Wine has its ancient beginnings in Egypt and Persia, where as early as 3000 BC a simple wine-making process was evolving. The joyful discovery was spread around the Mediterranean by seafaring Phoenicians and a great wine-making tradition was established in a number of countries. Eventually, by the 1800s, France was recognized as being the best. By 2000, there were five major wine producers: France, of course; Spain; Italy; the US; and Argentina. However, there are new players emerging from the wings, ready to step onto the world’s wine stage.
Unlikely countries are gaining acceptance for their wines, some perhaps not so unlikely. Greece, for example, is polishing up a reputation in a field where it was an important player thousands of years ago. Today its wines are again sought after although relatively expensive because of small-scale production methods. A number of estates are exporting small amounts of reds and whites that are beginning to stimulate interest outside Greece. They are poised to seize upon export possibilities, buoyed by the iconic Marks & Spencer in Britain choosing to place three Greek wines on its illustrious shelves – this represents quite an entre into a discerning market!
Ukraine had a thriving wine industry centuries ago, especially in the north of the country around Kiev and Chernihiv. In 1783, when Ukraine became part of Russia, it was a primary wine source for that vast empire. Sadly, many vineyards were destroyed in the mid 1980s when there was a campaign to lessen alcohol consumption in the USSR. There has been a swift recovery in the past ten years, however, and the sweet sparkling wines of Ukraine are well worth seeking out. If you happen to find yourself in Yalta, be sure to visit the Magarch Wine Institute, where from among 20,000 wines you could chance upon one that is utterly irresistible.
Croatia produces in excess of 50 million bottles of wine each year, some of it from picturesque little vineyards on hillsides and islands along the Adriatic coast. Here the Plavac Mali variety, named for its small blue fruit, is the origin of some quite outstanding red wines. Inland the warmer continental climate is conducive to the production of crisp, light wines; a good Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc can be found. Croatia’s wine history goes back many centuries and except for the period of its war 1991-1995, it was a recognized wine presence in Europe. The industry is recovering and wines of Croatia are again coming into prominence. The chief problem with these wines is how to pronounce their names!
Outside Europe and the traditional, ancient wine producing areas, two countries to watch are Canada and Brazil. Canada is a relatively recent addition to the wine world. Too extreme in temperature to successfully grow most varieties of grape, it has managed to exploit its freezing winter conditions with its now-famous “ice wine,” unique in grape treatment and taste. Present investment in the industry is being rewarded in export growth.
Brazilian wines have responded positively to the setting up of a Wine Institute in 1998, a move that has regulated the industry and gained international recognition, especially for its sparkling wines. 90% of production is from the Serra Gaucha, where a creditable Cabernet Sauvignon is found as well as the Riesling Italico and a pleasant Chardonnay.
There is little doubt that a whole new generation of wine growers is bringing an exciting dimension into the international wine market, challenging established tastes. We may be some years away from their overtaking and actually supplanting the market’s old suppliers, but we should not be surprised to find new labels and wines from unlikely sources.