Kate Hawkings on... EASTERN PROMISE
O’s wine expert explains why you should try a bottle from eastern Europe
‘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.