It’s been an unusually busy May for our family. So many changes are happening… So much so that I’ve been exhausted beyond explanation and I couldn’t sit down long enough to write.
Uninspired, I turned to two things: Anthony Bourdain (which ended up being bittersweet this time around), and The Wine Show. After a couple of episodes, I had enough inspiration to get me out of my funk. I had just the topic that appeals to me: Geeking out on wines from rarely talked about regions. Here are my discoveries:
(A little disclaimer: I had very literature to work with, so I am willing to accept additional information from people with richer experiences on some of these wines)
Confession: I never knew that Moldova was a wine-producing region prior to watching The Wine Show (it’s actually the main inspiration for this article). Moldova has been producing wine since about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. The phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century and world wars heavily impacted their wine business, and culminated with the diplomatic conflict against Russia that led to a ban of Moldovan wine (prior to 2006, Russia was its biggest consumer).
Moldova is famous for making white wines, which amount to 70% of their wine production. They are also known to produce wines using indigenous grapes: Feteasca Alba*, Feteasca Regala*, Plavai, and Busuioaca Alba* for white grapes; Rara Neagra* and Feteasca Neagra* for black grapes.
These days, one of the best reasons for winos to visit Moldova is to see the Milestii* Mici, a 250km underground cellar that houses 2 million bottles, and the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest wine collection on earth. One can also visit their wine producing regions: Balti in the north; Cordu at the centre; Purcari in the southeast; and their most important wine region, Cahul, located in the south.
I’ve always wanted to travel to Israel, whose wine production has been around since Biblical times. As a wine region, it has a history that includes a total ban of alcohol during the Islamic occupation, and the influence of a Frenchman by the name of Edmund James de Rothschild (of the legendary Bordeaux winery Château Lafite-Rothschild) on modern Israeli winemaking. Culturally, the country is predominantly Jewish, which is one of the reasons why there is an abundance of Kosher wine in Israel.
Israel has four major wine regions: Judean Hills, Negev, Shomron, and the most important one, Golan Heights in Galilee.
This is where it gets a little difficult. Despite the fact that Golan Heights possesses one of the most ideal wine growing locations in that region (with its elevation, it balances what would have otherwise been sugary grapes, as is usually the case in a warm environment) it’s a pretty controversial spot, and the subject of territorial disputes between Israel and Syria. Internationally, the area is recognised as “Syrian held under military occupation,” while the United States (as of 2019) considers it “Israel sovereign territory.”
One of my Israeli friends brought me one of their wines, but I want to keep it a little longer before I give it a try.
Most wine books would say that Georgia (located between Western Asia and Eastern Europe) is the world’s first wine-producing region. Having said that, I realised that I have never heard of Georgia beyond wine. What interests me about the country and its several millennia of winemaking is that they continue their ancient tradition of ageing wine in Kveri clay jars. There are currently 19 appellations in Georgia, most of which are found in Kakheti.
It’s difficult to find Georgian wine outside their country and its neighbours, but I was fortunate enough to have tried some several years back in a Hong Kong Wine Expo. I remember their red wine made with their native Saperavi grape being incredibly rustic, with a texture that is pretty distinct (which I guessed was because of the clay jars). I haven’t tried wine from Rkatsiteli grapes (their most important white grape), but I understand that it has incredibly high acidity and thrives in cold climate conditions.
I was fascinated with India as a wine region not only because it seems to be too close to the equator to produce wine (traditional wine regions are within 30°-50° latitude), but also because of one of the simplest traditional rules in food and wine pairing: One can narrow down a wine list by pairing the food and wine according to their region of origin because chances are, they are producing food and wine that already compliment each other.
Speaking of which, it’s interesting to note that the established school of thought is that Indian food is one of the most difficult cuisines to pair with wine. With its multitude of aromatic, occasionally pungent, delicate notes (and a kick of spice) Indian food tends to clash with a lot more wine readily available in the market.
The modern way of thinking, as explained by Chef Atul Kochhar in The Wine Show, is this: With Indian food having a multitude of flavours in one dish, there is a great chance of wine complimenting at least three elements in the food.
