Fringe Wine, is dedicated to "unusual grape varietals and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world".
I love this idea and went through my own Fringe Wine phase a while ago in search of something local when my business travels regularly took me to central and Eastern Europe. However, there's only so many ropey Czech wines you can try before you inevitably ask for a beer instead and move back to the classics.
However, my Romantic streak remains and in the spirit of friendly competition, I thought I would try out a few vaguely Fringe Wines at the London International Wine Fair.
I will review these separately in more detail later, but Rob, if you are reading this, here are my top Fringe Wines - they all brought back a few memories of travel to these countries as well:
First was a Šipon ("shipon"), the Slovenian name for Hungary's Furmint from Dveri Pax.
Tiny, rural Slovenia will never be a volume player, but I am increasingly impressed by the wines from this former Yugoslav nation now a member of the EU which look set to become of more than mere niche interest or curiosity value.
I have to say, I never really liked visiting Romania on business, but I did always enjoy the wines there - well-made and fruit-driven but still balanced and European in style, they seem to have a bright up-front openness which belies the dark, murky, inscrutable superstition that for me characterises Romania.
All the grapes here from Prince Stirbey were pretty obscure with a Negru de Dragasani, Novac and, for me the best, a Fetească neagră.
Hungary is hardly a Fringe Wine country these days due not least to the fame of its Tokaji wines; historic Budapest is, for me, the least beautiful of the three great central European capitals (the others being stately Vienna and picture-perfect Prague).
Ryan Opaz, however, disagrees with me and prefers it to Vienna - perhaps as an American, he appreciates more its lively buzz and determination to move forward, compared to Vienna which got there years ago and no longer has anything to prove.
The most obscure (in terms of quantity produced) wine here was the Eszencia; made from the free-run juice of botrytised furmint grapes it is produced in tiny quantities.
With around 5 times the residual sugar of even a top-level 5-puttonyos Tokaji, it was extremely syrupy, yet surprisingly fresh.
Historically - and to this day - fought over by competing Empires, but officially independent since 1991, Ukraine is still the "borderland" that its name suggests between its vast overbearing northerly neighbour and the European Union which ends tantalisingly at its various borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
Perhaps the most obscure here was a red semi-sweet sparkler, Krimart from Artemovsk winery, which included Saperavi along with Cab and Merlot in the blend; however, for quality, the most enjoyable was their dry white fizz Extra Brut.
Dveri Pax - http://www.dveri-pax.com/
Prince Stirbey - www.stirbey.com
Crown Estates Tokaji - www.tokajwinetrade.com
Artemovsk Winery - www.krimart.com
Borderland: A Journey Through The History of Ukraine by Anna Reid (Paperback - 6 Mar 2003) - see here
Balkan Ghosts by R. Kaplan (Paperback - Mar 1994) - see here
Image credit - http://longgame.org/2009/11/geopolitics-and-realpolitik-a-layman%E2%80%99s-view/