Wine lovers enjoy an ever-expanding universe whose depth and diversity are virtually unlimited. Yes, a magnificent bottle from Bordeaux or Tuscany is still cherished, but oenophiles’ options have grown exponentially just in the last decade. Wines from Israel and Croatia are now relatively commonplace, and the true exotics are now imported from appellations in India, Japan or Ethiopia.
Wine journalists and consumers are currently expanding their repertoires as respectable wines are now being imported from less familiar regions in Eastern Europe, including Armenia, Romania, the Republic of Georgia, and Kosovo. Meanwhile, states like Michigan, which already has a robust wine industry, and far-north Montana, are poised to someday challenge California and Oregon as climactic conditions continue to evolve.
Climate change is already having its effects on the industry. According to a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a global warming of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 would reduce the world’s regions suitable for wine production by more than 50 percent. Warm weather wine-growing regions such as Italy, Spain and Australia will be the most severely affected by these subtle changes and cooler areas like Germany and England would benefit.
England hardly sounds exotic, except when it comes to wine, an industry that has never been kind to the British Isles. But times and climates are changing and suddenly some innovative winemakers are finding places like Hampshire, England hospitable to the production of sparkling wines, a few hundred miles northwest of France’s Champagne region. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier vineyards have existed in this area for more than 50 years, but the wines are just beginning to be noticed by outsiders.
New York-based wine journalist, sommelier and consultant Courtney Schiessl, whose work appears in Forbes and Wine Enthusiast, believes the English wine industry has progressed remarkably in a relatively short period. “The wines being produced now are worlds away from the acidic still wines that were produced right after World War II,” she says. The wine journalist notes the nation’s ability to produce quality sparkling wines has gained considerable momentum since 1988 when Nyetimber first began those efforts using the traditional varietals and winemaking methods of Champagne.
While it may be unfair to compare these to France’s finest, Schiessl reports, “There have been many times that I’ve blind-tasted an English aided the English wine industry,” reports Schiessl, noting warmer temperatures result in more reliable ripening and, therefore, more reliable harvests. She notes the major difference is a noticeably higher acidity in English sparkling wines than in Champagnes because the temperatures there are quite a bit cooler, but that quality is not necessarily objectionable. Schiessl notes that while the trade has begun to dub England “the new Champagne,” it receives substantially more rainfall than the renowned French region, so conditions are far from interchangeable.
“Climate change, while not a fortunate situation facing us overall, has certainly aided the English wine industry,” reports Schiessl, noting warmer temperatures result in more reliable ripening and, therefore, more reliable harvests. She also cautions, “England is, and probably always will be, a fairly small-production region — in 2018, it produced 15.6 million bottles — while Champagne produced 362 million bottles.”
The U.S. is currently the biggest export market for English sparkling wine, so the product is less esoteric than it used to be. “I think the future of the English wine industry is promising,” says Schiessl, while conceding the nation’s success with still wines remains largely untested. Among English producers, Schiessl recommends the pioneering Nyetimber as well as Ridgeview, Harrow & Hope (a small family winery), Hattingley Valley, and Gusbourne.
“Wines from the Republic of Georgia have absolutely won the hearts of today’s curious sommeliers and other wine professionals,” reports Schiessl, who suggests looking for amphora-aged Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, both indigenous grape varietals. About 2,000 miles away, wine has been produced in India for centuries, although the subcontinent is much better known for its whiskeys and beers. Helping its wine industry get noticed are Tuscan winemakers Piero Masi and Alessio Secci, who invested in India’s Maharashtra region with Indian vintners to create the Fratelli label.
The proprietor of Fratelli, Kapil Sekhri, also collaborates with Jean-Charles Boisset, a Burgundy-born, Napa Valley-based wine entrepreneur, to create J’Noon wines from vineyards of European varietals in Akluj, available in the U.S. and earning respectable reviews from wine journalists. “We’re all driven to wine as a unique offering and treasure of the land, and treat it like an art for our senses,” says Sekhri of his partnership with Boisset. “For Fratelli, it’s a glorious moment to be sharing and harboring such a splendid collaboration in J’Noon,” he adds.
With the Sekhri family, Boisset was able to add to his eclectic portfolio of wineries and create a new vinicultural vision of India, one of the last bastions of discovery for wine. “Our mission is to elevate and enhance the luxury fine wine culture of a nation whose richness, diversity, profound sensory expressions, incredible terroir, and renowned cuisine inspires all who have experienced it,” he explains.
As an editor who oversees the tasting department for Wine & Spirits magazine, Rachel DelRocco Terrazas is constantly experiencing uncommon wines and is a specialist in products from Mexico, off-the-radar appellations of Spain and South Africa. “I have a real affinity for the flavor profiles of wines from desert regions,” she says, reporting there are surprisingly good wines being produced in the sun-drenched American states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
DelRocco Terrazas speaks highly of wines coming out of the North African nations of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, grapes. “People have been making wine in these places forever,” but now there’s suddenly a global market, reports the wine journalist.
