Hubert Burda Media

Neo World Order

Old world? New world? Move aside, it’s time to open up the cellar doors to neo world wines from Asia, South America and the Middle East, says Alethia Tiang

Drink wine, not labels — wise words by the late Dr Maynard Amerine, a California-born wine expert and researcher at the University of California. It is especially relevant in this age where many newer wine markets are becoming increasingly popular with wine lovers and aficionados alike.
The old world wines of Europe had, in the last decade or so, seen strong competition as vineyards from new world markets, such as the US, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, began to take root. The former has been losing its dominant position as a wine producer in the world, dropping 11 percentage points from 73 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2012. To add on, the industry is welcoming yet another wave of great reds, whites and rosés.
Welcome to the neo world.
To quote British monarch King Edward VII: “One not only drinks wine, one smells it, observes it, tastes it, sips it and — one talks about it.” Undoubtedly, tipple from these neo world vineyards — such as countries in South America, Asia and the Middle East — have indeed garnered much talk all over the globe and are rapidly gaining traction.
South America’s Chile and Argentina have already risen the ranks to be one of the world’s top 10 wine-producing regions with Brazil, Peru and Uruguay looking set to become key players in the near future. And the list of neo world wines goes on, counting many Asian markets like China and Thailand among its composition.
Old vs New vs Neo
Though the traditional wine-producing regions are losing their stronghold, to industry experts like Michael Leitner, chief sommelier at Ku Dé Ta , it isn’t surprising that there are newer wine markets in the industry. “People are always on the lookout for new and interesting wines to try,” he says. “As people discover the accessibility to new markets, it is only natural to explore even further.”
For sure fans of the drink worldwide are not complaining, since there is yet another wave of great tipple on the table. After all, it means there are more choices to pair with the even faster-growing epicurean arena.
“Moreover,” he adds. “As many of the old world and famous vineyards are ridiculously overpriced, people are starting to venture out to other markets looking for wines that are good value for money.”
Manuel Rodrigues, wine guru of Café & Bar Gavroche, agrees: “They have gained popularity over the years and have managed to achieve a comparable quality of wines to those from the old world but with more competitive pricing, hence giving them a stronger foothold in the market.”
Perhaps a reason for wine lovers’ quest for more is simply a reflection of the maturity of consumer markets. “After enjoying wines from traditional countries famous for wine such as Italy and France, consumers are naturally curious and turn to other countries,” suggests oenologist and wine expert Edwin Soon.
According to him, these wines have indeed proven themselves to be just as delicious as those from traditional wine regions: “Especially in blind tastings where the label is masked — the wines are making their mark solely on taste and not packaging or even curiosity appeal.”
Vino Hot Spots
In Asia, the Chinese wine market is kept on close watch by experts. World-renowned wine authority and master of wine Jancis Robinson predicts the market value in the industry is growing at a rapid rate. In the seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine, written by her and British wine expert Hugh Johnson, they share how vineyards in the country have been producing fine wine and are attracting key investors, such as Pernod Ricard and LVMH.
Hong Kong-owned Grace Vineyard, which was established in 1997 on the Taigu Plateau, has been producing some of the finest wines in the country — its red wines are produced with Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Marselan, while its white wines use Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Additionally, Austria’s Lenz Moser has also entered a joint venture with Ningxia-based winemaker Changyu to unveil its €70 million Chateau Changyu Moser XV.
Other wine-producing regions include the provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Liaoning and Xinjiang. Yantai, in eastern Shandong, was the only Asian city named “International Vine & Wine City” by the renowned International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), accounting for one-third of China’s overall production. And did we mention, China’s total vineyard area has almost doubled to 560,000 hectares between 2000 and 2011?
India has also been recognised by UK fine wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, as a contender to traditional winemaking countries, with the local industry growing at a rate of 25-35 percent a year. The most influential wineries include Grover Vineyards, Sula Vineyards and Champagne Indage.
Oenologist Soon remarks that India is showing great potential in the wine space. Tipple from Nashik-based premium wine producer Sula Vineyards, according to the Delhi Wine Club, so impressed Italian owner and president of Gaja Winery, Angelo Gaja, at the 2002 Vinexpo in Tokyo that he immediately placed a trial order. Most recently, at the 2012 Decanter Asia Wine Awards, it received a silver medal for its Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
Closer to home, Thailand has been making exceptional leaps in the quality of its wines. Siam Winery is the largest winemaker in the country, followed by PB Winery and GranMonte. GranMonte, for example, has been exporting its tipple globally including Japan, Hong Kong, Germany and the Maldives, with many winning awards at international competitions, including two silver medals and one bronze at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Competition.
Most recently, Siam Winery achieved the regional trophy and gold medal for sweet wine in the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards with its Monsoon Valley Chenin Blanc Late Harvest 2012.
And like its South American counterparts, Uruguay is leaving a footprint in the industry. Its full-bodied Tannat wine has placed its country on the wine map, having bagged awards at competitions such as the Vinalies Internationales in Paris, the Coupe des Nations 2011 in Canada, Vinagora in Hungary and the Vinalies Latin America in Chile.
A Question of Taste
Back home in Singapore, the popularity of these wines are starting to blossom, says Ku Dé Ta’s Leitner. “You can pair these wines with all kinds of food to suit your palate, since there is quite an extensive range of styles and varieties available.”
But what is it that makes these neo world markets such strong players in the established decades-old wine industry? Rodrigues reckons it is in their creativity and marketing, while Soon believes its the terroir, which affects the taste.
“Each vineyard is different, whether new or old world due to differences in growing conditions — climate, soils, elevation, gradient of the vineyard and how the vines are grown,” he says. “A New Zealand Pinot Noir tastes different from a German one, as from Oregon.”
But what matters is that these wines have been appealing to many a wine connoisseurs’ palates. “Some say that these markets do not have the right climate and the wine produced is too young,” Leitner shares. “Others, like myself, believe that perhaps the quality is not at the utmost best yet but they have great potential to become among the leading wines. I have heard opinions that they are great already.”
The question now is which other markets will be joining this league of extraordinary wines? Some, like Rodrigues, are rooting for more markets around the world including Russia and Canada to make their mark, while others, like Soon and Leitner, are patiently waiting for the rest of Europe — Austria, Portugal, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary — to make an appearance.
The wine-loving economist Richard Thaler once said: “I don’t go by ratings. I buy wine that tastes good. Statistically, anybody’s ability to predict what will be a good wine a decade from now is limited.”
How doth his words ring true.