New Latitude Wines: Weird Places Making OK Wine!

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We are officially into spring. Flowers cautiously poke their heads from protective sheaths of green, and birds dare chirp a tune on tree boughs breaking buds. But no, we are not fooled. We New Yorkers know April barely a guarantees freedom from winter, or at least cold, grey and rainy days. So, our dreams of travel to exotic locales persist until that first trip to the North Fork or a Hamptons beach. Curiously, travels to humid, tropical or desert destinations now bring the opportunity to taste local vinos dubbed by everyone else but the locals “new latitude wines.”

Traditionally, only regions roughly between latitudes 30 and 50 were considered suitable for viticulture. Tropical or desert zones were a no-no for quality wine production due to factors such as weather, soil and access to fresh water. Yet people are planting vines all over the world, using different grapes and new technologies.

Even Robert Parker acknowledged the phenomenon: After turning over editorial oversight to his Singapore team, they announced plans for a correspondent dedicated to Asian juice. These wines have a long way to go before they make it to your table at home, but here are five countries giving it a go:

1. Namibia
Brangelina’s baby Shiloh and the world’s oldest desert come to mind when envisioning Namibia. But the country was colonized by Germans, and sure enough, a few of them planted vines to provide drink for the expats. Only a few wineries are producing quaffable stuff like Kristall Kellerei winery outside of Omaruru. They make a white Colombard and Ruby Cabernet (stick with the Colombard) plus a line-up of schnaps. Spend the afternoon in their garden with a unique albeit tasty charcuterie plate of springbok, ostrich and zebra served with a chilled bottle of white.

2. Tahiti
A vineyard on a coral reef? If there was enough wine being made on the island of Rangiroa that I could convince the IRS of a work-related write-off, I would be on a plane in less than 24. The second largest atoll in the world is home to theDominique Auroy Winery which produces French Polynesia’s own wine label, Vin de Tahiti. White, rosé, red and sweet wines are made, although word through the coconut radio is that the experiment is a money and resource suck overseen by a rich French businessman, proving more novelty than serious solution for a wine-starved nation.

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3. Bali 

Hot and wet may be desirable for a certain film industry, but not for growing grapes. Yet, Hatten winery, after years of trial and error, has managed to produce wine in Bali’s notoriously muggy environment. Giving up on traditional European varieties, they found a few oddball table grapes like Belgia for whites and Alphonse Lavallée for red and rosé to be effective in the climate; enough so to win a few international medals. Interestingly, Hatten also makes a traditional method sparkling wine from a local grape called Probolinggo Biru.

4. Thailand 
Hostess bars, spicy food, and shimmering beaches could sum up the usual tourist experience. Now you can add wine tasting to the list. Thailand has a growing industry with almost ten producers, the leading manufacturer being Siam Winery. The company grows and buys grapes in the “floating vineyards” of the Chao Phraya Delta south of Bangkok. The whole set-up sounds bizarre, but initial reports are, um, optimistic? Siam’s winery near Hua Hin offers the quintessential Thai touch–elephant tours through the vineyard.

5. Costa Rica 
So You Think You Can Make Wine? Napa Valley wine consultant Kerry Damskey does. His newly built winery and vineyard are located above the small city of Copey in central Costa Rica. At an altitude of 2000 meters, he planted Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache in December 2011. The first vintage will be released in 2015, so plan your trip accordingly if wine tasting ranks as high on your “to do” list as riding the zip-line.

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