It is a mistake, suggests Del Rocco Terrazas, for emerging producers to attempt to mimic established styles, and encourages them to create their own identities. “The best of these winemakers are really trying to express an authentic sense of place,” she says, and notes that many have found a market among Americans seeking out naturally produced wines. She concurs that climate change is having a dramatic effect on wine production, with new wines emerging from the extreme north: places like Norway, Denmark and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. “Fifty years ago, it would have been almost impossible to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes as far north as England, whose cooler temperatures result in the acidity required for good sparkling wines,” she says.
Many people look to Mexico only for tequila and mezcal, but the nation’s burgeoning wine industry is earning respect from consumers and critics alike. DelRocco Terrazas reports the nation has produced wine for centuries, but was largely ignored until winemakers turned to grapes better suited to local conditions. She credits Italian Camillo Magoni (Bodegas Magoni) for helping to usher in warm-weather Italian, French and Spanish varietals that transformed the Baja Peninsula wine industry.
Lourdes “Lulu” Martinez Ojeda, who trained in Bordeaux, is another influential Baja Peninsula winemaker and produces Mexican wines with classical southern European varietals under her Bruma Valle de Guadalupe label, while Bichi creates natural wines from indigenous grapes. “There’s a lot of experimentation going on in Mexico and I’m excited to see where they’ll be in 10 years,” says DelRocco Terrazas. Michelle Martain, owner of La Mision Associates, a major importer of Mexican wines, agrees. “The new generations are adding their own spark, people who grew up in Ensenada, but are going out to learn other cultures and techniques — in places like France, Australia or Argentina — and bringing back new ideas to experiment with,” she reports.
The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, occupying a stylishly reimagined Greyhound bus station, has been widely acclaimed, with chef Mashama Bailey scoring a James Beard Award and featured in a Netflix Chef’s Table episode. Sommelier Tim Waters is constantly challenged to provide intriguing pairings for Bailey’s upscale Southern- and Afro-inspired dishes, which might include seared foie gras nestled in a bowl of creamy grits.
“The wines of Tikveš from Macedonia have really impressed us this year,” reports Waters, who cites a single-vineyard Barovo that is a blend of Kratosija and Vranac, and a 100 percent Vranac, both local varietals indigenous to the area. “Our entire beverage program, from the cocktail list to the regions selected in our wine list, is centered around the concept of trans-Atlantic trade,” says the sommelier, noting this mirrors Savannah-based culinary traditions that draw from distant ports. “With these influences, the food of the South has evolved into a complex phenomenon using local resources but executing and preparing dishes with techniques passed down through the generations,” explains Waters.
“When curating the beverage program, it’s important that we offer drinks that are connected to origins of the food we serve, but also taste great and pair well with our dishes,” suggests the sommelier, noting many of the herbs and spices utilized in Bailey’s dishes originate from Africa or the Middle East. “The beef short ribs, served with African ground nut stew, or the smoked lamb featuring a berbere spice blend pair incredibly with the wines from Chateau Musar in Lebanon,” he posits.
“The diversity of our list enhances the guest experience by giving them more choices and creating a natural way to discuss the differing regions and varietals with them,” says Waters of his penchant for eclecticism. He also acknowledges the value of underappreciated regions in the United States, whose local wines are just being discovered by consumers. From his vantage point in Savannah, Waters points to the promise of nearby states Virginia and North Carolina, and even Georgia itself, as fertile frontiers for viticulture.
“I think that a growing segment of the population is increasingly curious about wine,” reports journalist/sommelier Courtney Schiessl. She adds, “They may not consider themselves experts, but they want to learn more and try new things, particularly if their local retailer or sommelier vouches for these offbeat selections and shares their stories.”
Wines & Experts
Bodegas Magoni ~ casamagoni.com
Bichi ~ josepastorselections.com
Boisset Collection ~ boissetcollection.com
Bruma Valle de Guadalupe ~ bruma.mx
Chateau Musar ~ chateaumusar.com
Courtney Schiessl ~ courtneyschiessl.com
Rachel DelRocco Terrazas ~ racheldelrocco.com
Fratelli Vineyards ~ fratelliwines.in
The Grey ~ thegreyrestaurant.com
Gusbourne ~ gusbourne.com
Harrow & Hope ~ harrowandhope.com
Hattingley Valley ~ hattingleyvalley.com
J’Noon ~ boissetcollection.com
Nyetimber ~ nyetimber.com
Ridgeview ~ ridgeview.co.uk
Tikveš ~ tikves.com.mk
By Roger Grody
This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine.