 3000 BC! Today the wines are mostly destined for exports and yet so little is known of them. I too haven’t tried too many types but one that I do remember was from Cricova. They are based in the city of the same name and have underground cellars over a 100kms in length. Much like champagne, the stone taken to build the city left these cellars which are used today by the wineries. Try their sparkling red wine; you might find yourselves grappling for words to describe it, in a good way that is.
UK: This is another scant suspect on the winemaking scene but global warming has actually made the sun shine on the British Empire. My initial tastings included mostly sap wine and some cedar wine but of late all that has changed. The southern counties are producing plenty of wines especially sparkling wines and Breaky Bottom remains one of my favourites. Their sparkling brut (based on Seyval Blanc, a light Loire valley grape) isn’t exactly cheap but is a fine wine. Chapel Down is another good reference brand to try.
Bulgaria: Another ancient wine producing region that has only risen to fame in the last few years. The recognised cradle of winemaking, the Thracian Valley was renowned for its wines even in Me. Todoroff is a neat little boutique house which makes some international varietals which aren’t bad but I would suggest trying the Mavrud which is a local wine grape. Not too heavy on tannins and extremely fruity would be the best way to describe this easy-to-drink wine.
Uruguay: Given that its neighbours are so voraciously involved in winemaking, Uruguay couldn’t have been far behind. Not only do they make good wine, they have been smart enough to adopt and re-baptise a grape to create an international image for their tiny industry. The grape of choice here is Tannat, also found in South West France but unfortunately over-shadowed by Bordeaux and its wines, which is only a skip away. A good house would be Juanico. Tannat is a very powerful grape – strong on flavours and tannins, be warned.
Paris: Around the area of Sacre Coeur in Paris, you will see creperies, quaint shops selling oddities, high-end Bohemian boutiques, lots of tourists and then, along Rue du Saules, a tiny vineyard! Le Clos Montmartre makes very little wine (a thousand bottles a year at best) and is normally drunk during a festival in the area of Montmartre. I haven’t tasted it but you can add this to the other million reasons to visit Paris.
China: There has been considerable wine-making in our neighbour and for quite some time, it was not comparable even to our local plonk. But, as with everything else, the Chinese have overtaken us there as well, as also many other winemaking countries. The Dragon seal red (Cabernet Sauvignon) is definitely worth more than a few sips.
Thailand: This little kingdom went wine crazy when their monarch claimed its virtuous properties in not exactly a few words. Chateau des Brumes, named after the mist on the mountains of the region, is a good boutique sized production and the reds (La Prestige and La Fleur) are what I would recommend.
Georgia: Back to Eastern Europe and yet another ex-USSR country now carving its own identity as, amongst other things, a wine-producing nation. History claims that this is one of the first regions of grape cultivation in the world and so extensive is the wine production here that I’d be lying if I said I can remember all the styles they produce. Anakopia is one semi-dry style of white I particularly enjoyed and would recommend as a good introduction to the country’s wines.
Iceland: Cold isn’t what it used to be and Húsavík is proof to that. It is perhaps the northernmost vineyard of the world and shows how determination can overcome an obstacle, as in the case of Omar Gunnarsson, who is the only winemaker in this country. Kvöldsól, as the wine is called, is made from berries (rather than grapes), rhubarb, and a mix of herbs. The resulting brew is very rich in anti-oxidants as are the berries. The taste isn’t too bad (some sourness) but you have to detach yourself from the idea of grape wine before you indulge.
Slovenia: They are so close to Italy that even today some Slovenian vineyards lie across the border in Italian soil as also are, Italian vines are growing on Slovenian soils. Among these ‘borderline’ producers, Vina Sim?i? is very reputed and respected. The Teodor Reserve is a good Bordeaux-style blend and has tremendous ageing potential.
Hungary: This is perhaps the least surprising of countries, given the fairly odd mix above. Hungarian Tokaji has always been famous but equally worthy of repute is their local red blend called ‘Egri Bikaver’ (meaning Bull’s blood) which is primarily based on the Kadarka grape. The folklore perhaps is more heady than the wine itself but history has a way of making things more colourful. Among the many producers, Grof Butler is an established name for red wines whereas leading Tokaji producers would include Royal Tokaji Company and Disznók?.
So much for demystifying wine. But not all things are to be deconstructed, just like the joys of deep-sea diving cannot be gauged by standing on the shores.