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Delhi Wine Club
Blog: Raising of Iron Curtain for Wines

Posted: Thursday, 24 May 2012 10:33

Blog: Raising of Iron Curtain for Wines

May 24: We talk of wines from Bordeaux, Barolo, Barossa and Baramati, we discuss the terroir of Burgundy, Napa, Mosel and Maipo, we marvel at the indigenous grapes of Italy, Spain and Austria but do we pay attention to the rumbling sounds of wines from the erstwhile communist countries and around, making good wines and knocking at the doors of the world market?

While judging at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition last November, we came across wines with grapes like Saparevi red and Mtsvane white grapes. Most people in my panel of which I was the President had not tasted these varietals before. But the wine had enough personality and vivaciousness to deserve awards. That’s when I realized that Georgia makes some very good wines besides being perhaps the oldest wine producing region in the world and I added it to my wish list. Recently, someone in Delhi has started importing these wines exclusively. At a recent tasting dinner with the Ambassador, I further discovered that these wines deserve a place in the cellar or a restaurant. Georgia was a part of the erstwhile Russia and was supplying wines until wines from here and Moldova were banned in Russia in 2006 due to political problems.

‘They might be having marketing problems but we have sorted out quite well ,’ said a newly made friend from Moldova, who is a winemaker in one of the wineries and was a fellow judge at the recently organized Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Guimarāes, Portugal where several judges were from the Eastern European countries were present like other years. Moldavian wine producers  had thrived due to the burgeoning Russian market but now are obliged to manage somehow by finding alternative markets.

When one talks of Hungary, the delicious Tokaj sweet wines come to mind. But as a French winemaker who has set up a boutique winery and sells his wines to top restaurants in Paris laments, the sales have generally been going down as the demand is lackluster. He also rues the quality which had generally gone up in the 90s after foreign investments were made but is generally on the decline. Takaj also makes some excellent wines some of which are already available in India, though not popular. A couple of senior journalists from Warsaw swore by the Cabernet Franc from the Villany region in the South being he best in the world. Indeed, I tasted wines from Malatinszky at a Delhi Wine Club dinner last year when he presented his wines and had found the Cabernet Franc outstanding. The journalists and winemakers seemed to have a great respect for this winemaker and his wines.

There were some influential journalists from Bulgaria who were of the opinion that communism was not bad, per se, for the wine industry. The winemakers had to follow a certain regimen through the rigorous training whereas these days there are plenty who take short cuts. However, there has been enough international financial interest to take the industry forward and even well-known producers in Bordeaux have their projects ongoing. There was no judge from Romania, I think (there were 316 of us!), but I do remember a group of producers had invited me last year to visit their wineries but due to orthodox visa regulations the organizers could not meet the unrealistic standards set by the embassy-heavy fines for the sponsors per day,  in case I overstayed (please don’t laugh- I have done that often when I narrate the tale) my visit.

Czech Republic and Slovakia whose capital Bratislava, the designated cultural city of Europe 2013 is the venue for next edition of CMB, have both been winning medals for their wines at this competition regularly.  So is the case with Slovenia (which is Italy’s neighbour and several of its winemakers including the legendry Livio Felluga migrated to Italy during the communist regime) and Croatia (think Mike Grgich of Grgich Hill Estate, Napa –the legendry winemaker whose chardonnay at Chateau Montelena won at Judgment at Paris 1976). In fact, the city of Ljubljana had the distinction of organizing world’s oldest wine competition since in 1955 under the aegis of Paris –based OIV (of which Indian has become a member recently), until it was suspended recently due to financial difficulties.

Recently, I was invited by a wine magazine from Ukraine, whose editor and staffs are fellow judges at the annual MundusVini wine competition in Neustadt Germany, to visit and taste wines from Ukraine at their stand in Vinitaly. I am told that even a small country like Latvia makes some wine which sounds like the equivalent of Goan Ports being made in our own backyards. Name of Poland ought not to be overlooked either.

The biggest communist nation, China has been a focus of the planet for its thirst for imported wines, especially from Bordeaux ( I hope Chateau Lafite does not get offended) but it has also been making waves with the quality of its domestic wines- it won a record 18 medals at the Decanter Awards reported elsewhere in this issue- India won2). Fortunate to have a better latitudinal location than India, we can certainly expect a palate attack from them in the Indian market, though in the distant future.

On the periphery are two extremely important winemaking regions of Greece and Cyprus (decades ago a local restaurant at Hotel Ashok, Delhi used to sell its wine at Rs.100 a bottle and we used to lap it up with multi-course meals, until the restaurant vanished) and Turkey which has of late been winning a lot of international Awards and attention. Host of this year’s OIV annual convention, Turkey is apparently a divided culture as a fellow judge from Turkey explained to me. The fundamentalist Muslims do not want to promote wine whereas the European face of Turkey which is very keen to join the EU is driving the winemaking which has helped improve its wines. ‘Wines of Turkey’ has been extremely active and is a regular participant at several international shows.

So why am I sharing this information? Will these countries take a substantial lead or are they making excellent wines the world cannot do without? Do they have a potential market in India? I doubt that barring China, the other countries will ever have wine clout. But the point is that there are so many interesting grapes and wines, so much to taste and learn or even to be added to the touristic itinerary that there is a new dimension waiting to be added to our taste buds.  So much of area is to be ‘conquered’ making the wine world much larger than merely French, Italian, Chilean or Australian wines. Many of these wines are import-worthy wines keeping the quality, prices and the niche factor in mind.

We shall of course, endeavour to keep you updated about these lands and their wines through delWine as we visit them- many have been on my radar for some time ( rare commodity that seems to be getting rarer) but whenever you have a chance to visit these countries, do keep in mind that wine regions are generally quite beautiful places to visit- the possibility of tasting new grapes and wines an exhilarating, unique experience that awaits you- and the wine producers are generally a friendly lot.

Subhash Arora



Praveen Bali Says:

Thank you again for your very informative article . GEORGIA is one of the few countries who has still preserved its traditions, culture , heriitage and Wines .As GEORGIA still preserves its virginity in form of water , soil and environment - it gives purest of original grapes ( un-hybrid)like Saperavei along with its centuries old art of wine making. We hope you shall provide more information on these hidden treasures in coming months.

Posted @ May 31, 2012 14:24


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