Hidden gems: focus on lesser-known wine regions
We talk to the champions of some of the wine regions you might not have heard much about, and ask what makes their wines worth seeking out.
This Croatian peninsula grows red Bordeaux grapes as well as the indigenous Teran and dominant white grape Malvazija Istarska, which makes full-bodied, dry wines with some minerality and a bitter almond finish – and has been described as “little Tuscany”.
The region was chosen by Brian Jordan of Allora Solutions, who is working with importer Blue Clay Wines, which sells wines from Istria as well as Piemonte, Sicily, Rueda, Abruzzo, Hungary and Bulgaria.
He says: “I have tasted impressive wines [from Istria] ranging from very cheap and extremely cheerful up to potential classics.
“The Istrian wine industry has had a loud awakening call because imports from Chile, Australia, South Africa and Argentina have been increasing, along with the ever-growing numbers of wine-loving visitors to tourist hotels.
“Those producers who realised that changes could be not just beneficial but life-saving, are now offering products unimaginable just a few short years ago – fresh, clean, fruity wines of character and substance.”
Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines buying director Steve Daniel first brought Greek wines to a mainstream UK audience when he was the buyer at Oddbins in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The country has a long history for what some still see as a newcomer to the wine scene. Wine has been made there from the 7th century BC and wines such as pine-scented Retsina are familiar to British holidaymakers.
Daniel says: “There are lots of unique indigenous grape varieties, and each wine has a real sense of place. The winemaking is technically brilliant, and the wineries are very modern.
“Each wine and region has a history and story, and more new varieties are being discovered all the time. In essence Greece is so exciting because the already brilliant wines just keep getting better.”
Asked to pick one wine from all of Greece, he chose Gaia Wines’ Wild Ferment Assyrtiko Santorini 2013 – grown on volcanic soils and hand-picked. Why that one? “Terroir, terroir, terroir,” he says. “It’s a truly unique wine from some of the oldest vineyards on the planet.”
Far from confining itself to being the home of Dracula and producer of Bats Blood wine, Transylvania is growing its reputation as a wine producer.
With more than 6,000ha of vinifera vines planted at altitudes of up to 300m, it produces mainly whites, some of them on slopes which rival the Mosel for steepness.
Dan Muntean, managing director of Halewood Romania, says: “As a person born there and with Halewood owning about 100ha of vineyards in DOC Sebes, I feel that Transylvania has great potential to become a very exciting wine region.
“I cannot describe Transylvania as a new wine region, as the vineyards were established by Saxon settlers in the 12th and 13th centuries.
“The area is of particular natural beauty. One of its supporters, Prince Charles, describes it as ‘Europe’s last wilderness’. Our vineyards are on the Transylvanian Plateau, between two rivers, and are between 150m-600m above sea level.”
His wine choice is Theia Chardonnay, DOC Sebes, a dry and full-bodied wine .
One of Italy’s newest wine- producing regions, this hilly area in the province of Brescia in Lombardia makes high-quality red, white and sparkling wines.
Maurizio Zanella, president of the region’s consorzio, says: “Although Franciacorta is still not particularly well known as a region in the UK, its impressive sparkling wines are making strong inroads into the market, growing by more than 100% in the first six months of 2014.
“The sparkling sector overall is buoyant and we expect this to continue as bubbly is no longer seen as a drink only for special occasions. The advantage for Franciacorta is that consumers are now keen to trade up from simple, light and fresh entry-level wines to try something more complex and sophisticated.
“Unlike many premium traditional-method sparkling wines, Franciacorta retains accessibility because the wines’ acidity is lower, making them easier to drink.
“The wines also go exceptionally well with food, particularly the pas dosé styles, which can be matched with surprisingly full-flavoured dishes.”