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Wines of the Outer World

Last week, an international marketing agency sent me a shipment of wines from Morocco to taste. At about the same time, another agency was trying to set up a meeting in New York between me and a Turkish producer.

Naturally, I am not one to complain about this ever-rising tide of new wines that is sweeping the wine world, inundating importers, distributors, writers, retailers, sommeliers, beverage directors and consumers.  It’s fun to try to make sense of it.  Where does everything fit?

By my calculations, we are now experiencing the fifth primary wine wave to reach America since World War II.  Before then, only the most-sophisticated and the most-desperate of our isolated society drank wine.  But many soldiers returning from the war, as well as the long occupation that followed, took a fancy to French, German and Italian wines while serving there and started searching for them back home.  That was the first wave – wines of the Old World.  Then, starting in the 1970s, came the second wave – wines of the New World, as we discovered wines from regions such as California, Australia, Chile and Argentina that had been making wine for a century or more but only now were raising their uniform quality to Old World standards.

Around the 1990s, we began uncovering wines of the Lost World – regions that once had reputations and were struggling to regain them as worldwide wine demand increased.  These included such Old World areas as Priorat in Spain and the Apennines and Sicily if Italy, plus the resurrected wine industries in historically relevant Greece and Israel.  The fourth wave is still tugging at those of us who live away from the West Coast – the discovery of wines of the Local World, those made in our backyards that have blossomed in attractiveness like Gigi, the girl next door grown up.

So, what to call this fifth wave of wines that is coming from the periphery of the known wine world, places that either never seriously made wines or who made wines that were never taken seriously outside their areas of production?  How about wines of the Outer World?  Wines from Africa’s northern fringes such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, even Egypt.  Or those from Turkey and the new/old countries of the Urals in the Near East.  Then there’s China in the Far East, Uruguay and Brazil in South America, Mexico in North America.
Michel Rolland is quoted as saying, when he was consulting a new winery in India, that the big problem with developing regions is not their terroirs but their lack of infrastructure – the pool of equipment, services and ready knowledge available in developed wine-producing regions.  In fact, grapes can be grown and decent wine can be made in most places not too close to the two poles or the equator, which includes most of the U.S. and most of the world.

And it’s exciting to discover wines from these Outer Worlds.  The four I received from Morocco were interesting and enjoyable, if not totally inspiring – about what you would expect in the $14 - $16 range. They were all from Domaine Ouled Thaleb, which has been wine growing since 1923 in the Zenata region on the Atlantic not far from Casablanca. I discovered a new grape, to me, in the native Faranah that was blended with Clairette in a fragrant, fruity and off-dry wine.  The reds were a Syrah varietal, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and a blend of Cab, Merlot and Syrah that were all made in the Bordeaux style.  They were all enjoyable and perfectly sound as I tried them back and forth over a supper of tomato-based fish soup.

There will be more such “discoveries” from the Outer World over the next few years as importers, like Marco Polos with iPads, bring us wines that have seldom, if ever, seen our shores.  Retailers and sommeliers will have to decide which ones to stock and whether they have to expand their inventories or replace something.  And, as a wine writer, I might find myself part of the next caravan to Marrakech, Patagonia or Ulan Bator.

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