Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on March 31, 2016 0 Comments In many ways, the world of wine is a fairly conservative one. The Old World particularly seems to be perfectly happy to more or less rest on its laurels and enjoy the glories of yesteryear, basking in its own glorious reputation of excellence. This has, in many cases, led to a drop in quality from some of the biggest countries in the wine world, so powerful have their brands become and so sure are they of their loyal customer base. For many of us, it is easiest to stick to the tried and tested wine regions of France, Spain and Italy, yet over the past couple of centuries the world of wine has expanded and grown far beyond the traditional European borders, out across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to distant lands. We are also starting to rediscover wine producing countries which have a history that stretches back to colonial times, but which have seemingly not yet found a global base due to the dominance of a small handful of locations. It isn’t just the Old World that has become over-familiar, either. We have as such also become quite accustomed to buying our red wines from Chile and Argentina, our whites from New Zealand and Napa Valley. Such ‘New World’ countries and regions may also be in need of some competition, and perhaps it is high time wine buyers broke free from their conservative bonds and sought out some of the more unusual places which are now producing wine. While generations of expertise and exploration of reliable terroir have produced the world beating wines we know and love, isn’t it time to expand our horizons? Here are some wine producing countries which you may not have realized made their own style of grape-based wine, but may well be hearing more of in the future. Japan Many people are amazed to hear that Japan makes traditional grape-based wines, but perhaps they shouldn’t be, considering that Japanese wines made using European grapes and methods have been in circulation around the far east for over five hundred years. Portuguese missionaries first brought their vines and viticulture to this far-flung corner of the world in the 16th century, and astonishingly, the market for wine in Japan has never really faltered, especially in nearby Australia and countries with a sizeable Japanese population. Despite having historic vines borrowed from the Douro valley in Portugal, nowadays, the majority of Japanese wines are based around a native varietal – Koshu – which makes delightfully aromatic, pinkish wines full of plummy fruit and floral notes which compliment the local cuisine very well indeed. As such, next time you’re ordering sushi, instead of requesting a box of Sake, ask for a Japanese wine instead and impress your server and your friends! Netherlands When we think of the Netherlands, many things spring to mind. Ships, low lying fields, a damp, wet climate, clogs…but not wine. For centuries, viticulture failed in the Netherlands due to the coldness and extremely wet soils (many of which were reclaimed from the sea and were low in fertility), but the last decade has seen a remarkable turnaround. Increasing temperatures and a willingness to experiment with mold-resistant grape varietals has seen great success, and there are now over a hundred Dutch wineries in operation. The Dutch have cleverly looked to their German neighbors rather than the French for inspiration, and as such, their best wines are of the Germanic and Austrian style: all crisp minerality and sharp fruit which reflects the cool and windy weather of the low countries. Burma/Myanmar Who’d have thought it? The beautiful, idyllic landscape of Burma is proving to be a far eastern hotspot for wine making. With the Chinese wine market beginning to find its feet, it looks as though countries such as Burma and its neighbors will be quickly following suit, and many people are taking a keen interest in just what comes out of this fascinating and historic land. It may be surprising, but given the amazing, year-round sunshine and rich, volcanic soils which typify the area, perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked that such countries are perfectly capable of serving the growing Asian market for fine wines which they can call their own. Ireland and England In a country famed for beer and whiskey, it seems astonishing to find that there is a relatively healthy wine industry on the emerald isle. Indeed, for hundreds of years, the Irish have been producing fairly decent wines for a domestic audience, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Bordeaux benefited enormously from the expertise of Irish wine makers who fled Ireland to escape persecution, and wound up in southern France, where they went on to work on the vineyards. In Ireland today, production levels are low due to the unpredictable weather, but next time there is a sunny summer, keep your eyes peeled for an Irish wine! In neighboring England, too, the wine industry is finally getting its act together after several decades of slight embarrassment and never-ending humiliation from the French. The English wineries have now abandoned their attempts to be the new Bordeaux, and have left the deep and complex red wines to those who know best, but are making massive strides in the world of white and sparking wines, with many of their numbers from the past five years picking up major awards around the world for their Alsatian style tart whites. Bulgaria The USSR had a significant hand in dismantling generations of love, passion and expertise for fine and unique wines all across the former Eastern Bloc, but many would say no country suffered in this regard quite as much as Bulgaria, where the valleys leading into the Black Sea once housed some of the finest historic vines in Europe. However, in the 21st century, ancestral wineries are once again open for business, making traditional and highly unique wines found only in this part of the world. Regions such as Peshtera are now producing world-beating white and red wines, with a special emphasis on complex and extremely drinkable semi-sweet examples, using techniques which have survived conflict and persecution over the last century.