Offbeat Wine Countries

Offbeat Wine Countries

An Israeli wine made the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2014. Bet you didn’t even know Israel made wine, did you?

A little while ago I wrote a Vue wine column about a handful of wine countries that seem unusual to North Americans, but are worth checking out: Uruguay, Lebanon, China and India. I didn’t include Israel, but it’s cool that the Spectator did. There are quite literally dozens of other small guys out there, but I chose these ones because they are particularly noteworthy on the world scene, and because you can actually find at least one wine from these places on the Alberta market.

The South American wine giants of Argentina and Chile far outpace the rest of the continent’s wine production; Uruguay is a distant fourth in terms of South America’s biggest wine-producing countries. It only exports a small fraction of its total output, and of the few Uruguayan wines you’ll find around town, they are almost always made from Tannat—this is Uruguay’s national grape and most-planted variety. These wines are inky dark with bold flavours and high tannin and alcohol, though increasingly producers blend their Tannat with Merlot or Malbec to soften them up and render them drinkable at a younger age.

Lebanon is an ancient wine country, and the site of some of the world’s earliest vineyards, dating back over five millennia. Several esteemed wines are produced here: Chateau Musar from the Bekaa Valley is a particularly collectible bottle and probably the best-known Lebanese wine to western enthusiasts; many collectors place it alongside their Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and other cellar classics. Sadly, many of Lebanon’s vineyards were destroyed during the country’s prolonged conflicts, especially during the ’80s and ’90s. The 21st century has seen a new wave of winemaking, however, and Lebanon is currently home to a few dozen wineries.

I first tried Chinese wine about six years ago, and it was bloody awful. But China’s wine industry is growing at an exponential rate and its burgeoning middle class has developed a taste for the grape. Some reports have suggested that this growth, coupled with the impacts of climate change, could make China the world’s biggest wine producer by 2050. The wines may not be particularly impressive now, but numerous European (especially French) wine estates are partnering with Chinese firms to craft European-style wines. Unfortunately these mostly haven’t landed in Alberta yet, but keep an eye out—they’re on the way.

A Sauvignon Blanc from India just earned that country’s first international wine award: Grover Zampa, India’s largest wine exporter, unanimously claimed the International Trophy for best Sauvignon Blanc at the 2014 Decanter Asia Wine Awards. If you didn’t even know India produced wine, you’re not alone; the country’s wine industry is tiny, and the annual per capita consumption of wine is a miniscule nine millilitres. Viticulture does have a long history in India, though, arriving several thousand years ago and peaking during the British colonization. But it was decimated first by the outbreak of phylloxera in the late 1800s and then by the Indian government’s prohibitionist policies. Most Indian vineyards are used for table grapes and raisin production, but a wine revival is underway; eventually we’ll see a few more wines join the single Indian wine (Sula Dindori Viognier) currently available on the Alberta market.

Need help locating these, or any, wines? Check out the Liquor Connect site.



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