The spectacular Bordeaux vintages of 2009 and 2010 are being snapped up by billionaires from emerging economies. These wines, purchased as investments, may never be drunk. Many will be traded until they are past their peak. Occasionally, they will be served as a sign of conspicuous wealth. But that means if you want to taste the finest in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo you may have to cosy up to an oligarch.
Luckily, this passion for wine is not restricted to consuming: the BRIC countries are also producing. Russia has a long wine history, and Georgia is thought by many to be the place where wine-making began (others say Iran.) More surprising is the birth of wine industries in Brazil, India and China and already there is reason for optimism. As the old adage has it: if you want to make a small fortune in wine you must first be prepared to lose a large one, and these countries have willing investors. They also have vast territories to search for the perfect match between soil and grape variety.
Brazil is looking for a grape to make its own, as New Zealand did with Sauvignon Blanc. The aim is to find something unexpected, but experiments with the Tannat grape have not met with success. However, in the south of Brazil, with the help of French wine makers, producers have been making remarkable sparkling wines with fresh and complex flavours. One such wine is the high altitude Cave Geisse Nature Terroir 2006 from Pinto Bandeira with its aromas of dried fruits and crisp lemon finish. Equally promising are the wines from Santa Caterina; in particular, the Monte Agudo Terroir de Altitudes Chardonnay 2008 which shows Burgundian flavours of white peach and hazelnuts.
India has some surprisingly good wines along with many bad. The best come from the Sula vineyards, northeast of Mumbai, which produce a range of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. The best of these is Dindori Shiraz, whose aromas of basil, nutty taste and buttery texture perfectly complement the oils in curry dishes and cool the mouth in a way that mixing oil with water never could. Also interesting is the Sauvignon Blanc that has a richness one wouldn’t find in Sancerre but without the tropical fruit flavours found in New Zealand. Each of these wines has a note of Asian spice on the finish, which I suspect must be imparted by the barrels.
In China, wine usually means red wine, due to the Mandarin term used for both, but white wines are produced too. Most Chinese wines available locally are awful. Even the ubiquitous Great Wall wines disappoint. The screechingly high levels of volatile acidity can make tasting an unrewarding experience. The cherry fruit soon gives way to an austere, lacquered taste that one is keen to extinguish. However, the news is not all bad. Château Lafite is engaged in a Sino-French bid in Shandong province to make a Chinese Grand Cru, and there are some stunning successes like the wines from Grace Vineyards in Shanxi province, south of Beijing. The 2009 Grace Tasya’s Reserve Chardonnay is immediately convincing. An aromatic nose of perfumed fruit: pear and lychee. On the palette, richness without heaviness: guava fruit with hints of nut and subtle notes of honey. In red, the 2008 Tasya’s Reserve Merlot is promising. The nose is unlike an old or a new world wine: a high note with faint aromas of rose petals and jasmine. On the palate, a silky texture, with bright flavours of cherry and a gentle finish of bitter almonds. Most remarkable is the lightness and elegance of this wine. So will China eventually produce an outstanding wine? Perhaps, as Zhou Enlai once famously said, it is too soon to say.