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Reading Between the Wines: the undiscovered countries

We’ve all had French wine in our time, right? I’m sure Spanish wine has popped up from time to time as well.

It is hard for weird and wonderful new wines to break into the market
It is hard for weird and wonderful new wines to break into the market

The adventurous among us will be familiar with Austrian wines, yes? What about Peruvian wine? Or maybe Japanese? No, Mexican? Moldovan? Algerian..?

If your answer to any of the above was “no”, I have a further question: Why not?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation lists the top three wine producing countries as (in descending order): Italy, France and Spain. You might be slightly surprised to learn that the fourth is the USA. You almost definitely will, however, be surprised to know that the fifth most productive wine industry in the world belongs to… You guessed it – China!

Now, as with most things Chinese, expect to see a greater market presence in the near future, but for now: have you ever had a Chinese wine? Have you ever seen a Chinese wine? Given that there is more wine being made in China than in Chile, Argentina or Australia, its scarcity in the UK again begs the question: Why not?

All of the countries I listed above are in the top fifty wine producing nations in the world, and can produce truly exquisite plonk. If you have never had wine from these places, the reason is most likely that they are simply very hard to get a hold of, or at the very least, very hard to spot amongst everything else on the shelves.

Suppliers and retailers rarely opt to risk investing in ‘odd’ wine – it is much safer to stock wine we are all already familiar with. As a result of this, consumers become cautious of wine from places we don’t know yet, making it even harder for weird and wonderful new wines to ‘break’ the market. A vicious cycle.

When such wines do make it on to the shelf, those who produce and sell them have a tendency to ‘hide’ them in familiar-looking packaging, with their bottles performing their best chameleon act. All these countries can make top-class wine, so they shouldn’t need to hide, but more’s the pity. Luckily, I have found a few, all of which are great, but still use different tricksy tactics to make you think they might be like the wines you already know.

First up is a Romanian Pinot Noir that has been on the market for a good few years, but was recently rebranded so that you literally have to look on the back to find out where it comes from: Sainsbury’s House Pinot Noir NV (£4.49).

Yes, Romania can make some truly wonderful wines, and the Pinot Noir grape loves the country, producing wines that range from up-front, juicy, and young-drinking, to more refined and complex wines that need a good cellaring. As you can guess from the price and lack of vintage, this wine is the former. It has a nice tangy and jammy cherry flavour, backed up with a round, warm juiciness on the finish. Don’t buy this if you want to impress anyone, but if you have to fill glasses for loads of guests, and need affordable plonk that can please a crowd, look no further.

Do you ever get that feeling that you just need a wine from the Middle East? Yeah, me too. Next time you get that urge, try a bottle of Lebanon’s finest: Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2010 (£9.75, Oddbins).

Apart from the nod to Ksara (where this wine comes from) you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a bottle of Bordeaux. There is something of Bordeaux about its character too, as it is a blend of red grapes commonly used there, with a dash of Syrah to add a savoury depth. Nice and dry, with rich, velvety blackcurrant and pine qualities, this matches beautifully with – surprise, surprise – Middle Eastern cuisine.

Hiding in plain sight is the delightful Alisios do Seival Touriga Nacional/Tempranillo 2010 (£8.67 Spirited Wines). The bottle says “Brazil” in big lettering on the front, but not quite as big as the names of the grapes it contains, which represent the two famous countries that it wants to make you think of: Touriga Nacional from Portugal, and Tempranillo from Spain. Think Portugal more than Spain for the style here, as this wine has a zippy, almost green nose followed a dark, robust but lifted plummy flavour profile.

You could try these, but if you want to be even more adventurous, next time you see a wine from a country you’ve never bought from before, just ask yourself: “Why not?”

 

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