First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 14th September, 2019
The world of wine has been changing and enlarging to include countries and regions that heretofore have never appeared in any wine guide. In recent months I have tasted wines from China, India, Syria, Brazil, Uruguay, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Majorca, Tenerife and Wales. Most of them were drinkable; some were outstanding.
In world terms, few of the above register in terms of volume, with one exception – China. China has the second largest vineyard surface in the world after Spain, and was, at one stage, the fifth largest producer of wine. However, production has been declining annually since 2013, with The Drinks Business magazine reporting a massive drop of almost 40 per cent in 2018.
This could be due to falling consumer demand in hard times, despite the fact that quality has been improving in recent years. Increased competition from abroad is cited as another reason, although imports from France, Australia, Italy and Spain also fell in 2018.
The wine featured here comes from Ningxia, known for cold winters where temperatures fall to -20 degrees. Each vine has to be buried manually in November before being dug up the following April.
None of the others mentioned above feature in the top 12 wine-producing countries.
Brazil is the third largest producer in South America, after Argentina and Chile. In more tropical parts of the country, farmers can enjoy two harvests each year. Most of it is consumed in Brazil. Brazilian Soul comes from the country’s largest producer, a large co-op based in the southern, cooler and drier Serra Gaúcha region.
Neighbouring Uruguay produces less than Brazil, but does have a strong winemaking tradition going back over a century. Basque immigrants from southwest France introduced Tannat, now the country’s main grape variety, in the late 19th century. In its home territory of Madiran, Tannat can be fairly tannic, but in Uruguay it tends to be riper, softer and rounder.
Very little of the wine is exported, although here in Ireland, O’Briens have been importing them for a decade or more, and more recently some more adventurous independent wines shops have started stocking the excellent Garzon wines, from one of the most ambitious wineries in the country.
Switzerland will never dominate the world wine market, but the country has been producing very good wine – red, white and sweet – for generations. Most of it is consumed by the Swiss, so we rarely see it here in Ireland. The most popular grape is Chasselas, hardly found outside the country, and there are other Swiss varieties such as the intriguing Petite Arvine.
China aside, it is unlikely any of the above countries will compete with France, Italy or Spain in terms of volume. However, they are certainly worth investigating as alternatives to these countries.
Brazilian Soul Premium Selection Tannat 2017, Brazil
Light jammy dark fruits, with a touch of cocoa and a smooth finish. Perhaps try it with feijoada, the traditional stew of beans with beef and pork.
From Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; No 21, Cork and Midleton, Co Cork; Lord Mayors, Swords, Co Dublin; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; O’Neills Off Licence, Monaghan
Garzón Tannat Reserva 2017, Uruguay
Rich, powerful wine with layers of brooding dark fruits, dark chocolate and spice. Structured and long. Perfect with roast lamb.
From Higgins, Dublin 14, higginsofflicence.ie; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; The Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Deveneys, Dublin 14; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie
Petite Arvine 2017, Domaine René Favre, Valais, Switzerland
A subtle, enchanting wine with a palate rich in fruit, yet racy and elegant with a strong mineral, almost saline backbone. With grilled sea bass or hake.
Pretty Pony 2013, Kanaan Winery, Helan Mountain, Ningxia, China
Made from 90 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, this has damsons, forest fruits and dark chocolate on nose and palate, with fine dry tannins and good acidity. Good with roast beef or lamb.