There's a bigger wine world out there than most of us realise - offering something different for your wine list, not to mention a new talking point. Fiona Sims visits the emerging regions of Georgia, Brazil and New York State
I've never had a wine that tasted like durian fruit before. But the Rkatsiteli from Pheasant's Tears tastes of just that. Never had durian fruit? Think honeyed apricots and walnuts. Where is it made? Georgia. Who made it? American artist John Wurdeman, who opened his winery there five years ago with a local winemaker.
He went to Georgia first for the music. "Wine is such an integral part of the their culture - it's what inspires many songs, so to get to the heart of the songs, I needed to get to the heart of the wines," he explains.
They do things differently in Georgia. They make wine in big clay vessels called qvevri, which date back to 6000 AD. The country has an unbroken tradition of making wine that goes back 8,000 years, making it the oldest wine-producing country in the world, they'll tell you. It has 33,000 hectares of vineyard, plus a staggering 525 indigenous grape varieties - so hardly an emerging region, but it's emerging as far as the UK is concerned, and now available through Les Caves de Pyrene (01483 554750, lescaves.co.uk).
Qvevri differ from amphorae in that they are built permanently underground and used for fermentation and for storage, indeed right up until bottling. They punch down using a stick pared of its bark - that's about as high tech as it gets. "You can't open and shut them very often - there's an element of trust, hope and patience," Wurdeman explains.
Another emerging region to hit UK wine lists is Finger Lakes in New York State. Bet you didn't know that New York State is the second largest US wine production area behind only California? Finger Lakes is home to the state's most premium wines, and the area's largest wine-growing region.
Wine Equals Friends (020 8948 9506, wineequals.com), imports key Finger Lakes producers such as Fox Run, Lakewood Vineyards, Sheldrake Point. And British restaurants are beginning to list them, from Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social in London to Gerard Basset's Hotel Terravina in Hampshire.
It was Riesling that first earned Finger Lakes' acclaim, from producers such as Lamoreaux Landing. Gewürztraminer, too, is also making waves. On the red front, many wineries are making Loire-style Cabernet Franc, while critics have applauded the soft, elegant Pinot Noirs. Wineries are still experimenting with different grape varieties, of course, among them Teroldego and Dornfelder - the downside is that they can be quite pricey as productions are small.
With the news last month that Waitrose, along with Zuma restaurant and London's Savoy hotel, has started listing Brazilian wines, you could make room on your list for one, too.
Brazil is the fifth-largest wine producer in the southern hemisphere and it has been making wine since it was colonised. The Italian immigrants cranked things up a few notches, but things really started to escalate on the quality side of things after recent huge investment in technology and vineyard management.
With nearly 90,000 hectares of vineyard, spread between six regions - most of which are in the south (one nudging the Uruguay border), we're talking 1,100 wineries made up mostly of small producers.
Waitrose might have recently bagged Miolo's sparkling rosé, but its white fizz is there for the on-trade taking, with its crisp, crunchy elegant fruit (£11.50, Barwell & Jones, 020 8418 2888, www.barwellandjones.com). Also good is the Alisios Tempranillo Touriga blend made in the Campanha region (£6.89, Bibendum 0845 263 6924). And with the World Cup coming to Brazil in 2014, and the Olympics two years after that, now is the time to take a look.
CATERER and Hotelkeeper WINE CLINIC
How do I get into training for a sommelier competition? "Keep testing yourself," says the World's Best Sommelier, Gerard Basset, proprietor of Hotel Terravina in Hampshire.
"It's all very well reading, but have you retained it? And put aside extra money to buy wines. They don't need to be expensive - just classic grape varieties and blends."
And don't forget to relax - each sommelier has their own way. Gerard Basset likes to watch Pink Panther movies, while Eric Zweibel, at Dorset's Summer Lodge - a contender for the next ASI World's Best Sommelier competition being held in Japan in 2013 - prefers Pilates.
Basset advises stepping up the preparation gradually, then spending the last two months sacrificing all your time off mugging up. "And your nose must be ready," he adds. "If you don't taste for a while it's easy to get out of practice. It's OK to miss a strange grape variety in a competition, but if you miss a classic variety such as Sauvignon Blanc, it's a disaster."
