Guest Post: Uncorking The Eastern European Market

It’s recently been announced that Laithwaite’s is going to put greater emphasis on its Eastern European wine selection after seeing sales double over the last 12 months.

Beth Willard, the wine merchants’ buyer for Spain and Eastern Europe, said:

“We have almost doubled sales and we currently have big plans to introduce new countries from Eastern Europe. We are going back to Bulgaria and looking at Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia. It’s a really exciting part of my portfolio.”

Willard says that Eastern Europe is still fairly unknown to most consumers, so what kinds of wine can you expect and what sort of quality?

Croatian wine

It’s hardly surprising that Croatia can produce great wine. Situated just across the Adriatic from Italy, it has the perfect climate.

Many of the best examples come from near the coast. The Istrian region, next to Slovenia, produces quite a wide variety of reds from grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and also Teran. The last of those is only really found in Croatia and Slovenia and gives rise to a characterful wine of slightly higher acidity. However, it doesn’t age well and should ideally be consumed in the first year. This region is also increasingly known for its white wines, such as the aromatic Malvasia Istriana.

The Peljesac peninsula is also highly regarded for its wine. Plavac Mali is a cross between ancestral Zinfandel and Dobričić grapes. It is a deep, strong wine with complex aromas. Meanwhile, the nearby islands of Hvar and Korčula produce crisp whites using the Pošip grape which is indigenous to the area.

Georgian wine

Lying to the east of the Black Sea, Europe doesn’t get much more eastern than Georgia, yet it is an area with a 6,000 year winemaking history. Up until 2006, 90 per cent of Georgian wine was exported to Russia, but a trade embargo has led to the sovereign state seeking out new markets.

The country’s dominant red wine grape is Saperavi, which is native to the area. It produces deep red wines which are well-suited to long term ageing. It is frequently blended with other grapes and effectively provides the backbone for the Georgian winemaking industry.

Georgia also produces a lot of Rkatsiteli, an adaptable white wine grape. Wines made using this in the Kakheti region tend to be sweet and similar to port. Sparkling wines are also produced using other traditional Georgian grapes such as Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitska.

Georgia is also home to an interesting winemaking technique which makes use of ‘kvevri’ – huge earthenware vessels which are used for the fermentation process. They are often buried underground or set into wine cellar floors to ensure a cool, constant temperature. This results in slow oxygenation. Indeed, the kvevri might be left for as long as two years before bottling.

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Hungarian wine

Hungary is best known for Tokaji Aszú, a sweet wine also known as Tokay. It is made with grapes which are affected by a particular type of fungus and is fermented for several years in loosely closed casks. However, dry wines are also widely produced.

The Furmint grape, for example, gives rise to some great whites. You will find good examples from the Tokaj-Hegyalja and Somló wine regions. There are also good Hungarian versions of Pinot Grigio available.

Hungary isn’t as well-known for its reds, but this may be slowly changing. Egri Bikavér is a blend of local and international grapes which has found great popularity while balanced, complex wines are available from a number of regions, such as Villány, Szekszárd and Sopron.

Romanian wine

Romania is actually now the sixth-largest wine producer in the EU. Making use of high tech manufacturing techniques, the country produces consistently good wine in a range of styles.

Romanian varieties include Fetească Neagră, which is a sweet red and Sarba, which is a sharp, citrusy white. However, you will also find a lot of very well-known grapes such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.

Slovenian wine

Situated between the Alps and the Mediterranean, Slovenia has a great climate for viticulture and with many wines being made by small producers, there is great diversity.

In Primorska in the west of the country, Rebula is a popular white grape, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, but elsewhere there is little sense of there being distinct regional styles. Instead, producers seem keen to experiment with both grape varieties and manufacturing techniques. However, if there is a theme, it is that about 75 per cent of Slovenia’s wine is white.

Guest post contributed by Chris Burn. Loveyourwine.co.uk is a website geared towards showcasing exceptional wines from smaller independent growers.

 

 

32 comments on “Guest Post: Uncorking The Eastern European Market”

  1. Pingback: Uncorking the Eastern European market | Italian...

  2. talkavino Reply

    Nice post, Julian. There are definitely many gems to be found among Eastern European wines, especially when it comes to the QPR – I had some stunning Georgian wines, red, white and rose, at under $15 retail.

  3. foodwine88 Reply

    Nice and very informative article. I don’t know much about Eastern European wine so this was a good introduction to the subject for me 🙂

  4. Marco van Puff Reply

    Romania produces that much wine? Really? Could you give me that source? I have never EVER seen a bottle of Romanian wine in Western Europe nor in the US and I travel a lot..

    • MariBerlinese Reply

      For at least 400 years, the region of Tokaj has been famous for its sweet wines, but they produce also splendid dry whites, from the same grape variety. The Tocai Friulano wines are a completely different product, from a different grape variety, and now the name Tocai is not used any more, considering the EU laws regarding the denomination of origin. But Friulano, as they call it now, is an autochthonous grape of Friuli – a region, which is among the best white wine producers of Europe 🙂 I agree with Julian, you should try what they can 🙂

  5. MariBerlinese Reply

    And this is just a small selection among the wine-producing countries in the Central and
    Eastern Europe! 🙂 There is Bulgaria and Macedonia with their opulent reds, Montenegro with wild Vranac, Bosnia and Hercegovina, which offer a lot – among others white Zilavka, loved so much on the Austrian court. Then the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Moldova, Albania, Ukraine – they all produce wine too. Yesterday I had a bottle from Armenia! Finally Serbia, being for many wine lovers a kind of ‘terra incognita’ – unfortunately!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Mariusz,
      Thanks for commenting! The post is only meant as an introduction to the subject. Eastern Europe is large and each country would probably deserve its own post but the idea here was to bring the reader’s attention to the wines of Eastern Europe in general.
      I have to try more Eastern Europen wine. I’ve only tasted a few Hungarian ones.

      • MariBerlinese Reply

        Julian, I hope you will find some interesting wines from the countries in question and I’m looking forward to reading your posts about them. I’m at your disposal if you need some names of wines you should try 🙂

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Jeff,
      Thank you! I was in Croatia a few years ago. It’s a beautiful country but somehow I completely forgot to try the local wine there (shame on me..). Especially the island Pag is worth seeing.

  6. Eat with Namie Reply

    Luckily, I’ve had an opportunity to try Georgian and Kosovan wines. I really love the forest, floral and red berry aromas in Georgian wines. I might be able to travel to Croatia and Romania on my next trip to Europe next month so I will try their wines then.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Eat with Namie,
      Thank you for the comment.
      I was on vacation in Croatia a few years ago. It’s a beautiful country very much worth visiting. Never tried Croatian wine though.. If you try some then please let me know how you like it 🙂

  7. Nina Reply

    It’s very interesting!
    Unfortunately Georgian wine are only great in Georgia. They don’t survive the transportation and they don’t live long. Most of red wines made semi sweet not natural way.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Nina,
      Thanks for stopping by! Transportation can be crucial for quite a lot of wines. What a pity that Georgian wines often don’t survive transportation..
      I didn’t know what Georgian semi-sweet wines are not made in natural way. Do they add sugar? The laws for Italian Recioto for example don’t allow sugar to be added.

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  9. RiojaChianti RiojaChianti Reply

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing it, Julian! Georgian wine is very delicious. Haven’t tried any other eastern European wine but Georgian wine is good and has a very good QPR!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      RiojaChianti,
      Thanks for stopping by! I’ve put Georgian wine already on my to-try list. Anatoli from Talk-A-Vino recommended Georgian wine in his comment, too.

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