A World of Wines

They come from ev­ery cor­ner of the earth

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Ecker

Vi­tis vine­fera – the sim­ple grape – started out as pretty much a prod­uct of the Mediter­ranean re­gion and cen­tral Europe. That’s why when one thinks of wine, some fa­mous wine re­gions that spring to mind in­clude Bordeaux, Bur­gundy, Rioja, Chi­anti. Even­tu­ally hu­mankind car­ried the vines to far-flung places like Chile, Ar­gentina, South Africa, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Napa Val­ley and Sonoma, to name but a few, which have pro­duced their own bounty of world class wines.

Yet more wine is be­ing pro­duced to­day than ever be­fore – from un­ex­pected re­gions all over the map – mir­ror­ing the nearly end­less va­ri­ety of viti­cul­ture to be found ev­ery­where on the planet. There are so many choices, and they’re com­ing from places that might sur­prise you. Part of what I do is sam­ple wines from around the world; some­times it’s try­ing a bot­tle at home, or if I’m lucky, I get to travel to wher­ever these wines are pro­duced.

First of all, it may sur­prise you to know where all this wine is com­ing from. Ac­cord­ing to the US-based Wine In­sti­tute, as of 2013, the coun­tries that pro­duce the most wine are, in or­der, Italy, Spain, France, the United States, Chile and China. These coun­tries are fol­lowed by South Africa, Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina, Ger­many, and 11th place Por­tu­gal.

China in par­tic­u­lar has been plant­ing vine­yards at a prodi­gious rate. Some ar­gue that China has now jumped up to the num­ber two spot on the list of wine pro­duc­ing na­tions, though there’s plenty of de­bate about ex­act num­bers. But as in all things these days, what China wants, China gets. So don’t be sur­prised to find Chi­nese wines com­ing to a big box store near you.

The new China Wine As­so­ci­a­tions Al­liance (CWAA) has just been es­tab­lished to unite the coun­try’s 17 dif­fer­ent wine re­gions and Chi­nese wine trade groups into one uni­fied body.

“It would be foolish to dis­pute that most of the world’s finest wines are to be found in its his­tor­i­cally no­table Euro­pean wine re­gions,”says David Furer, a wine con­sul­tant for var­i­ous wine or­ga­ni­za­tions in Europe and the Amer­i­cas.“How­ever, the ad­vent of bet­ter and less costly knowl­edge learned, tech­niques ap­plied, and equip­ment used through­out wine grow­ing ar­eas new and old en­sures that de­li­cious dis­cov­er­ies are to be found in many US states and pre­vi­ously un­her­alded ar­eas in other coun­tries.”

His­toric Roots

Grapes have an an­cient history. In fact, ac­cord­ing to the Bi­ble, Noah is cred­ited post-flood with not only be­ing the first per­son to plant grapes for wine­mak­ing but also be­ing the first guy to get drunk on the out­put.

Grapes made into wine trav­eled from the Fer­tile Cres­cent east and west across the world, so that places where you wouldn’t think had any con­nec­tion to al­co­hol to­day may have pro­duced wines long ago.

Tur­key claims to have traces of wine­mak­ing go­ing back some 7,000 years with the Hit­tite and other peo­ples con­sum­ing and of­fer­ing wine to the gods. From Ana­to­lia the Phry­gian peo­ple brought wine to the Greeks who later ex­ported wines west­ward. Su­vla Win­ery is one of the most renowned Turk­ish winer­ies to­day, pro­duc­ing award-win­ning wines on the Gal­lipoli Penin­sula. (Since 2013, the gov­ern­ment has for­bid­den winer­ies to ad­ver­tise or mar­ket their prod­ucts in any way within the coun­try.)

In 2011 an arche­o­log­i­cal dig in Ar­me­nia’sYeghef­nad­zor Moun­tain dis­cov­ered wine relics and wine residue sug­gest­ing a mas­sive wine pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. These finds date back to ap­prox­i­mately 4100 BC.

To­day, Ar­me­nia is again pro­duc­ing some very good wines with the com­pany Zo­rah lead­ing the way. Their Karasi wine is one of the first to get no­ticed by the Western press. The in­dige­nous Areni Noir grapes have evolved to pro­duce thick skins to pro­tect the fruit from the harsh cli­mate, yet the fla­vors are bold and pleas­ing. Cu­ri­ously, and per­haps with a lit­tle irony, Mount Ararat, where Noah sup­pos­edly parked his stranded boat, is nearby.

A num­ber of years ago I vis­ited the Clos de Gat Win­ery in Is­rael. Lo­cated in the Judean Hills, not far from Jerusalem, Clos de Gat farms about 35 acres of beau­ti­fully man­i­cured vine­yards. This area was a his­toric wine mak­ing area, and an­cient stone wine presses – some dat­ing back over 3,000 years – can be seen on their prop­erty. It’s pretty im­pres­sive to rec­og­nize this level of wine history be­neath your feet. Clos De Gat is an ex­am­ple of an Is­raeli pre­mium win­ery, wor­thy of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

Mace­do­nia and Bulgaria have also had long and an­cient his­to­ries with wine pro­duc­tion. In fact, Homer men­tioned wines from the Bul­gar­ian re­gion in his Iliad. More re­cently vine­yards were har­vested but the grapes were of poor qual­ity. How­ever, these pro­duc­ers are slowly re­gain­ing mo­men­tum, post-Com­mu­nism. With in­vest­ment and care, both coun­tries’wines are on the rise.

