LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A blizzard of medals pronounced France the top wine-producing nation on Tuesday and also heralded the surprising places where award-winning wines are made in the 21st century at the kickoff for the London International Wine Fair.
France held onto its title as the number one wine-producing nation at the 27th annual edition of the International Wine Challenge (IWC), which bills itself as the wine world's "Oscars."
The blind taste tests, carried out by almost 400 judges including global wine expert and British television personality Oz Clarke, awarded France 75 gold medals and 947 medals in total at the IWC as hundreds of winemakers, buyers, sellers and writers gathered in London for the 30th annual London wine fest.
Australia came second with 65 golds and Portugal third with 35, in a contest which also highlighted the best of English sparkling wine and growing success for Japanese sake, a statement from the International Wine Challenge (IWC) said.
Wines from China, Japan, England and Wales all gained medals in the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC), highlighting an interesting theme at this year's fair, where wine from countries who have not been well-recognized producers in the West have come to promote their wares.
"What this year's results highlight more than ever is that great wine can be made anywhere in the world, so wineries need to make a greater effort to stand out from the pack," IWSC competition director Frances Horder said in a statement.
France dominated the middle of the trade fair at the ExCel center in London's docklands with enormous stalls dedicated to its massive and well-known regional brands alongside some lesser known names.
Spain, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and a number of Latin American producers were also out in force.
But the real story of the Fair, as in the competitions was the profusion of lesser known wine nations coming to the fore.
Producers from India, Russia and Turkey all have stands at the fair amongst the more than 1,000 exhibitors.
Daniel O'Donnell, whose wines for the Kayra winery in Anatolia are served at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, is one of a few winemakers who have been transforming a long-held perception of Turkish wines as barely drinkable.
O'Donnell, a Californian from the Napa Valley who was asked to go to Turkey to evaluate the wine potential of what would become Kayra, said he found a blank tablet to work with when he got to the country some consider to be the birthplace of wine.
"Turkey is either the newest Old World wine or the oldest New World wine," O'Donnell told Reuters. "They've been making wine for 5,000 years."
British wine expert Clarke agreed during a tasting tutorial session, which galloped through the wines of the eight Turkish producers who have turned up for this year's fair under the "Wines of Turkey" label.
Clarke introduced the assembled wine lovers to indigenous Turkish grapes such as Okuzgozu and Bogazkere and told Reuters that a recent trip to Turkey had awakened his palate.
"I've kept my eye on Turkey."
Reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Patricia Reaney