Alongside trying some of the offerings from the established regions of the wine world, imported and distributed by the powerhouses of the UK wine market, Bibendum, John E Fells and the like I had the opportunity at the LIWF to try some wines from the more obscure regions and from makers who are creating some serious and spectacular wine, a buzz locally to themselves and in some international markets, but unfortunately no dent in the UK.
To the seasoned wino these regions may mean something. If you mention Lebanon people will think Chateau Musar, if you mention Croatia people could tell you the anecdote about Primitivo/Zinfandel originating there but there is so much more to these regions than one producer or a little bit of history. Take Lebanon to begin with. Yes Musar is fantastic, steeped in its recent maverick tradition; making wines that are unlike anything many people have had before. Their vintages vary through not only the weather but also Serge Hochar’s inconsistent approach, creating wines that are not only unlike any other region in the world but completely unique every year. This maverick approach is perhaps appropriate for wines made in a country under fraught conditions brought by war and civil unrest in recent times. If it could be categorised Musar Red would be through dense, ripe red fruit and cinnamon, lashing of it and the delicate red apple aromas that appear from its deliberate oxidation. Half the fun of Musar comes from the vintage roulette and the other half from the Russian roulette that comes from bottle aging that can concentrate its myriad of flavours, harness some of its madness or unfortunately, occasionally knacker it. Whilst Musar is a unique entity in the world of wine it is also quite alone when it comes to the rest of Lebanon. The fellow producers of this growing, yet sadly underrepresented region produce their wine in a much more traditional and conservative manner, meaning that their stock is somewhat more stable than Musar. Good or bad vintages will dictate the quality of the wine but the production methods are much more controlled meaning that in most years good wine is produced from Lebanese regions that have abundant sun and good soils. The producers of note would be Chateau Ksara, not unknown in the UK with listings in lots of decent independent retailers and a new line exclusive to Marks and Spencer, the Chateau Ksara Clos st Alphonse, which is a brilliant, big wine, not dissimilar to a Southern Rhone red, filled with rich cherry and red berries, with a hint of chocolate. The Karam Winery is another excellent producer being imported by Kingswood Wines. They have again a diverse range of excellent wines but their Syrah de Nicolas stood out for me alongside their really decadent and succulent Noble Sweet, a botrytised Muscat that would stand up well beside some serious Sauternes.
Croatia is another burgeoning wine producing country, who is considered by many to be the next big thing in the UK market. I spent a couple of hours with Emil Perdec, the multi award winning Sommelier and Croatian wine genius going through huge amounts of Croatian wines, at the end of which I could remember very little other than most of the wine being of very serious quality. The whites were not too unlike Italian whites in their dryness and sharp acidity, yet had on occasion a plump fullness and rich flavour. Think Gavi di Gavi from across the Adriatic. The reds were, what I thought, their best achievement. They were divers and complex and highlighted more of a rich viticultural history than the produce of the young pretender. The wine from the Dingac agricultural cooperative and winery, identified by a little grey donkey on their labels, were the outstanding Croatian offering, with flavours ranging from Southern French style florality to the jammy kick in the teeth associated with Australian Shiraz.
The other budding countries in the international market were Russia (for the white, the reds were terrible), Georgia, whose sparkling wine was immense, Switzerland (for the reds, the whites were not good), Turkey and finally Romania. The Budureasca Winery are making top end wine and in a seriously short space of time. The English winemaker Stephen Donnelly, known as “The Flying Winemaker” as he has worked in loads of different countries and regions as a winemaker and trouble shooter, is their principle winemaker. He was kind enough to give me a bottle of the Budureasca Cab Sauv 2011, which despite being a little young was full of promise, with Bordeaux like cassis aromas which were subtle but developed into a rich and mouth filling black current palate. Romanian Wine is of exceptional quality and I would recommend it to anyone, if they can find it.
The sad thing for a lot of these producers is that they are seeking and struggling to find UK representation. This is a massive shame as it results in people missing out on fantastic wines. My recommendation would be to buy wines from unlikely regions whenever you see them as you won’t be disappointed. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is everywhere; don’t you think it’s time to try something new?
Andrew D. Clark