‘Old world’ wine refers to that from traditional wine-producing regions in western Europe (France, Spain, Italy and the like), but in fact wine was first made in countries further east. Georgia lays claim to being the birthplace of wine, with archeological evidence of wine-making dating back more than 8,000 years, and, across the Black Sea, countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovenia have also been making wine for millennia.
What these countries have in common is that they all became communist regimes after World War II. Land and wineries were taken over by the state, and many old indigenous grape vines were dug up to be replanted with high-yielding international varieties to make vast quantities of poor-quality wine, often adulterated with additives.
After the revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when these countries gained independence, wineries were privatised and land was returned to its pre-war owners. And, with the exception of Georgia, they joined the EU in the early 2000s, which brought a wave of much-needed investment to their wine industries. Indigenous grapes were replanted, and the process was modernised with an eye to sustainability by cutting back the use of chemicals. Quality drastically improved, and now these grapes are reaching the maturity required to produce some excellent wines.
These countries have the advantage of lower production and labour costs than in western Europe, and they have largely avoided extreme weather conditions that can damage harvests. This, together with the plummeting pound that has seen prices of our imported wines shoot up, means wines from the east tend to offer really good value for money.
Independence has brought to these countries a pride in their heritage and culture, and wine-making is very much part of that. It’s a tradition that’s being revived and reinvented, and its future is looking rosy. @KateHawkings
Young & Crazy Melnik 2017, Bulgaria (£8.50, thewinesociety.com)
Bulgaria was once best known for its rough cabernet sauvignons but is now turning to native grapes such as this melnik. Juicy and fresh, it makes very easy glugging with our roast duck.
Tbilvino Qvevris 2015, Georgia (£10, M&S)
Made from the local rkatsiteli grape, this on-trend orange wine (when grape skins are left in contact with the juice to add colour and texture) is matured in traditional clay jars called qvevri. Very versatile.
Real Tokaji Dry Tokaji 2015, Hungary (£11.99, or £9.99 in Mixed 6 deal, majestic.co.uk)
The Tokaj region is best known for its sweet wines made from the furmint grape, but its modern dry wines are now catching attention. Herbaceous and savoury with a touch of gentle oak.
Puklavec ‘Seven Numbers 3’ Pinot Grigio 2016, Slovenia (£16, woodwinters.com)
This wine was awarded the world’s Pinot Grigio Master in a respected trade journal. Bursting with peaches and grapefruit with a gentle spicy roundness, try it with our roast pork loin with apfelkren.
Sanziana Pinot Noir 2017, Romania (£7.95, corneyandbarrow.com)
Terrific value for this luscious pinot that has a lovely spicy finish. It would marry happily with our sticky honey and mustard catherine wheel sausage with pears, cobnuts and celeriac mash.