Mark Bright's career began at the ripe age of 17, where he trained under the master sommeliers at Aqua at the Bellagio. After becoming a sommelier at age 21, Bright moved onto work with Rajat Parr at Restaurant Michael Mina in San Francisco. In 2007, Bright, along with his partners, opened Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant, where he heads up the wine program and the attached retail wine store.
In today's fast moving wine industry, everyone is always in search of new vineyards and new winemaking techniques. In California alone there are hundreds of new vineyard designations and multiple new labels appearing every year. As a sommelier, I have always been searching for these new wines, which I think is one of the best parts of my profession. I have been searching from the wine regions of California to the southern hemisphere for new wines, but it wasn't until my recent trips to Asia that my eyes were opened to probably the most exciting upcoming regions that will surely surprise the market in the 21st century.
There are now over 700 winery projects throughout Asia in over 12 different countries, mostly supported by large companies from Italy, France, and the United States. The leader of the pack in growth currently is China, with more than half of the wineries registered and growing by leaps and bounds in the recent years. China is now the sixth largest producer of wine in the world, with little signs of slowing down.
The majority of these wines are coming from the northern regions of China, surrounding Beijing and up to the border of Mongolia. One of the projects that has their wines in the United States is China Silk Winery, which now has white and red blends, but don't miss their riesling--a great wine with lots of acidity and hints of residual sugar, perfect with sushi and beyond.
Japan is another country that is creating a great wine marketplace, easily the leader in the quality sector. Famous Bordeaux professor Denis Dubourdieu is now consulting on multiple projects, including the Grace Winery Koshu. Koshu is a grape that was brought through Asia into Japan roughly 1,200 years ago--it has since adapted to the climate, and now produces their most distinct and best wines. The production of this grape began roughly 120 years ago, and is a late ripening varietal allowing for beautiful acidity and clean, crisp wines. A beautiful aperitif, and of course it's delicious with sushi. But it goes beyond just Japanese cuisine--it also pairs well with charcuterie and salads.
India is the other large country firmly holding its parcel of the Asian wine growth. Sula Vineyards was created by Rajeev Samant, who used to work in Silicon Valley before moving back home to create the finest winery in India, and it's growing fast--selling more than two million bottles last year alone. These wines can be found in many establishments in the Bay Area. I would suggest trying the chenin blanc, which is the best of their portfolio, with improvements to the sauvignon blancs and reds rising every year.
The Indian government is also fueling the fire by raising taxes on imported wines to nearly 400% at final sale, while giving major long-term tax breaks on new wine projects (especially in Maharashtra).
Although these are the three countries leading the pack, there are many other countries now finding their place in the wine industry, such as Thailand. Although the wines are not hitting the highest marks of finesse, they are delicious for BBQs and fun tastings. Producers in Thailand are also beginning to experiment with other varietals such as tempranillo (think Rioja) and colombard. The quality throughout Asia is improving with every vintage, and many of wines are absolutely fantastic to drink now--and definitely to share with your wine snob friends to open their minds!