When you think of old world wine you immediately think of wine from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Let’s not forget Southern Germany. British sparkling wine has its merits but that’s a recent development, not classifiable as old world.
Yet Europe’s true old world wine regions aren’t so much to be found in the west as more to the east. Eastern and Central Europe has been wine country for millennia and it’s believed that the viniculture in some places is older than Western Europe’s. Bacchus the Greek wine god is actually from Thracian descent, modern day Bulgaria, and Plato reckoned that the best wine came from Romania.
With the rise of the Soviet-Union any type of development was stunted and wine became a mass produced and low grade product. After the fall of the Soviet-Union, poor economy and political instability in the region prohibited the region’s vineyards to compete with Europe’s classics. Nonetheless, winemaking continued and today the region boasts dedicated vineyards producing good vintages. The region is also a big player in terms of global wine production with Romania being the sixth largest producer in the EU and Hungary being ranked eighth.
From Croatia to Georgia, almost every Eastern European country you can and can’t think of produces wine. Here are some highlights.
First off is Eastern Europe’s pearl. Croatia, close to Italy, has some excellent coastal vineyards producing powerful reds as well as aromatic whites. Local grape varieties such as Teran (Refosco in Italy) are grown next to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Croatians are born winemakers and are responsible for establishing viniculture in New Zealand’s renowned Kumeu region.
Hungary’s most known wine is the sweet Tokaji. In the past decade, however, Hungarian winemakers started producing more dry wines. The best dry whites are made from Furmint or blends of traditional Tokaji grapes. Egri Bikavér, a potent red, made from a blend of traditional and international grapes is perhaps its most famous red.
Georgia is most known for it’s use of the traditional Kvevri. Clay pots lined with beeswax buried in the ground where wine is left in to ferment. The most praiseworthy Georgian wines today are the most ancient in style. The country created low intervention and natural wines even before such concepts existed.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Wines are being produced in Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and Ukraine. Vintages from good French, Italian or Spanish houses are becoming more and more expensive. Maybe it’s time to look to this forgotten European vineyard.
[Article by ALexander Eeckhout]