Because they gave us the grape varieties we know and love, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France come to mind when people think of “Old World” wines. And while that might be true in some spheres of impact, wine has always played a significant role in the cultures of Eastern and Central European nations.
European nations located on the continent’s center and east laid the path for winemaking on a worldwide scale beginning in 6000 BCE. Along with cultivating well-known grape types like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, the nations listed below have started to use cutting-edge winemaking methods in order to compete with emerging world producers.
These five wine-producing regions in Eastern and Central Europe should be on your list for this year’s shopping, studying, and travels.
Croatia, which borders Slovenia and is made up of 1,100 small islands, is an epicurean paradise. The saying “what grows together, goes together” has been a guideline that the world’s famous drink director Leigh Ervine has used when putting together the wine list at Rose Mary in Chicago’s West Loop. The restaurant serves food with Italian and Croatian characteristics, and its collection of wines by glass and bottles highlights well-known and local grape varieties. Graševina, a white wine that is currently on the menu, is extremely comparable to Riesling. It is cultivated in Croatia’s interior, is very palatable, and is easy to drink.
While Teran, a red grape cultivar with a structure similar to southeastern France’s Syrah, is immensely popular in cuisine, importing it has been more difficult over the past two years. It is typical to find this grape in dessert wines. It has more fruit and lots of spice flavors like vanilla and clove, but it has less alcohol. They highlight a red wine on the menu at Rose Mary that goes well with fatty meals like lamb shank (or sous-vide lamb shank, making of which is not that complicated if you closely follow the recipe on the Internet, such as from weekly menu of Home Chef) or duck breast.
Bulgaria was an international leader in the production of wine in the 1980s, but the collapse of communism swiftly changed that. Bulgaria has once again introduced itself to wine enthusiasts of all levels and has been reclaiming its uniqueness in the global arena over the past ten years.
According to Culture With Us founder and CEO Alexandra Schrecengost, Bulgaria has an extensive tradition of inventing and mastering cutting-edge farming and winemaking methods that many wineries still refer to and use today. For growing a variety of red and white grapes, including Merlot, Cabernet, the pink-skinned Pamid (which yields a locally popular rosé), and Chardonnay, along with a variety of other unique features not seen anyplace else in the world, Bulgaria’s makeup of the soil and naturally occurring climate are perfect.
Mavrud, a centuries-old grape from Western Thrace that makes astonishingly robust, tannic, spice-forward wines worthy of age, is one of the nation’s most cherished varieties. Consider a hot Bordeaux’s Malbec. Assuming that sounds appealing to you, we also suggest tasting wines derived from Rubin grapes, an Italian Piedmont area-based Nebbiolo, and Syrah blend from the 1950s.
Hungary, which has about 160,000 acres of vines spread across more than 22 distinct wine regions, was formerly one of Europe’s most important wine-producing regions. Unfortunately, the region was severely affected by phylloxera in the 1880s and years of conflict that followed ultimately decimated the wine industry. However, in the Aszú region of Tokaj, winemaking was given priority once Hungary declared a democratic republic in the late 1980s. Tokaji, a white dessert wine created from the Furmint grape, is Hungary’s crown treasure.
Zachary Engel, the head chef at Galit Restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, has made it his mission to promote both Israeli and Middle Eastern wines as well as these cuisines with comments like “OG Greek natty winery” and “Have you ever had Grüner with hummus?” on the wine list. Engel wants to increase the accessibility and social value of wine as a dinner component. Although Tokaji Sec is typically thought of as a dessert wine, they also offer it by the bottle on the restaurant’s menu. It is the ideal meal wine because of its sweetness and unctuousness, which balances out with the high acidity.
Chef Engel notes that the lack of availability of Hungarian wines on menus gives him and his crew the opportunity to introduce guests to novel tastes. In addition to growing different varieties of grapes than anyone else, Hungarian winemakers also use a lot of natural winemaking techniques. It is done the same way as they have for many years, but with a fresh take on classic winemaking.
Georgia has approximately 400 indigenous grape types, notably Saperavi, Mtsvane, and Rkatsiteli, and is regarded as the oldest wine-producing region in the world.
Author Karen MacNeil describes a moment when she tasted wine produced by a group of monks in Kakheti, Georgia, in The Wine Bible. In addition to the fact that the wine was her first experience with a qvevri-made wine, MacNeil writes that the monks sang an age-old Georgian folk tune before sipping it. Qvevri are never transported, unlike their ancient relatives the amphorae, which are used to carry wine. Instead, they are totally buried beneath, where the temperature is steady and cool, which is advantageous for fermentation and maturation.
The principal container for producing orange wines is the qvevri, which is increasingly in demand as awareness of Georgian skin-contact wines rises. Georgia has five wine-producing areas, with Kakheti producing the majority of the nation's grapes on more than 120,000 acres of land.
The Illyrian and Celt tribes are known to have produced wine in Slovenia as early as 500 BCE. Following it, political unrest and the war would degrade the nation’s wine production for years. Slovenia (and Croatia) did not choose to leave Yugoslavia and restore its status as a world-famous wine-producing nation until June 1991.
Today, the nation’s grapes are grown on about 40,000 acres in three main wine regions: Primorska, Podravje, and Posavje. Right now, Slovenian wines are really popular in the Western world. In eateries that made the decision to sell them, a pét-nat Riesling has soared off the bar. Slovenian wines are unique because of how accessible and affordable they are. Slovenian winemakers use high-quality methods and grape varieties that you may not anticipate given the locale to produce pét-nats, skin-contact wines, and other types of wines. But as soon as you sip the wine, you can see how much work went into it.