Is the fine wine world too Bordeaux-centric? Tim Atkin MW suggests we embrace a wider landscape
There’s nothing like a half decent Bordeaux vintage for focusing the minds of collectors on how much space they have in their cellars. Are the 2014s worth a punt? I’ll leave that decision to you, but the renewed clamour surrounding the latest en primeur campaign underlines how Bordeaux-focused the fine wine world can be. A few other regions get a look in – Burgundy, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Ribera del Duero and Champagne – but I still think our horizons are too narrow.
Fine wine can be made anywhere these days, not just the classic regions of Europe. Informed wine lovers have always known this – Constantia in South Africa was famous by the early 19th century – but sometimes it takes a while for the penny, euro, dollar and renminbi to drop. There are dozens of areas that make collectible wines. They are not always investment material, but they provide terrific medium and long-term drinking pleasure. And that’s what wine’s about in the end.
Here is my top ten:
· Central Otago ·
Central is the most southerly wine region in the world, located amidst the great scenery of New Zealand’s South Island. Though small in terms of plantings, the area has made spectacular progress since the mid-1980s, when the modern “industry” was relaunched by a group of eccentrics. The aromatic whites are good, but it’s the Pinot Noirs that have made Central’s reputation, with a number of different sub-regions producing very different styles.
Best producers: Burn Cottage, Felton Road, Two Paddocks
· The Douro Valley ·
Portugal’s Douro Valley is still best known for its fiery, fortified Ports, but things are changing thanks to an increasingly vibrant table wine scene. Barca Velha was the first red to demonstrate the region’s potential to make age-worthy, balanced wines in the early 1950s, but it’s Dirk Niepoort, first alone and then in collaboration with the other four “Douro Boys”, who has established the area’s modern reputation. The wines are getting more elegant by the vintage.
Best producers: Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vale Meão
· Etna ·
Sicily’s famous volcano – still ominously active if you visit the place – is home to two really good native grapes: white Carricante and red Nerello Mascalese. The combination of altitude and volcanic soils has attracted a new generation of winemakers to this ancient wine-producing area and the results have been outstanding, especially on the cooler northern side of Etna. The reds are like a cross between a Chianti Classico and a Barolo and age impressively.
Best producers: Benanti, Frank Cornelissen, PassopisciaroEtna, Sicily
· Maule ·
Maule is almost certainly the oldest wine region in Chile, but tends to get overlooked in favour of more famous areas such as the Casablanca and Maipo Valleys. Most of the vines here are un-irrigated and the local speciality is Carignan – hardly the most prestigious of calling cards – but thanks to a group of small, independent producers called MOVI, Maule is building a following for its savoury Rhône-style reds made from Carignan, Cinsault and País.
Best producers: Clos Ouvert, Gillmore, O Fournier
· Paraje Altamira ·
Altamira, or Paraje Altamira as it is now known, is the first region in Argentina to be delimited solely based on soil type and topography. It’s arguably the best part of the high altitude Uco Valley, with significant deposits of limestone and calcium carbonate from the Andes. These wines show the perfume and concentration that distinguish the best Argentinean reds, but with zip, freshness and definition too. Look out for the Malbecs in particular, but also the red blends.
Best producers: Achával Ferrer, Mendel, Zuccardi
· Rioja ·
It might seem strange to include Rioja in a list of up-and-coming fine wine regions, but Spain’s most famous denominacíon is changing fast at the top end. The focus is increasingly on single vineyard wines, rather than blends that combine grapes from the three sub-regions (Alta, Alavesa and Baja). Another key difference is that these wines are made to age, rather than be drinkable on release, as was traditionally the case in Rioja.
Best producers: Artadi, Contino, Telmo Rodríguez
· Savennières ·
Sancerre is much better known than Savennières, its rival for the title of best dry white wine appellation of the Loire Valley. They make a good contrast – different grapes (Sauvignon Blanc versus Chenin Blanc), grown on different soil types (clay/limestone versus schist) – but the latter makes more age-worthy wines: intense, focused whites that can take a decade or more to show at their best. The new style wines are (thankfully) less austere than some of their predecessors.
Best producers: Damien Laureau, Domaine aux Moines, Eric Morgat
· Saint Aubin ·
Prices have crept up a little in recent years – as more and more people have caught on to the tremendous value for money Saint Aubin offers – but the village is still a source of bargains for white Burgundy lovers, located very close to some of Puligny- and Chassagne- Montrachet’s most famous Grands Crus. Look out for the best Saint Aubin Premiers Crus, such as En Remilly and Les Murgers des Dents de Chiens, which are located on a slope just above Chevalier-Montrachet.
Best producers: Jean-Claude Bachelet, Marc Colin, Hubert Lamy
· The Swartland ·
The self-styled Swartland Revolution has transformed the South African wine scene in the last five years, putting the emphasis on Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Roussanne and other Mediterranean grapes, as well as old vine Chenin Blanc. Historically, the Cape has been mostly Bordeaux-focused, but producers in this former wheat growing area have inspired a new generation of winemakers to create Rhône-style reds that express a range of South African terroirs.
Best producers: Mullineux, Porseleinberg, Sadie Family
· The Yarra Valley ·
Situated on Melbourne’s doorstep, the Yarra Valley is one of Victoria’s oldest wine regions – a visit to the wonderful Yerinbgerg estate feels like stepping back into the mid-19th century – but is also spearheading the modern cool climate movement in Australia, with some increasingly impressive Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings. The Upper Yarra, which (confusingly) runs along the southern end of the valley produces particularly fine examples of all three.
Best producers: Mac Forbes, Oakridge, Yeringberg