There used to be basic requirements for a successful wine region: water, enough sunlight, and soil rich in minerals. Due to tech advances, modern technology can now trump nature’s limitations in all these respects: irrigation can bring precious water to desert regions, clones of grapes can resist disease and extreme weather, diggers and earthmovers can replace poor soil - meaning our precious grape juice can be squeezed from just about anywhere!
We know there are huge numbers of different types of wines in the world, and grapes are grown on every continent. From France to Spain, Argentina, the US, Canada and Australasia, we are definitely spoilt for choice. Aside from these common countries, though, where else is good-quality wine grown?
Although Argentina and even Chile are better known South American countries for producing wine, there are some great Brazilian wines also now coming onto the market. Towards the south of country is the Rio Grande do Sul wine region, and there are tours and tastings readily available at many wineries here that are worth checking out.
Thailand is a case study that proves heat and humidity are no longer problems when it comes to winemaking! Somewhat ingeniously, grapes are grown in Thailand in floating vineyards: canals of water run between the vines - keeping them alive and thriving in the extreme heat of the tropical sun. The largest Thai producer of wine is the Siam Winery, producing over 300,000 bottles a year. Unfortunately due to the high taxes, wine drinking isn’t extremely popular in Thailand, so much of the wine produced is for export. A bottle of local red, white or rosé, however, pairs perfectly with a green curry or chilli stir fry.
Perhaps surprisingly, Lebanon has been producing some exciting wines for a number of years now. Château Musar is the most famous winery, and it’s fast becoming known in other parts of the world amongst wine enthusiasts seeking out new wines to try.
Eastern Europe has unfortunately never been well-known for quality wines, but all that is changing. Romania has a Dracula-like fascination about it, but it has always had more to offer: it’s in fact one of the oldest wine producers in the world. The Murfatlar vineyard is regarded as one of the best in Romania, and is part of the Dobrogea wine region. Visits are possible to the winery, vineyards, museum and the fantastic wine cellar, including professional tours and tastings. Helpfully, the guides speak both English and Romanian!
While we’re talking Eastern Europe, it’s worth mentioning Hungary. There are a whopping 22 different wine regions in Hungary, many of them very close to the main tourist areas. As it’s easy to fit in, be sure to do a bit of touring and sampling while you’re there! If you’re in the capital, Budapest, drop into the House of Hungarian Wines in Buda Castle. You can sample wines from nearly every wine region and there are over 500 bottles of wine here, both on display and for sale. Wine tastings are available as well as snacks, local cheese plates and cellar tours. What more could you want!?
Cape Verde is an archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa. The island of Fogo features an active volcano and the grey landscape boasts only one tiny village of a thousand people - but with no electricity or running water. Surprisingly then, inside the volcano’s crater there are two wine cooperatives, managing to produce 160,000 bottles a year of export-quality whites and rosés. They produce these from the Moscatel grape as well as a fruity red from a Portuguese grape. The hot dry days, volcanic soil and cool, humid nights are perfect for these grapes, even though the landscape looks like the last thing on earth it could sustain would be agriculture!
The Romans brought wine to England during the Norman invasion in the 11th century, but English wine hasn’t been traditionally of great quality, when compared to those produced by continental Europe just across the channel. It’s cold, wet and grey in England - so many crops fail to ripen. Cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are popular, although some wineries are trying other grapes, to varying success. With all the classic Champagne varieties growing in UK fields, the Brits have developed their own bubbles; the Bolney Estate in Sussex has received several awards for their classic-style sparkling white.
Portuguese wines are widely available, but interestingly, an untouched piece of viticulture history lies in the Azores Islands, over 1600km off the coast (in the middle of the Atlantic, in fact). The volcanic island of Pico is home to an enormous man-made rock labyrinth created in the 1400s. The network of thousands of rock walls are about 1.5 metres tall, protecting small plots of Verdehlo vines. The wine made from grapes grown in the labyrinths is called Pico Verdehlo and was treasured by Czars and nobles in Europe for centuries. The area is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site: one of the last of its kind in existence. The stone walls offer protection from ocean winds and salt, and the plots only house a few vines with thin openings for vineyard workers to squeeze through. The people of Pico have planted Verdelho, Arinto, Terrantez, Boal and Fernão Pires - common grapes from 500 years ago! These wines are hard to find, but come from regions labelled Pico, Biscoitos and Graciosa.
China isn’t synonymous with good wine - and you’d be surprised to hear that some of its best is produced in the Gobi Desert! With only 150-200mm of annual rainfall, vineyards source their water from the nearby Yellow River. Farmers bury vines underground to protect them from winter’s deep freezes, but due to these desolate conditions, the vines don’t suffer from disease or rot - making it easy for wineries like Chateau Hansen to produce organic wines. Interestingly, China’s wine history predates Western European civilisation: the oldest fermented beverage in the world was found nearby in the Yellow River basin, dated around 6000-7000 BC! The Chinese wine industry is rapidly growing rapidly, with 11 distinct wine growing regions and hundreds of indigenous Chinese grape varieties.
So there you have it - wine really can be grown almost anywhere! Thanks to this list, we’ve now added a few more countries to our bucket list, too.
Just in case you aren’t a Champagne pro, we’ve compiled a handy list of hints to up your game – with plenty of time before the festive season kicks off this year to get you into the groove!
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