If you think a bottle of Portuguese red or an Austrian white is exotic, Rebecca Gibb reveals there’s a whole new world of wine waiting to be discovered. From a remote atoll in Tahiti to an urban winery in the heart of London, here’s the lowdown
A Florentine explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, coined the term ‘the New World’ in the early 1500s after realising that he had not landed in Asia, as intended, but had sailed to South America. Evidently, he did not have a great sense of direction.
Today, we use the phrase New World to describe countries that make wine in the Americas, Australasia and South Africa, yet they’re hardly new to winemaking. Chile and Argentina have been making wines since the mid-16th century and 100 years later, a Dutch surgeon founded the South African wine industry – even if his first attempts were barely drinkable and served only to “irritate the bowels.”
In fact, look a little further, and you’ll find a brave new world of wine to be explored in the unlikeliest of places. Thailand is better known for its tropical climate, fragrant food and excruciating massages but in the upscale Hua Hin Hills, Siam Winery defies the humidity, downpours and vineyard snakes to produce wines made from Shiraz, Muscat and Chenin Blanc grapes.
In the distinctly cooler climes of south-west London, you’ll find grapes from England and mainland Europe arriving at an urban winery London Cru nestled in a residential street. Fancy a Kings Cross red or a Charlotte Street Chardonnay? Londoners can get involved at harvest time but they must be willing to board the underground with grape-stained hands.
If the thought of an urban winery leaves you cold, you can find vineyards in a much more idyllic setting: trip to Tahiti, anyone? On a remote atoll in the Pacific, a wealthy Frenchman Dominique Auroy set up a self-titled domaine in 1997 to make his own taste of paradise. It would have been a lot easier to buy a Bounty bar, for the heat and humidity of this tropical island are far from conducive to making fine wine.
Frenchmen are spreading their vine roots in other unlikely places. The Bordeaux-based company Castel owns fairytale châteaux but it also makes wine in eastern Africa. Ethiopia is better known for its coffee production but the arrival of the French wine giant has put the Rift Valley, 100 miles south of of the capital Addis Ababa, on the wine map.
The political map, however, is stickier than the sweetest wine in Crimea. The oft- disputed peninsula has long been a popular tourist destination. In 1894, Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II founded Massandra to provide wine for his summer palace by the sea. Despite the on-going politicking over who owns Crimea, the winery’s subterranean cellars are laden with old and rare fortified wines that have outlived the royals and revolutionaries of Russia’s past.
If Massandra isn’t historic enough for you, why not go back to the birthplace of wine? Azerbaijan is a medal contender for oldest wine region in the world and, close to the city of Baku, you can find a reinvigorated wine industry with popular brands including Fireland, Savalan, Caspian Sea and Ivanovka. The country has been making wine for thousands of years but during the Soviet era many vineyards were abandoned or destroyed. Azerbaijan’s wine is enjoying a comeBaku.
Imagery courtesy of Getty Images and Richard Haughton