After doing further research, I discovered that India has been making wine since the Bronze Age, using vines from Persia. Indian winemaking thrived during the British colonisation, along with brandy making and the production of port-style wines. The phylloxera devastation in the late 19th century and the total alcohol ban all but obliterated India’s wine regions, and India has only experienced resurgence in the early 1980s.
Currently, the important wine regions of India include Punjab in the northwest, Tamil Nadu in the south, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Telangana. They also have several indigenous grapes, the most common being Anabeshahi, Arkavati, and Arkashyam, although they do plant French vines.
PS, a wino friend recommends Sula, the Indian sparkling wine, as a must-try (Thanks, D!).
PPS, I posted about writing something on Indian food and wine pairing (without context), I think I will need to make a proper article on the topic (Edna dear, let’s do an experiment? 😉 ).
PPSS, After reading that same post, our neighbour who has an Indian food business decided to hook me up with Palak Paneer, Butter Chicken, Naan, and Crunchy Chicken Tikka Salad. If you’re in Alabang, look for Harshitas Kitchen on Facebook. #nomnoms
I first encountered Lebanese wine in the form of a rosé back during my first HKDTC in 2012. I remember the rosé being reminiscent of the Provence style which, looking back, made sense… Lebanese winemaking has a heavy French influence, probably because the French at one point occupied their country. However, what people forget is that Lebanon actually has one of the longest histories in wine production, with origins that could be traced back to the biblical, Phoenician times.
Today, despite the existence and use of indigenous grapes such as Obaideh and Merwah, there is an abundance of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and Rhône (Grenache, Cinsaut, and Carignan) varietals. There are 21 wineries in Lebanon, most of which are located in the Beqaa Valley (where one can also find a complex of temples, including one made for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine).
Thailand is one of the youngest regions in terms of industrial wine production, with vineyards only being planted in the 1960s. They have not let what seemed to be impossible climatic conditions to plant vitis vinifera deter them from making their own wine. I didn’t find this surprising… After all, they’re a nation keen to embrace technological breakthroughs, and they enjoy government support (there is a rumour that the Thai government tapped Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Château Angelus as a consultant).
Technology must have been crucial for the Thais to make proper wine because typically, for an area to produce grapes intended for wine, the vines have to be exposed to the traditional four seasons. Thailand does not have that, and can be incredibly hot and humid.
As to the style and flavour profiles, I admit I have only been able to try one Thai red. Admittedly, it’s not what I’m used to, but I could sense that there might be potential for them to thrive. I heard that some of their whites have an uncanny ability to be paired with Thai food, yet another cuisine that is immensely difficult to match with wine.
Greece has had a long history in winemaking going back 6,000 years. It includes a period of cult worship of Dionysus (the Greek god of wine), Hippocrates prescribing wine for medicinal purposes, and evidence of the Greeks being the ones to introduce vitis vinifera to Italy, Spain, and Southern France.
Today, Greece subscribes to the European Union laws of labelling wines and adhering to the EU appellation system. Their system includes a label for table wine called Epitrapezios Oinos, which is classified into three wine styles:
- Epitrapezios Oinos – Regular table wine, and includes those bottled with a screw cap
- Cava – Unlike their Spanish counterpart (which pertains to a sparkling wine appellation in Catalonia), the Greeks use this term to mean prestigious, aged, and “reserve” blends.
- Retsina – I’ve had one of these during a wine expo and I could honestly say that it is an acquired taste. Flavored with pine resin, it was not like anything I have ever tasted. A Greek wino friend told me that they hardly drink it in Greece, but his country still produces it as a novelty to tourists.
Greece has a number of wine growing regions, including Aegan Islands, Crete, Epirus, Ionian Islands, Macedonia (which differs from Northern Macedonia, which is a state outside Greece… In the EU, wines labeled Macedonia pertain to wine from Macedonia, Greece), Peloponnese, and Thessaly. I’ve tried a variety of Epitrapezios Oinos, and I could say that the reds pair well with lamb, and the whites were refreshing on their own.
What other wine regions are you interested in? Please let us know in the comments below. Cheers!
*I am missing some accents from my laptop, so I completely apologise if it looks misspelled