Wine World Atlas Revised to Include Finger Lakes, China

A rich cabernet blend at a recent reception tasted like a cru classe Bordeaux, but it was a terrific red 2010 from RdV Vineyards Lost Mountain in Virginia.

The state gets a nod as a world-class wine region in the latest edition of “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. For the first time, the authoritative reference allots Virginia wine country, less than an hour’s drive from Washington D.C., a detailed map and two pages of text.

Perusing the new maps added to the World Atlas, first published in 1971 and revised about every six years, is one way I track the wine world’s latest buzz-worthy vineyard spots. Many of these produce superb wines that are relative bargains. The splendid RdV, which costs $95, sadly isn’t.

Over lunch at The Modern in New York, Johnson and Robinson talk about other places they’ve added to the latest revision and why.

“Georgia was quite high up on our add list,” says Robinson, referring to the Republic, not the state. “It’s exporting much more, the wines have improved and are getting international attention.” They also have a certain counter-culture appeal.

Clay Jars

The country’s traditional reds and whites are fermented and aged in qvevri, clay jars resembling huge amphora that are lined with beeswax and buried in the earth.

At a recent tasting, I gave high marks to creamy-textured yet crisp 2010 Pheasant’s Tears Kakheti Valley Rkatsiteli ($18), a white with aromas of honey and powerful spice and apricot flavors.

Some areas where not much new is happening, like North Africa, have been dropped, making room for spots on the rise. I’m surprised that doesn’t include a map for Italy’s Campania region. The wines are far more interesting than those from neighboring Puglia, which gets one. But not much else is missing from the atlas.

Social change, Robinson and Johnson agree, is the most important factor spurring vineyard expansion outside Europe. As wine becomes more popular, vintners rush to plant grapes in new areas to supply demand.

In China, a growing middle class is fueling a wine drinking boom. Vineyard area nearly doubled between 2000 and 2011 and rose another 19 percent in 2012, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine. The area of European vineyards continues to shrink.

Chinese Vines

Ningxia, southwest of Beijing, which aims to become China’s most important wine province, is home to a Chandon sparkling wine facility launched in June by Moet Hennessy. The region gets a map for the first time, joining one for the Shandong region, where Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) has a joint venture.

So far the best Chinese wine I’ve sampled was a fruity, graceful Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve cabernet blend ($55) from Shanxi province, west of Beijing.

A general palate shift towards lighter, fresher wines, Robinson says, is drawing ambitious vintners to cooler-climates and higher altitudes as well as to distinctive terroirs like the volcanic slopes of Sicily’s Mt. Etna.

With its unpredictable weather, vineyards planted on 45-degree slopes, and cluster of top winemakers, Mt. Etna has become one of Italy’s most exciting wine zones, much deserving of its own map. The fresh, intense, smoky 2012 Tascante Buonora ($20) made from ancient white grape carricante, is loaded with personality.

Australian Pinot

Another new map features breezy Mornington Peninsula, a cool district south of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. Vine plantings on this spit of land doubled between 1996 and 2008. Packed with new producers, it’s become a hotbed of fine pinot noir.

Among the several dozen I tasted during a recent trip there is the silky, spicy, seductive 2010 Moorooduc Estate ($32).

The South African region of Swartland where a group of outspoken young vintners have rediscovered the virtues of very old chenin blanc bush vines, now has a map. The crisp, floral, round and rich 2012 A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc is a steal at $13.

Finger Lakes

In keeping with our hot wine spot theme, The Modern’s sommelier pours us a delicate 2012 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir ($24) from New York’s Finger Lakes with pretty red fruit-and-earth flavors and made in a lacy Burgundian style. The state has graduated to two pages, with a much larger map for the Finger Lakes.

Climate change is inspiring even countries like Sweden to plant vines, though its wine scene is nowhere near the tipping point for Atlas inclusion.

“The eighth edition will definitely need an additional page for England and Wales, as vineyards expand north,” insists Johnson. Southern England is already making fine, crisp sparkling wines, like the delicate 2010 Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut ($34), though wet 2012 was a washout. However vintners can’t use ‘champagne’ on the label. What should they call it? Johnson, with a sly smile, offers, “Bubbly, of course.”

The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley, $55; iPad version, $30)

(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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