A FASCINATING new trend that favours UNUSUAL WINES from UNFAMILIAR PLACES is building momentum as never before …
Have you tried any wines from Georgia or Armenia recently? Or Morocco, or the Lebanon? Or Hungary, or Slovenia? Or Switzerland, or Jura? Before you claim zero interest in esoterica, let me gently suggest you think again. A fascinating new trend that favours unusual wines from unfamiliar places is building momentum as never before. Wine fans might as well contemplate it – maybe even embrace it. Better the way-out and the wacky now and again than the more of same old thing, particularly if that implies being glued into an impermeable time warp of Prosecco and Sauvignon Blanc.
Impressive bottles from all of the countries just mentioned made an impact at tastings held in Ireland over the past year. I expect to see even more newcomers soon, as what once seemed like the wine world’s outer fringe becomes increasingly fashionable. Two important groups are driving the demand for offbeat offerings. Young sommeliers are fired up by the idea of matching the most innovative restaurant food with the most adventurous wines. And our most dynamic specialist retailers see that, even if they can’t easily compete with supermarkets on price, they can beat them into a cocked hat when it comes to offering customers something different.
Georgia is perhaps the most intriguing country to begin to raise its profile here, besides being the oldest with over 8,000 years of wine production to its credit. Since independence from the former Soviet Union was declared in 1991 many of its wineries, mostly small in scale, have begun to focus on high-quality wines which are sparking interest in export markets.
Local grape varieties are one element underpinning distinctive Georgian flavours, with Krakhuna and Mtsvane for whites and Saperavi for reds heading a long, mind-bending list. Traditional production methods are another. These involve qvevri – clay pots like big amphorae half-buried in the ground, allowing for continuous micro-oxygenation – and a period of up to three months during which the grape skins remain in contact with the juice.
To western palates the results can seem dramatic, yielding deeply coloured, pithy, whites and grippy, textured, sometimes rather jammy reds – all challenging to drink along but good-tempered with food. Although Georgia also produces modern styles, the forward march of the natural wine movement suggests that its age-old, artisan approach will continue to grab the most headlines.
Of the wine regions I visited last year, the most compelling fashionable fringe contender was France’s Jura, far enough off the beaten track between Burgundy and Switzerland to have preserved a unique way of doing things. Although Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown here the most striking wines are made from Jura grape varieties, the white star being Savagnin (also known as Naturé). Its fame rests on vin jaune, Jura’s fabulously intense, long-living, sherry-like creation – but Savagnin also produces stylish and more youthful white wines like the one below.
MARY DOWEY @MaryDowey
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our March issue, out Saturday, March 4.
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