Kate Hawk­ings on... EAST­ERN PROM­ISE

O’s wine ex­pert ex­plains why you should try a bot­tle from east­ern Europe

Olive - - DRINK -

‘Old world’ wine refers to that from tra­di­tional wine­pro­duc­ing re­gions in western Europe (France, Spain, Italy and the like), but in fact wine was first made in coun­tries fur­ther east. Ge­or­gia lays claim to be­ing the birth­place of wine, with arche­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence of wine-mak­ing dat­ing back more than 8,000 years, and, across the Black Sea, coun­tries such as Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia, Hun­gary and Slove­nia have also been mak­ing wine for mil­len­nia.

What th­ese coun­tries have in com­mon is that they all be­came com­mu­nist regimes af­ter World War II. Land and winer­ies were taken over by the state, and many old indige­nous grape vines were dug up to be re­planted with high-yield­ing in­ter­na­tional va­ri­eties to make vast quan­ti­ties of poor-qual­ity wine, of­ten adul­ter­ated with ad­di­tives.

Af­ter the rev­o­lu­tions of 1989 and the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when th­ese coun­tries gained in­de­pen­dence, winer­ies were pri­va­tised and land was re­turned to its pre-war own­ers. And, with the ex­cep­tion of Ge­or­gia, they joined the EU in the early 2000s, which brought a wave of much-needed in­vest­ment to their wine in­dus­tries. Indige­nous grapes were re­planted, and the process was mod­ernised with an eye to sus­tain­abil­ity by cut­ting back the use of chem­i­cals. Qual­ity dras­ti­cally im­proved, and now th­ese grapes are reach­ing the ma­tu­rity re­quired to pro­duce some ex­cel­lent wines.

Th­ese coun­tries have the ad­van­tage of lower pro­duc­tion and labour costs than in western Europe, and they have largely avoided ex­treme weather con­di­tions that can dam­age har­vests. This, to­gether with the plum­met­ing pound that has seen prices of our im­ported wines shoot up, means wines from the east tend to of­fer re­ally good value for money.

In­de­pen­dence has brought to th­ese coun­tries a pride in their her­itage and cul­ture, and wine-mak­ing is very much part of that.

It’s a tra­di­tion that’s be­ing re­vived and rein­vented, and its fu­ture is look­ing rosy.

@KateHawk­ings

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