Why is everyone, especially adventurous wine drinkers, talking about wines from Eastern Europe and middle eastern wines? When most of us think of classic wine-producing regions, Western Europe comes to mind--France, Italy, Spain—and with good reason, as these countries are famous for their classic indigenous grape varietals such as Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, or Tempranillo.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that wine grapes, and likely wine itself, originated in the Caucasus Mountain range—somewhere between Georgia and Iran! With such an important history, why don’t these countries still produce wine today? In fact, they do! There are many quality wines being produced closer to where wine originated in the middle east using many indigenous grape varieties most people have never heard of. If you are looking to venture away from your standby Chard or Cab, check out these seven grape varietals from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. These are the key drivers of Eastern European wine and the wines of the middle east:
Important Eastern European Wine Grapes
Native to Northern Dalmatia in Croatia, the origins of this red grape are as yet unknown. Despite being high in both tannin and alcohol, Babić crucially maintains acidity very well—especially important on the intensely sunny Dalmatian Coast. Wine made from Babić will be dark and rich, with flavors of dark prune and often a savory, smoky character. Try wines made from these grapes if you are looking for a truly unique Eastern European wine experience.
An ancient white grape native to Georgia, thought to be one of the oldest grape varieties. Its naturally high acidity has lent itself to use in sweet and fortified wines. When producers choose to make a dry wine, they often leave the grapes on the vine as late as possible to ensure enough sugar to balance the acid level. While most of us in the West have not heard of this variety, it was possibly once the world’s most-planted white grape. Rkatsiteli produces an acid-driven, spicy white wine.
This is one grape on the list you may have heard of or even tried; Furmint is the primary varietal used in the sweet wines of Tokaji, from Hungary (alongside the much more fun-to-say Hárslevelű grape). While Furmint is very susceptible to botrytis, and thus well-suited to the production of sweet wine, more and more dry varietal Furmint wines have been popping up in the US market the last few years--and they are always interesting. Often a richly-textured white wine with a golden tinge, the dry wines of Furmint taste of juicy pears and struck flint.
Native to Eastern Anatolia in Turkey, this is another ancient grape variety—this area is thought to be one of the possible birthplaces of wine, in fact. Mt. Ararat, where Boğazkere vines are planted today, is thought to be the biblical location of Noah’s vineyard. Boğazkere grapes produce a full-bodied, tannic wine with an inky blue color and flavors of figs and spice.
These days, much of the wine produced in Israel is from French varietals. More producers, though, are working to revive native varietals such as Marawi (also called Hamdani). Marawi wines can be fresh and mouth-watering while also having a round texture, and a mélange of ripe green fruits like pear and honeydew, with a lanolin-like minerality.
Some very highly regarded wines come from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon; in fact Château Musar in the Bekaa Valley is considered one of the world’s best wines! While Lebanon has largely moved to Franch varieties for its red wines, the white wines are often made from two native varieties: Obaideh and Merwah. While you will often see these grapes in blends—often with each other—or even eaten as table grapes, in the last few years producers are starting to recognize the potential quality in Merwah as a stand-alone grape varietal. Merwah is thought to be related to Sémillon, and like Sémillon has a slight oily texture, but with a more vibrant fruit profile. When you are looking for the highest quality middle eastern wine, Lebannon is the place to start.
Indigenous to the region of Thrace in Bulgaria, this is one of the native grapes responsible for much of the quality red wine production in Bulgaria. A red grape (“mavro” is Greek for “black”), Mavrud produces medium-bodied, cherry-flavored wine with notes of chocolate; some have compared the finer examples to Argentine Malbec.
Conclusion | Where To Find Eastern European And Middle Eastern Wines
Even with their growing popularity in the United States, it can be tough to track down quality Eastern European wines. Wine.com does an OK job keeping some in stock, but the selection isn't ideal. We suggest you check out our list of the best places to buy wine online when you come up dry on Wine.com. Finding the best bottles may take a little extra legwork, but the results will please even the most adventurous wine lover!