The world of wine is vast – literally. Vitis vinifera, the plant species whose berries form the basis of wine, can grow as far north as southern Sweden and as far south as the bottom half of New Zealand’s south island, and crops up in a surprising number of places in between.

Yet most wine drinkers, and many wine professionals, somewhat crudely divide the wine world into just two parts. There’s the “old world”, which usually encompasses France, Italy, Germany, Spain and, if you’re feeling a little adventurous, Portugal and Austria; and the “new world”, which covers the United States, South America (especially Argentina and Chile), Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

But dividing the wine world into the “old” and the “new” can blind us to the joys of wine from places that don’t quite fit the mould, especially those places that I like to call the “old-old world”, which have a very long history of winemaking, yet are considered marginal both in terms of production quantity and prestige.

Of course, just because you can grow grapes somewhere doesn’t mean that the area is especially suited to wine production, as anyone who has consumed Balinese wines can attest. By the same token, though, the conditions for good viticulture do not abruptly cease 50km east of Vienna or at the northern shores of the Mediterranean – and the countries of the old-old world are producing some wonderful wines that are very much worth tracking down.

Here’s a primer to some of the more marginal regions that produce great wines and are often overlooked, – although there are plenty more – including Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic – that are equally deserving of your attention.

When it comes to the old-old world, Georgia is king, both in terms of age and trendiness. Research published in late 2017 dates wine production in Georgia’s Gadachrili Gora site back to around 6000 BC – the earliest known evidence of winemaking of any sort.

At the same time, Georgian wines have recently become a fixture on forward-thinking wine lists, and woe betide the sommelier who can’t tell their rkatsiteli from their saperavi (the most important Georgian white and red grape varieties, respectively). It’s precisely the rich sense of history that comes across with every sip of Georgian wines that makes the country so appealing to wine nerds.

Elderly peasant woman picking grapes Kakheti Province Georgia
It’s the rich sense of history in every sip of Georgian wine that makes it so appealing to wine nerds. Photograph: Alamy

Much of the current interest in Georgian wines is owed to Pheasant’s Tears, the winery founded in 2007 by American John Wurdeman and Georgian Gela Patalishvili, which has acted as an ambassador for Georgia’s traditional wine styles. But the real gem of Georgia’s producers may be Iago’s Wine, by the eponymous Iago Bitarishvili, who makes a minuscule 3000 or so bottles per year from only one white grape varietal, chinuri, which he vinifies in qvevri with skin contact (the resulting wine falls somewhere between a grippy white and a very light orange). At the other end of the accessibility scale is Tbilvino, the country’s largest exporter, which produces an array of simple yet delicious wines at pleasingly modest prices.

While Georgia steals much of the limelight when it comes to winemaking in the Caucasus and Black Sea area, there are other countries of note. Armenia boasts a similarly ancient winemaking tradition, and the wines of Italo-Armenian producer Zorik Gharibian, bottled under the Zorah label, have attracted serious international attention. Across the Black Sea, Moldova has emerged as a fledgling wine producer with great promise thanks to its latitude (which it shares with Burgundy), the maritime climate, and the long-established presence of French grape varieties.

Kvevri vessels in the wine cellar of Pheasant’s Tears.
Kvevri vessels in the wine cellar of Pheasant’s Tears. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

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Via theguardian.com