Surprising countries making a splash in wine’s new world order
May 1, 2014
When you can walk into a small, hip, Perth wine bar and order a Greek wine by the glass – and it’s good – you know that things have been changing in both the international and local wine scenes. Greece has been producing wine for thousands of years, of course, but we’ve only been familiar with their simple table wine, so what’s going on? It’s experiences like these that remind me to keep my eyes and mind open to the wine producing world beyond Spain, New Zealand, France, Italy… and a lot has been happening lately to stir my interest. Reaching beyond the usual suspects can seem risky so I thought I’d share what I know about the more unusual international wine trends – they might provide some exciting options if you feel like trying something new. It also helps to know the strengths of these emerging wine areas, as some are developing specialties to look out for.
The countries of interest for me right now are Greece, China, England, Uruguay and Morocco. I’ll discuss each in more detail but, in general, these countries are all seeing remarkable gains in quality and reputation. These improvements are largely due to producers using new technology to revitalise their vineyards and modernise their industries. They’ve produced wines of a sufficient quality for a long time but because their wines are getting better, the wine world is starting to take notice and the international demand for their wines is increasing. We’re seeing more of these wines in Australia, and Perth, as interest develops and importers cater to this growing awareness.
Greek wine is, in a word, hot. There’s a focus on Greek wine at the moment that’s unprecedented, especially in Melbourne, but also here. Gone are the clichés of Ouzo and Retsina and now we start to learn about new grape varieties. Moschofilero, grown in the Peloponnese region, is a dry white wine variety; we stock a producer called Tselepos. For red wine lovers there’s a variety called Xinomavro, which is often compared to the Italian Nebbiolo because of its similar structure. The Greek version is actually more serious; it’s richer, earthier and displays more noticeable tannins. Another notable variety is Agiorgitiko, from the area of Nemea, and producers such as Gaia and Kir-Yianni use these grapes to create soft, juicy, easy drinking wines.
China is a huge country and inevitably the quality will vary but after hearing a few whispers about Chinese wine, and because I can’t pass up a good theme, I made my first foray at Chinese New Year 2014. My choice was a Cabernet Gernischt from the Hansen winery in the Wuhai Valley and it was well structured with red fruit notes, just a great little expression of the grape variety. It did not rock my world. It was not bound for the cellar. However, for novelty value alone it passed the taste-test. I’m sure further investigations into China’s wines will follow soon.
The English are starting to make some really good sparkling wines. Yes, Champagne will always be Champagne and an expression of that terrior, but the rest of the world does do its best and England is starting to hold its ground. The English Ridgeview Estate “Bloomsbury” 2010 even took out the French in a recent international wine show, and in our own humble tastings we were very impressed. Ridgeview Estate have only been around since the early ’90s and use the classic Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Another sparkling brand gaining prominence is Nyetimber, currently not available in Australia.
Chile and Argentina are always going to be the first thoughts when South American wine is mentioned. Uruguay is not suddenly becoming a prominent producer but there are some wines filtering through and they are of a high standard. Tannat is the grape variety they’re known for and it generates a light-bodied, soft, rounded red. The wine-makers at Atlantico are making a good example at under $30, which La Vigna stocks.
For my final international trend I am fudging a little, as Morocco isn’t really gaining much in the way of recognition – it’s been around on a small scale for years. But, I have a soft spot for Moroccan wine and the product of one winemaking partnership in particular. Alain Graillot, a producer in the Rhone Valley, met the team from Thalvin, one of the oldest Moroccan wineries at the Domaine des Ouled Thaleb in Morocco. The fruit of their collaboration was the Syrocco Syrah, a wine that I just love. It’s so clean and fresh and nicely structured, with red berry fruits, hints of white pepper and a drying finish. It is an unexpected delight!
When I reflect on the last few months, the strongest trend I can see emerging is a high quality, international flavour. That’s great news for lovers of diversity in their wine, but also those who want to try something new occasionally without a huge chance of disappointment. Good luck; the odds are in your favour, especially if you visit us at La Vigna!