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Snooth User: Philip James

Why is wine so parochial?

Posted by Philip James, Dec 17, 2007.

All I hear these days is how wine is a veritable 'world in a glass'. If thats the case, where's my Chinese Merlot, or my Nicaraguan sparkler? I can certainly (albeit virtually) jet-set around Western Europe, the America's and a few other choice locales. There are 200 countries, give or take , and I've had wine from maybe 20 of them.

Of course, some countries don't have the soil type, climate or infrastructure to grow grapes, let alone make wine from the resulting crop. OK, so I cross off Tonga, Tuvalu, the Pitcairn Islands, Greenland (not actually a country) and any where else with extreme temperatures or humidity.

There's still a fair few places that should be able to churn out some decent wines. Lets start with China. It's huge and on the same general latitude as Europe and the US. There's got to be a few square miles of dirt somewhere that can match St-Emilion.

China is an easy bet - the size of the population and the country make it probable that there's going to be something good there soon. I'm not alone in my thinking either. International investors have already begun putting some serious coin into local wineries in China .

There are other places too. Southern England has a similar climate to Champagne and makes some sparkling wines. In fact they defiantly wave the flag of " best sparkling wine in the world ". I'm British, and we love the underdog, but even I think thats a tough fight.

I'm in Serbia this week, spending time with our offshore team. They have a wine tradition that's longer that most other countries. I trawled Wikipedia and found that "Wine has a long history dating back about 8,000 years and is thought to have originated in present day Georgia or Iran. Wine is thought to have appeared in Europe about 6,500 years ago in present-day Bulgaria and Greece and was very common in classical Greece and Rome". I think its fair to assume that Serbia was in that early European wave.

So, the question I set out to answer was, what makes Napa Cabernet and Burgundy Pinot Noir so damn good, while many of these other places struggle to even sell their production? Climate and soil play a big part. As do how well the rootstock and varietal is matched to these. I just don't believe that 'terrroir' is the be-all-and-end-all of wine production. I say that how the vines are tended to, the production methods, skill of the winemaker, access to quality machines, labor, bottling plant cleanliness and hundreds of other business practices are what sets a wine apart. Not a romantic notion, but something that at least offers the best producers some sort of defensibility.


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