Knowledge is power… And knowing how disastrous the 2021 vintage was in many parts of the winemaking world, culminating in a shortage of some of the best-selling wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, discerning customers are already seeking out exciting new alternatives.
Add into the equation the continued challenges across Burgundy. A region that has been continually impacted by consecutive cold/wet/frost/hail vintages, now really is the time to take advantage of those new and exciting wines from around the world, which are made by some of most exciting winemakers, breaking boundaries, experimenting with unusual varieties and much more. You don’t have to settle for second best when exploring these wines and your customers might just find their new favourite.
As global warming and unpredictable weather become an ever present issue, the extraordinary weather patterns that have caused the issues above are driving winemakers to explore more and more extreme wine growing regions to make their wines. Whether it is high altitude or vineyards close to the ocean, a cool climate is an essential requirement when making wines to catch the eye of the classical wine consumer. The winemakers featured here are all working in these extreme environments – and their wines are as good as anything from those from vintage-affected regions.
Richard Kershaw is one of the newest inductees into the Cape Winemakers Guild (in December 2021) and is also the only Master of Wine who is actively making wine in South Africa. Not bad for a man from Sheffield! He specialises in site and clone specific Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Elgin (Clonal Selection) and other cool climate growing areas in the depths of the Cape (G.P.S. Series). Despite the incredible detail to which he goes, his winemaking is non-interventionist and he is making some of the very best wines, especially Chardonnay, in South Africa today.
He is meticulous in his viticulture and winemaking, paying special attention to coopers and which barrels work best for specific wines and particularly around clonal selection. He has selected clones of Chardonnay and Syrah that are most suitable for the cool climatic conditions that Elgin offers. The Clonal Selection Syrah 2018 is “a thrilling and emotive Syrah” (97 Pts – Decanter) with Neil Martin (94 Pts – Vinous) labelling it “Absolutely top class” and we certainly don’t disagree. The G.P.S. Series Chardonnay comes from (rare in the area) limestone rich soils in the Lower Duivenhoks River. The resulting wine is vibrant and zingy and according to Neal Martin (93 Pts – Vinous) “This is almost disarmingly harmonious… Warning: You will definitely finish a bottle, even if you didn’t plan to”.
Fine wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Spain, with is a veritable smörgåsbord of wine regions, appellations and grape varieties certainly has some of the most exciting and pioneering winemakers of the northern hemisphere. One winemaker leading the way here is Xosé Lois (XL) Sebio who has been reinvigorating ancient and abandoned vineyards and producing a stunning collection of wines with a very marked identity. XL Sebio’s main aim is to make authentic wines which are far removed from conventions and modern fashions, but at the same time express the terroir from which his wines come with soul and personality. The ‘O’Con’ Albarino 2019 comes from old Albariño strains from the Aios area, in Sanxenxo. (Rias Baixas – Pontevedra – Galicia). The grapes come from an old hillside vineyard plot, with spruce soils, on top of an old tungsten mine. The freshness, depth and meatiness of the old vines help to produce a deep, elegant and sapid wine.
Finally, breaking from the cool climate theme we head to the beautiful island of Santorini. Unique places create unique wines, and Santorini provides this in spades. The soil is volcanic and mineral rich and the indigenous varietals have evolved alongside the island itself. The most famous of these is Assyrtiko, which thrives on an island which has long sunshine hours, a lack of rainfall, sea mists and strong cooling summer winds, all contributing to the unique microclimate. Gaia Estate is one of the pioneers of the Greek wine revolution. Established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. The Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a gem of a wine and a fabulous alternative to White Burgundy. The wine is fermented naturally in a mix of stainless steel tanks, wooden casks (15% French oak, 15% American oak, 15% in acacia casks) and 10% ceramic vats. The resulting wine is truly unique, with layers of intriguing flavours, a mineral salty tang and beautiful acidity.
Ultimately, the challenges that we all face over the next twelve months can easily be overcome with creativity and helping consumers to get outside of their comfort zones to explore the myriad of stunning and extraordinary wines made by legendary winemakers of the future. And you never know, if they just give these wines a chance, they may not go back to what they wanted before.