In fact, he suggests blind tasting up to 20 wines a day in the last two months before a competition, spending longer analysing four of the wines, then whizzing through the rest.
Beyond Pinot Grigio how to sell unusual wines
Shaun Alpine-Crabtree, proprietor, the Table Café, London The response we've had so far to our new wine list has been amazing. It took us six months to work out how to do it. Our original objective was to find the right wines to go with our food, plus we wanted a backstory.
The grape varieties we have chosen are all well known in their native land but not in the UK. The secret is the size - just 28 bins, it should be small and tight, any longer and it would intimidate. We also offer everything by the glass - so people experiment, they have fun with it.
The Pittnauer St Laurent is a good example, so is the Insolia from Sicily - one an alternative to Pinot Noir, the other for Pinot Grigio, and not too far from them on the flavour front either. It helps that each wine comes with detailed descriptions, and that we have graded each wine according to its weight and flavour.
SOMMELIER SOAPBOX WINE TEMPERATURE
Jan Konetzki, head sommelier, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London In wine training, they teach us that a red wine should be served at room temperature. But thanks to central heating and air-conditioning, today's restaurants might have a room temperature of 22°C or more. When the word room temperature was coined centuries ago, no heated room was much higher than 17-18°C.
At Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, we aim to serve red wine not warmer than 18°C, unless otherwise requested. A wine served too warm is likely to taste and smell stronger of alcohol, it might be flabby, and it might taste sweeter or too rich.
At the extreme opposite, if you serve a wine directly from the cellar, at about 12°C, the wine might have little or no aroma, show a higher acidity, harder tannins and have a shorter finish - wine perfectly in balance sits somewhere in between. Though the temperature can also be a great way of playing with the qualities of a wine.
When ordering wine in restaurants, if the wine is served too warm, ask for a cooler bottle from the cellar, or give it a little time in a bucket of ice. If the wine is too cold, ask for it to be poured into a carafe as this will increase the temperature by about 2°C when it hits the decanter, and add another 2°C when it is poured into the glass.
ON-TRADE WINE SUPPLIERS REVEAL FIVE NEW FINDS FOR YOUR LIST
1. Matthew Scowen
Hennings Wine Merchants
2010 Killer Vintage Red, First Drop Wines, South Australia, £9.75 The innovation of the fantastically modern, alternative label design does not stop at its artwork. This is a charged, Italian-inspired blend of no less than seven grape varieties with enough elegance, bright fruit and spice to pair up with various grilled meats and even liven up poultry dishes.
2. Colin Forgie
2011 Santa Ema Amplus Sauvignon Blanc, Chile £8.91
A perfect example of the amazing quality of wines from Chile. The vibrant, fruit-forward style of this wine has passion fruit and gooseberries up front, but the magic of this is the slight jalapeno spice on the finish that allows this wine to go perfectly with any spicy dish from beef chilli to Thai green curry.
3. Mark Andrew
020 7381 7870
2010 "La Dame" Coteaux du Languedoc, Mas des Dames, Languedoc, France £8.95
In 10 years, Dutch winemaker Lidewij van Wilgen has gone from being an ostracised outsider to the most respected producer in her corner of the Coteaux du Languedoc. Her organically-farmed blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is packed full of the region's character, with vibrant, juicy, dark fruit complemented by the meaty, herby notes that are such a winner with autumnal food, particularly game and red meat.
4. Robin Copestick
2011 Paparuda Pinot Noir, Cramele Recas, Romania £5.45
Great value Pinot Noirs are very hard to come by but this one is a cracker. Romanian wine is certainly gaining a great reputation in the UK and it's not surprising with wines of this quality and price. It has bright cherry fruit and a long refreshing finish, making it perfect with all types of fish and meat. Serve it just below room temperature.
5. Theo Sloot
The Oxford Wine Company
2011 Domaine Guy Allion, "Le Haut Perron" Sauvignon de Touraine, Loire, France £7.88
A superb expression of modern Kiwi-influenced Sauvignon Blanc produced in the Loire Valley, this wine is full of crisp, flinty fruit counterbalanced by a refreshing acidity. A top-class and great-value Touraine Sauvignon - perfect with seafood and great as an aperitif.