Tue 28 May 2013

Emerging Regions: Consciousness Raising

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What constitutes an ‘emerging region’?

La Catina vineyards in Romania

La Catina vineyards in Romania

This was the question posed at an inaugural trade tasting of the same name hosted recently by Harpers Wine & Spirit magazine. It brought together wines from countries and regions as diverse as China, Japan, Georgia, Turkey, Croatia, Romania but also Washington, Luxembourg, Chile, England, Greece and Argentina.

The tasting was aimed particularly at importers wishing to add something a little bit different to their wine lists. It presented a mix of countries and regions that already have made gentle inroads onto the UK wine scene, up-and-coming areas of newer wine-producing countries and lesser-known parts of established vineyard areas.

One of the original ‘objects’ of The Wine Society as laid down by our founders was ‘to introduce foreign wines hitherto unknown or but little known in this country.’ This spirit is as alive today as it was in 1874 and with such a wealth of good quality wines being produced in what would previously have been thought of as the most improbable of places, we are spoilt for choice.

The debate that preceded the tasting examined how to get drinkers to try these new wines … how can they compete on already crowded wine lists and shelves? How would wine lovers cope with the linguistically challenging wine names and grape varieties?

Many felt that the challenge is to get drinkers to take the plunge and taste unfamiliar wines felt that if you could just get people to taste the wines then they would be converted. There was talk of using signature wines or grapes to blaze a trail for a country’s lesser-known or more esoteric wines.

Romanian pinot noir was cited as a good example of this approach. Pinot noir is notoriously tricky to get right and often carries a high price tag, but it’s a variety that the Romanians do very well and at a reasonable price and it offers something very different from new world interpretations of the grape. One merchant talked of how one of his clients offered Romanian pinot noir by the glass on their pub chalk-board. The wine didn’t sell. However, the same wine sold as ‘House Pinot Noir’ flew out!

The policy of Wine Society buyer for Eastern Europe, Sebastian Payne MW, is to be ‘loud and proud’ about the wines we list and members have responded enthusiastically.

The rejuvenated Prince Stirbey estate in Dragasani, Romania

The rejuvenated Prince Stirbey estate in Dragasani, Romania

The enchanting Tamâioasa Româneasca white from Prince Stirbey in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps has proved very popular, as did the Turkish kalecik karasi red that we listed last summer and which we will be shipping again soon – proof that challenging juxtapositions of vowel and consonant is no barrier to trying delicious new wines!

I did find the tasting challenging. It wasn’t just the bewildering array of unheard-of wines and grape varieties from countries whose wines I had never encountered before, but also the fact that many of the tastes experienced were so different from what I am used to.

There was Georgia, which with its 8,000 vintages and 500 grape varieties lays claim to being the ‘cradle of winemaking’, and its traditional Qvervi wines fermented in large clay amphorae which are then sealed and buried in the earth.

A whole stand was devoted to the unique Orange wines all made within 100km of each other across three countries in Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. The wines undergo long skin contact during fermentation and are made in a highly traditional and natural way by techniques that have been around long before Rudolph Steiner was born! One of the growers refused to bottle his wine if it was a cloudy day because the wine would turn cloudy…

For me one of the most interesting aspects of the tasting was that it was a real leveller. It put seasoned tasters and experts in the shoes of those that are new to wine or who come to it without the preconceptions that many years in the industry may have given us. Without the usual points of reference by which to judge the wines, it was good to be reminded that what counts is simply whether you like the taste or not.

The good news was there was plenty to like, I thought, and it will be fascinating to chart the fortunes of these ‘emerging regions’ over the next few years.

Oh, and we have recently listed an extraordinarily good-value Romanian pinot noir too. La Catina Pinot Noir, 2009 comes from a single vineyard. With true pinot fragrance and succulent black-cherry flavour, it’s a bargain at £7.50 a bottle.

Read more about the rise of obscure grapes and regions in Andrew Jefford’s article, The weirdos are coming, in Wine World & News.

We will be making an offer of wines from off the beaten track in June.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Comments

  1. Alan Ford says:

    A very interesting article – and combined with Andrew Jefford’s piece, ‘The Weirdos are Coming’, very exciting! I’m looking forward to the June offer of wines from off the beaten track. How about a mixed case selection?

    • Joanna Goodman says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Just to confirm that the Off the Beaten Track offer will indeed contain a number of mixed cases to aid exploration.

  2. Peter Brennan says:

    Interesting to find the professionals out of their depth with naturally made wines. I wonder whether we shall cease to see the word ‘rustic’ being used negatively by Society buyers when describing wines?

    Unfortunately I cannot recognise the description of the ‘La Catina’ pinot noir. I was most disappointed that it bore no relation to the excellent, warm, rustic Romanian pinots that were around 20 years ago.

    ‘Mean and metallic’ were my tasting notes – a judgment seconded by several of my friends. As with most wines from ’emerging regions’ that reach these shores, it doesn’t seem to be an authentic local wine, but something concocted with the ‘international’ palate in mind (by a firm called ‘Halewood’).

    If you want a good, cheap pinot, buy the Society’s Puy de Dome, which really does do what it says on the bottle! (Though I don’t know whether the Auvergne qualifies as an ’emerging region’).

  3. Robin Smith says:

    Having recently enjoyed a bottle of the La Catina Pinot Noir I completely agree with your very good blog – an excellent wine for the price. As the taste for wine extends yet further, it is fascinating to see how different cultures are producing some excellent wines and good value wines. Compared to the slightly farcical marketing event that is the en premier release of Bordeaux wines now, this was a refreshing read.

  4. Gerald Milner says:

    The more the merrier. I say! As an old buffer, in my late eighties,I recall tasting some interesting wines from outside the varied offerings from Western Europe. Eastern Europe has not featured greatly recently, but my son brought me a fine bottle of red from Montenegro last year which I will not forget! There must be other gems to be dug out, and I wish you well in your search, but I suspect there may not be sufficient for commercial purposes.

  5. Vernon Stradling says:

    A decade or more ago, I was a customer of Pieroth Wines. Their business model – direct sales via tastings in the customer’s home – clearly had high overheads so I was not surprised that the prices were high. Unfortunately, most of the wines were unexceptional and some were downright unpleasant. However, we persevered for a while because they had two wines on their list that were truly excellent. One was a blaufrankish/cab sauv blend from the Matraalja area of Hungary, the other a cab sauv from Murfatlar, Romania. Consequently, I look forward to trying the two Romanian wines on the Society’s list and would encourage Sebastian Payne to search out some Murfatlar.

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