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New World, Old World, One World
2012-10-18
By Anthony Rose

BORDEAUX, Burgundy, Beaujolais, remember them? Ah yes, those were the days, as Kate Bush sang, the glory days of the holy trinity of French wine before which I used to genuflect in the days when I first started writing for The Independent.

Indeed at my very first job interview, the editor said he assumed that those were the wines I'd be mostly writing about. I of course nodded sagely in agreement.

It wasn't just that they were his favorites (well, except Beaujolais perhaps) but because that's what people drank. The late 1980s were the heyday of Europe, France in particular. Bordeaux had produced the great 1982 vintage that launched a thousand chateaux. Burgundy was the classic but lesser-known alternative. And we were still innocent enough to enjoy the fun and the nubile charms of Beaujolais Nouveau. Or at least before greed killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

The New World at that time was a far away place of which we knew very little. If it spoke English, so much the better. California was emerging in the UK thanks largely to the efforts of the pioneering importer, Geoffrey Roberts.

By the end of the 1980s, however, it was becoming clear that Australia with its unpretentious fruit-driven wine styles was going to be the Next Big Thing. And it was. Yet even then no-one realized just how Big that Thing was going to be.

If you'd said that Australia would overtake France to take the UK's top spot by the early 2000s, the men in white coats would have carted you off and fed you pills till you calmed down.

Soon after Australia announced its presence, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand piled in. Argentina was late to the party, but it made up for lost time. With vintages six months earlier than Europe, we were lapping up a fresh influx of deliciously drinkable wines even before the European harvest had begun.

By the mid-2000s, it was starting to look as though the source of new wine-making countries had dried up. Argentina had closed the door behind it and that was that. Or so it seemed. But then something happened. Little by little, countries that had never really seemed to cut the mustard started to emerge with wines of interest and potential.

I remember Israel for instance winning a medal at a Vinexo in Bordeaux for one of its up-and-coming chardonnays. Lebanon, which until a decade ago had been all about one wine, Chateau Musar, showed it in fact had much more than one string to its bow.

Not to be outdone, Turkey held a well-attended conference in London last year showing that not only was it the cradle of wine many moons ago, but that its young wine industry was moving toward pimply adolescence. Keen to get in on the act, Georgia today has become a focus for natural wines.

Perhaps the first country that almost shocked us into believing that anything was possible was Greece. In the mid-1990s, a few wine merchants would stock the odd Greek wine, almost as if to demonstrate that there was a world beyond retsina. Then one day, the dynamic high street wine merchant Oddbins showcased a range of Greek wines that its enterprising wine buyer, Steve Daniels, had uncovered on one of his Greek idylls.

It was almost shocking to learn that the Greeks possessed quality indigenous red and white varieties and that with a bit of help from European funds they were improving their wine-making techniques.

The wine press visited Greece and on our own odysseys discovered amazing growers such as Hatzidakis who was using the local assyrtiko, aidani and athiri grapes grown in the volcanic soils of Santorini to fashion extraordinary white wines.

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