Vranec and Stanusina Crna are im­por­tant lo­cal red grape va­ri­eties in Mace­do­nia, and start­ing to get no­ticed on a wider stage. Ser­bia is another Balkan coun­try with a bright wine fu­ture. Al­ready it has more than 173,000 acres planted with grapevines, mostly around the Bel­grade area. The most pop­u­lar red grape is Proku­pac; it’s of­ten blended with other va­ri­etals but is also avail­able on it own. Big and bold, this is a Ser­bian wine to seek out.

I re­cently sam­pled a bot­tle from Ouled Thaleb, out of Morocco. This win­ery is lo­cated only 10 miles north­east of Casablanca. Es­tab­lished in 1923 in the Ze­nata grape grow­ing re­gion, this red blend is a com­bi­na­tion of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and Gre­nache. This is an en­joy­able wine that ex­udes the essence of the desert; a bit raw, a lit­tle wild and mys­te­ri­ous.

In­dia has been get­ting into the wine game with more and more pro­duc­ers, lo­cal cus­tomers and ex-pats en­joy­ing In­dian pro­duced wines. The largest grow­ing re­gion is the Dec­can Plateau, mak­ing up most of the south­ern part of the coun­try. Grape vines were brought to In­dia by Per­sian con­querors nearly 2500 years ago.

Most In­dian vine­yards grow in­ter­na­tional va­ri­eties such as Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Mer­lot, Sauvi­gnon Blanc and Chardon­nay, though there are some older va­ri­eties like Ban­ga­lore Blue which en­joy a fol­low­ing. Sula Vine­yards is one of the most well known of the In­dian wine pro­duc­ers, and their prod­ucts are now avail­able in the United States.

Shift­ing con­ti­nents, Chile and Ar­gentina have long been known for pro­duc­ing high qual­ity wines, but I just tried my first Brazil­ian wine. Pro­duced by Sal­ton, a large and pop­u­lar brand, the wines were quite re­spectable and pleas­ing. There are to­day over 1,100 winer­ies in Brazil and the coun­try, known more for its beaches and the Ama­zon, has been pro­duc­ing wines for more than 120 years. As be­fits a coun­try renowned for its cel­e­bra­tory spirit, 35 per­cent of Brazil­ian wines are of the sparkling va­ri­ety.

Though small, Uruguay also has a strong wine­mak­ing tra­di­tion mostly with the Tan­nat grape, which came from south­west­ern France near the Pyre­nees. Im­ported by Basque set­tlers in the 19th cen­tury, to­day Tan­nat is con­sid­ered Uruguay’s“na­tional grape.”

The United States of Wine

In 2015, ev­ery state in the Union – in­clud­ing Alaska and Hawaii – has at least one work­ing win­ery pro­duc­ing wine. Some, of course, are bet­ter than oth­ers. Cal­i­for­nia ac­counts for about 90 per­cent of all US wine pro­duced, fol­lowed by Washington, New NewYork, York, Ore­gon and Texas. Still many other states are push­ing the en­ve­lope.

“Ari­zona presents ex­tremely di­verse op­tions for grape grow­ing,” says, M. J. Keenan, wine­maker for Cad­ceus Cel­lars.“North­ern Ari­zona re­sem­bles Pied­mont, Spain, Rhone, even Por­tu­gal. South Eastern Ari­zona re­sem­bles Men­doza, South Western Ari­zona looks like a flflat­ter flat­ter ver­sion of the rolling hills of the Rhone.”

Most of Ari­zona’s vine­yards are at el­e­va­tion, some 3,500 to 5,000 feet above sea level.“We gen­er­ally have more is­sues with cold than with heat, as our over­all temps are lower than those in grow­ing re­gions sim­i­lar to Paso Robles, CA. Sum­mer di­ur­nal swings are any­where from 20 to 35 de­grees. This blesses us with Ital­ian style low pH, bright, el­e­gant red fruit food-friendly struc­tured wines,” says Kee­nen. Ari­zona wines have been gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity with lo­cals, plus pick­ing up no­tice in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia wine shops and be­yond.

Another state grow­ing by leap and bounds is Michigan, ac­count­ing for over one mil­lion cases ac­cord­ing to the latest data. Nathaniel Rose is the wine­maker at Breng­man Broth­ers Win­ery in Tra­verse City.

“The big­gest thing about our lo­ca­tion is the enor­mous ef­fect of tem­per­a­ture buffer­ing we get from Lake Michigan al­low­ing us to grow in an area that would oth­er­wise have too cold a win­ter to sup­port vinifera,”he says.“This same buffer­ing al­lows our sea­son to ex­tend long into the fall – it is com­mon for us to pick reds and Ries­ling in Novem­ber – and keeps mid-sum­mer tem­per­a­tures from spik­ing to lev­els that could cook out some of the more nu­anced aro­mat­ics.” Wine­mak­ers have fig­ured out how the lake af­fects Michigan’s viti­cul­ture and learned to work with, not against na­ture.

I re­cently con­ducted a Rose Wine Com­pe­ti­tion and we re­ceived wines from 20 states. Winer­ies from Penn­syl­va­nia, Iowa, In­di­ana and even Maine won awards. So the next time you‘re in a wine shop, try some­thing re­ally new.You may be sur­prised. BT

Top: Clos de Gat Win­ery in Is­rael Bot­tom: Peso da Regua (Por­tu­gal)

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