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Stellar wines from unexpected regions

From left: Kiralyudvar, a dry Furmint from Hungary; Colliano Cuvée Red from Slovenia; and a white blend from Israel’s Mount Hermon.

Georgia Brooks

With all due respect to your Sunday school teacher, the wine they’ve been making in Israel for more than 3,000 years has alcohol in it. That’s why they called it wine, not juice. While many wine drinkers function under the impression that all good wine comes from about a half dozen places—especially the U.S. and France—the fact is that unexpected regions have been making wine for centuries or millennia.

Yarden imports wine from Israel, and their Golan Heights winery, Mount Hermon, makes stellar white and red blends that pair well with food. The white is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, so the varietal characteristics will be familiar to regular drinkers. The red is a more traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc. In addition to the remarkably low price point, the Mount Hermon wines are a great place to start experimenting with wine from unexpected places because the varietals are so familiar and the wine is produced in traditional ways.

The tendency to buy familiar varietals can get in the way of experimenting with wines from regions that American consumers consider non-traditional. Kiralyudvar from Hungary is a fantastic dry Furmint—the grape used to make the world famous Tokaji (toe KAI) dessert wines—that is light, fizzy, and very easy to drink.

Good wine shops and wine bars can help demystify the process of reading labels, and so can events with winemakers. Alvar Roosima, the owner and founder of Jaanihanso wines in Estonia, was in Tulsa and Oklahoma City in early February, meeting wine lovers and introducing his line of apple wines to the market. The Tulsa event was at Hodges Bend, and Roosima talked about producing a wine made from apples.

“We started in 2013, and the goal was to make high quality sparkling wines from apples,” Roosima said. “We went with ‘methode Champenoise’ (the method used to make Champagne) because we wanted to make the best wine possible—a serious wine, not cider.”

How does a winemaker from Estonia end up in Oklahoma? Travis and Becky Smith, who own Rooted Selections, an Oklahoma-based portfolio of imported wines, met Roosima at a wine expo in Germany last year.

“We were looking at the guide for all the wines at the show, and there were hundreds of wineries from Germany, France, Italy, and Spain,” Travis Smith said. We would never have had time to work through all of them, and we’re looking for unique stuff anyway. We saw Estonia, and there was one winery listed. We laughed, and said, ‘We can definitely work through Estonia.’”

The wines are excellent, and the current crop includes a Brut, a Sec, and a Rosé, the latter made by adding about ten percent black currant wine. Roosima only presses seasonal apples, and he only presses apples from around the winery. Estonia is a huge apple-producing country, so the varietals vary greatly from season to season.

Another so-called non-traditional region is situated just northeast of Italy’s northern border. Slovenian wine is produced in many cases within walking distance of some of Italy’s famous vineyards—an important reminder that borders are manmade and have nothing to do with agriculture. As such, the wines that come from Slovenia are as likely to be high quality as any other European wine region. In fact, a Ribolla Gialla from Slovenian producer Colliano won a gold medal and best white at the State Fair of Oklahoma in 2018. (Full disclosure: the contest is judged blind, and I was one of three judges.)

Closer to home is the Pearl Morissette “Metis” Chardonnay from the Niagara Peninsula. The peninsula is actually a land bridge between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, making it one of the oddest wine regions in the New World, but the Chardonnay and Pinot they produce are of the highest quality. Scott Large, co-owner of Provisions Fine Beverage Purveyors, who represents the brand, said the wine are produced in very conventional ways, leading to a traditional style of Chardonnay, that is full-bodied and not lean in spite of the cool, Canadian climate.

As for finding the wines, the usual suspects will have the most comprehensive selections: Ranch Acres and Parkhill’s. Tulsa Hills Wine Cellar has an excellent selection of Israeli wine, including the Mount Hermon. Duet Restaurant will be releasing details soon of an upcoming Israeli wine dinner featuring the Yarden wines, and Laffa has the Mount Hermon red on the list. The Kiralyudvar is available at Phryme and Vintage Wine Bar.

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