Where Your Next Great Wine Will Come From
Our view of wines is changing. While it may still be dominated by Burgundy and Barolo, Cabernet and Chardonnay, much of what has been familiar in the past is inching out of the reach of ordinary consumers. Prices are rising for the wine world’s recognized stars, creating openings and impetus for some rising stars. That is not to say that Öküzgözü from Turkey is about to replace your Cabernet, but it does mean that you just might have a few opportunities to try Öküzgözü soon, a good thing that certainly wasn’t always the case.
Today’s wine drinker is less bound by convention than those of decades gone by. The Classifications of Bordeaux and Burgundy are less important, and intriguing to many new wine drinkers than the Qvevri wines of Georgia or even the Rieslings of New York’s Finger Lakes. The reasons behind this are of course complex, with some influence coming from rising prices, emerging wines tending to be well priced, but other larger forces are at work including a return to the appreciation of what is local and natural; with the thrill of discovery adding its own unique impetus to the exploration of these lesser known wine regions.
While many of us in the trade can be dismissive of regions that have yet to see the full force and fruition of investment come to bear, it is worth noting that these regions are gaining increasing international attention for their wines, with each region having their own apostles, ensuring access to an increasingly curious and adventuresome audience. It’s time to start paying attention to wines beyond the usual suspects. It’s time to start paying attention to regions that will teach us a thing or two about the diversity and beauty of wine. It’s time to start paying attention to the parts of the world we have never paid attention to before! Here are some of my favorite regions that are quickly developing reputations as the next big thing in wine.
Haven’t heard much about Turkish wine? Well that is only a little surprising, but not more so than not knowing that the Turkish wine industry has roots that stretch back thousands of years, recognized as having first produced a beverage known as “vino” between 4000-3000 B.C.
Turkey is poised to become a major player in the wine world over the coming years. Already one of the most prolific grape growing countries in the world, with annual yields over 4 million metric tons1, 6th highest in the world, Turkey is far better known for their production of table grapes and raisins than wine, but that is slowly changing.
Roughly 28 million liters2 of wine are produced annually in Turkey, accounting for perhaps half their total potential based on current vineyard plantings. Already a formidable number, the potential for a doubling of production at a time when quality is showing impressive improvements (the average price per liter of Turkish wines has increased from $1.36 in 2006 to $3.25 in 2011)3 means that Turkey is truly prepared to make inroads into the global premium wine market, something that few would have considered just a decade ago.
And about that Öküzgözü. This may very well prove to be Turkey’s breakout variety. Among the indigenous Turkish varieties, of which there are many, Öküzgözü strikes a fine balance between character and drinkability, reminding me of Dolcetto with its fresh, fruity flavors and lovely bright character. I try them every chance I get, and while winemaking might not be where it needs to be yet, there are some great examples out there.
While Turkey has an impressive vinous history, and great vineyard to accompany that story, China is more of an upstart in the wine world, but as is this case with the Chinese, when they decided to do wine, they decided to do it on a large scale. So large in fact that Chinese grape production swelled from 300,000 hectares in 2000 to nearly 600,000 today4, yielding over 10 million metric tons of fruit5 making China the world’s leading producer of grapes.
While production is exploding in China, wine production, while growing rapidly, is of course proceeding at a slower pace. Investments by international wine powerhouses such as Domaines Barons de Rothschild and LVMH are ensuring that the studies of terroir and production in early state trials are being undertaken with the highest international standards in mind.
While Turkey has a bevy of indigenous varieties to promote, China must rely on imported clonal material and due to their domestic market, the terroir, and international pressures over 60% of what has been planted in China has been Cabernet Sauvignon6. It remains to be seen whether the world at large needs another source of Cabernet Sauvignon but, in the short term, if Chinese Cabernets can compete with the world’s best, these wines will be an easy way to benchmark the potential China’s wine regions have. There is no doubt that somewhere in that vast country, with the money and the wherewithal being applied, world-class wines will emerge. How exciting will it be to be there from the very start?
While Turkey and China are the biggest stories in the wine world it’s worth noting what have been some of the biggest headlines of this past year.
New York’s Finger Lakes
The region, long known for their Rieslings, is the site of some international investment that opened more than a few eyes. Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach formed a joint venture to develop a 67 acre site on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake. While this is not the first outside investment in the region, it is the biggest, and most widely covered by the media, portending increasing media coverage for the great, and largely undiscovered, wines of the region.
The Republic of Georgia
After years of increasing interest in so-called orange wines and fermentations in amphorae, Georgia is finally getting the word out about their Qvevri wines. The traditional wines of Georgia, fermented in these clay Qvevri, are a historical link that connects the modern day interpretations of this style of wine their roots. While certainly not for every palate, Qvervi wines can be fascinating and have served to open the door to both the historical and modern day wines of regions previously unknown to the wine cognoscenti.
Not a story, yet, ProWein 2015 will be one of the great stories of 2015. Already the world’s top venue for wine professionals, it’s very possibly the only place on earth where you might be able to sample all of the greatest wines of these emerging regions alongside wines from every important “classic” wine producing region on earth. Over the course of three days ProWein International Trade Fair for Wines and Spirits in Düsseldorf, Germany (March 15 – 17, 2015) will give the global wine professional unparalleled access to the greatest wines and producers in the world while allowing them the freedom to discover all the new and exciting developments that have taken place this past year in the world of wine or will gain attention in the future.
Gregory Dal Piaz has been involved with wine for over three decades, beginning on the restaurant side of the business, before moving to retail, and now as Editor-in-Chief of Snooth.com.