Wines off the Beaten PathThe Search for the Next Big Thing
Everyone wants something different. In wine, this is especially so. People want to be the one to discover the latest thing and share it with their friends. It’s looking for those value up-and-comers. There’s nothing like being in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Picpoul–oh yeah–I was into that five years ago. Try this Falanghina! There seems to be a cool factor about being the first to discover food and beverage fads or trends that go along with the current fascination with—careful photo documentation of, and the public sharing via various platforms—of every morsel we put in our mouths.
If you are looking to offer something unique to your customers that may have a compelling value proposition, then consider areas that are off the beaten path. There aren’t any great deals in Napa or Burgundy since a ready market is willing to pay top dollar for their entire production. Regions looking to create a buzz often do so by “hitting above their weight” and offering superior value in either quantity (e.g. BIB) or quality. Price is often competitive. I can remember Lindeman’s selling 1L bottles of Hunter Valley Semillon under screw cap in the 1980s for $4.95. The next year a cork finished 750ml of the same wine cost $5.10. Now quality Hunter Semillon can run $75.00+. The Aussies were penetrating the market and then crept up the price. The same thing happened in California, Oregon, Washington, New Zealand, and Chile. Now the trend continues in both Argentina and South Africa. The wines get noticed because they are great value for money, demand picks up, the price increases, and people want to know what’s next.
The good news is that wine grapes can ripen properly between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude north and south. There is a lot of arable land between those borders and much of it is under vine now or has been in the past. But there are still a few areas still working hard to make a name for themselves. You can take advantage of the value some of these areas offer. There are also some regions in the Old World being re-discovered that can offer surprising value and quality too!
So what’s next? There’s a place that fascinates me lately offering amazing wines that aren’t necessarily cheap, but when you consider value for money offer unreal value. The country is Uruguay, which is located in South America on the Atlantic between Argentina to the west and Brazil to the north. Uruguay has two strikes against it. Coastal influence means a lot of rain and associated disease pressure, making growing challenging. And then, of all things, they chose Tannat as a national grape. But after careful soil testing, strategic vineyard location and varietal siting, channelling ocean breezes to keep moisture at bay, and a fortune made in the telecommunications industry backing everything up, a new player has emerged and is positioning to put Uruguay on the map single-handedly. Check out Bodega Garzon. The Albarino is outstanding and their reds are some of the best I have tasted with a range including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Single Vineyard Tannats that are drinking well now. They are powerful, lush, grippy, and calling out for grilled beef or roasted root vegetables.
Brazil has over 600 wineries and you see some delicious bubble from that country. I have had the occasional quality red or white wine but they are still few and far between in this market.
Another source of high quality wines for about half of what they are worth is Croatia. Stina Winery has rejuvenated a centuries-old growing site on the island of Brac (famous for its white stone or stina) and is showing the world what grapes like Posip (white) and Plavac Mali (red) are capable of. They sport artsy labels, trophy 180 gram+ bottles, quality foils and cork. No expense was spared in the winemaking here either, and it shows in the glass. These are polished and expansive wines that show care and craft.
A real up-and-comer that will be both a new entry and a major player in just a couple of decades is, of course, Mainland China. China is the second biggest grape grower in the world behind Spain. There is a lot of national pride fueling a desire to create wines on par with the world’s best. I have tasted some that are well on their way to competing with the finest wines on the planet to some that are pretty rural and rugged (and not in that cute first world millennial “natural” wine way).
Tasmania and Australia
The bubble industry in Tasmania—the small island south of Victoria, Australia—is really starting to create some new interest in the offerings from down under. Jansz and Josef Chromy are a couple of good producers you see around from time to time. And while we are down under, the oldest wine region in Australia is attracting attention again. Look for fresh and crisp fruit forward and lightly oaked Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula and mid-weight, elegant Shiraz from Heathcote, all in Victoria. Sometimes it takes the old dogs to teach the kids a new trick or two. Watch for more classics from this region to capture people’s imaginations like Semillon and the “stickies” – Rutherglen Muscats.
Other places to watch are countries like Israel, Georgia, Greece, and Mexico. Look for an increasing level of quality coming out of South Africa especially the regions of Franschhoek, Walker Bay, Eglin, and Elim. Watch for states other than the west coast regulars to start becoming the centre of conversation when it comes to US wines. States like Arizona, Virginia, Texas, and New York are working hard to figure out what they do best, getting it right, and letting the world know.
Talk to your rep and take a look off the beaten path to find some new and exciting wines from these up-and-coming places to excite your customers.