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Bordeaux, Burgundy, Mendoza, La Rioja,Tuscany, the Napa Valley. All are centres of great wine known far and wide. We eschew the tried and tested this round, and instead cast our eye towards five new, up-and-coming wine regions that may be lesser known but are well worth visiting for their terrific tipples.
1. Tokaj, Hungary
The Tokaj region is the oldest classified wine region in Europe. Yes, that means it’s even older than rockstar regions like Bordeaux and La Rioja. Volcanic eruptions and a subsequent submerging by the Mediterranean Sea has contributed to mineral-rich soil full of clay deposits and loess, while the area’s latitude usually promises abundant sunshine for most of the year. Pair this warmth with perpetual fog and you have a region that readily welcomes the botrytis cinerea fungus, better known as noble rot.
The majority of grapes grown here are Harslevelu, Furmint and a dry version of Furmint known as Mandolas – all of them white. Furmint is especially susceptible to noble rot and when attacked by it, becomes dry almost to the point of being solid. This helps concentrate the sugars, which leads to the distinctive citrusy sweetness of the region’s famous Aszu wines. And the wines’ quality and reach is only going to improve, as the region will be receiving a €330 million (RM1.47 billion) investment over the next five years to upgrade its vineyards.
Notable winemakers: Demeter Zoltan, Samuel Tinon, Istvan Szepsy
2. Republic of Georgia
Georgian wines haven’t had the easiest time. In the last two centuries of its 8,000-year vinous history, winemaking has been repeatedly interrupted by the vine-killing phylloxera, revolutions and communist rule. But the 2006 embargo on Georgian wines to Russia did force the industry to improve enough to export worldwide, and it’s about time the world took notice.
Georgia is best known for its use of qvervi, which are large clay pots lined with beeswax and buried, and it is in these qvervi that the wines are fermented and aged. This is one of the oldest winemaking traditions in history, and is supposed to add complexity and stability to the wine.
And there is a huge range to try. Over 500 indigenous grape varieties are grown in almost every region of the country, all of them taking advantage of the land’s diverse climate and well-drained soil. But the ones to take note of are Saperavi (red variety), Rkatsiteli and Mstvane (both white).
Notable winemakers: Jakeli Saperavi, Pheasant’s Tears, Telavi
3. Moravia, Czech Republic
The country known for excellent beer should also be remembered for making superb white wines, namely in the south-eastern province of Moravia. The region is divided into four sub-regions: Znojmo, Mikulov, Velke Pavlovice, Slovacko, and the wineries in them account for 96 per cent of the total registered vineyards in the Czech Republic.
Sandy soil and a cool climate are essential for a good white wine, and you will want to try the area’s rieslings, Muller-Thurgau, Gruner Veltliner and Moravian Muscat. But Moravia is also home to complex red wines if you know where to look. Granted, most are barely drinkable, but Frankovkas from the Znojmo region and Portugiser Blauers from Velke Pavlovice are smooth with soft tannins. Unlike the gloom of Tokaj, Moravia is beautiful wine country, with verdant vineyards run by small families in quaint villages.
Notable winemakers: Vinselekt Michlovský, Zámecké vinařství Bzenec, Lahofer
4. Michigan, United States
When it comes to American wines it’s hard to shake the image of the Napa and Sonoma valleys but there are perks to growing grapes near large bodies of water. Michigan’s winemaking is characterised by its proximity to the Great Lakes – particularly to Lake Michigan – and the lake-effect snow in winter helps insulate the soil so the roots won’t freeze. Mild weather keeps the buds alive in spring and helps the fruit ripen in summer.
European vines are planted here, and common varieties include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Franc. If the year’s climate permits, some wineries are also able to produce ice wines.
Notable winemakers: Left Foot Charley, Shady Creek Winery, Black Star Farms
5. Ningxia, China
Viticulture is a tricky business, but even the layman will know that grapes – or anything, really – won’t grow well in a desert, if at all. But that hasn’t stopped Chinese winemakers from turning the parched land near the Gobi Desert into wine country. All it took were billions of gallons of water for irrigation and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments.
And it is paying off, because Ningxia is now home to over 50 wineries operating on 80,000 acres of vineyards with plans to increase it to 160,000 acres by 2020. The Xixia King winery has also partnered with luxury giant LVMH to build a 5,300 sq m winery to produce grapes for Chandon.
Keeping with Chinese tastes, red Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are most commonly planted, but other reds like Syrah, Marselan and even white wines are starting to gain traction.
Notable winemakers: He Lan Qing Xue, Silver Heights, Kanaan Winery