How To Take Advantage Of The Expanding World Of Wine
From Forbes March 31, 2017
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By Brian Freedman, Contributor
I cover food, wine, drinks, travel; host dinners; and consult on wine
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Tempranillo from Australia’s Barossa Valley can be delicious. So can Petit Verdot from Israel, Pinot Noir from the Niagara Escarpment in Canada, Sauvignon Blanc from Uruguay, and infinitely more, no matter how unfamiliar they may be.
For many wine consumers, the temptation to drink the same few grape varieties, from the same places where those wines are most well-known, is overwhelming. But the wine world is far bigger than that, and the dual factors of an exponentially growing consumer base and a changing climate that is allowing the successful cultivation of grape varieties in slowly yet inexorably shifting regions and appellations, means that the range of options is staggering. Add to the equation winemakers who love nothing more than to experiment, and the result is often unexpectedly delicious.
And with a new generation of wine drinkers thirsty to expand their drinking horizons, the opportunities for the wine industry have grown substantially.
Randall Grahm, visionary winemaker and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard—and a pioneer of Rhône varietals in California without whom the American wine industry would be far different than it is today—told me in an email that, “probably the biggest divide is generational, with younger people being a lot more open to trying things they’ve never heard of before,” he noted. “I’m hardly an expert on world trade or economics, for that matter, but it seems that very inexpensive wines from South America, South Africa, and Europe (especially Spain) have really broken open this market. Younger people (without extravagant means) are looking for value and the imports have delivered that. I think that in an era when the dollar went further and we had far less access to information, it was a lot easier to remain somewhat parochial in our tastes.”
As the wine world expands, both consumers and producers stand to benefit from unexpected grape varieties being grown in regions where they’re less familiar. McLaren Vale, above, is home to a particularly well-crafted Nero d’Avola, a variety more typical of Sicily than Australia.
As the wine world expands, both consumers and producers stand to benefit from unexpected grape varieties being grown in regions where they’re less familiar. McLaren Vale, for example, above, is home to a particularly well-crafted Nero d’Avola, a variety more typical of Sicily than Australia.
These days, maintaining parochial tastes in wine would mean missing out on a tremendous well of potential pleasure and value.
“In many ways the wine business represents the movie business (and likely many other industries as well),” Grahm observed. “For most larger budget films (and wineries), people will tend to play it safe, or at least imagine they’re playing it safe. It’s for this reason that you pretty much can only find Cabernet as a red wine in Napa Valley. And like with films, the formula that seems to work is going large (with a large marketing budget) or going small (and indy) and somehow getting lucky. Pretty much the only people working with oddball grape varieties are the very small wineries, usually not bigger than a garage operation, and they are almost always working with purchased grapes (that don’t come from Napa Valley.)” He went on to say that, “I think it is mostly younger people who are willing to experiment with [these] unusual grapes and wine styles. The upside is that there are many of them, the downside is that they (unlike us older folks) have essentially minimal brand loyalty. (And in fairness, why should they, with a universe of wine out there?)”
The universe of wine is far larger than most people realize, and drinking unexpected or unfamiliar bottlings has obvious benefits to both the consumer (in terms of broader vinous horizons, and often value) and the producer (it helps their bottom line). Below are nine great wines to get started with, each of them well worth a try. [Note: I have tasted these wines either from press samples, on media trips, or have purchased them myself for my own collection. All are recommended based on their own merits, and listed in alphabetical order.]
Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2014 (approx. $19) – A vibrant and detailed Grenache, spiced up with 9% Mourvèdre and 2% Syrah, this expressive red from Monterey County is bursting with red cherries charged with the higher-toned spice of peppercorns.
Brash Higgins NDV Nero d’Avola “Amphora Project” 2014 (approx. $35) and Rafa Vineyards “Running With Bulls” Tempranillo 2014 (approx. $15) – Australia is best known for powerful Shiraz and, to a certain extent, excellent cooler-climate Riesling. These two above show a totally different side of the country’s increasingly diverse wine industry, which is infinitely more varied than it often gets credit for. The Nero d’Avola is proof that remarkable wines can be made from the grape variety outside its classic homeland in Sicily. This one is fermented with natural yeast, aged in a bees-wax-lined amphora on the grape skins for 180 days, and boasts stunning notes of bright cranberry, fresh-grated ginger, and orange peel. The Tempranillo is another delicate beauty, with cherries, rose water, and excellent minerality.
Capensis Chardonnay 2013 (approx. $80) – From South Africa’s Western Cape, this Chardonnay shares a certain amount of DNA with great white Burgundy. Its gunflint minerality and almost saline finish, both preceded by pear, white peach, and perfectly calibrated oak spice, is deliriously enjoyable.
Cave Spring Pinot Noir 2014 (approx. $19) – The Niagara Escarpment of Canada may not be the first place that Pinot Noir fans think of for their preferred grape variety, but this bottling may change their minds. It’s absolutely beautiful, with loads of raspberry and brambly red berry fruit gently countered by a hint of scorched earth. A subtle testament to the potential of this most finicky grape variety in, yes, the Niagara Escarpment.
Kaiken Obertura Cabernet Franc 2014 (approx. $35) – From Mendoza, Argentina, which is most famous for its excellent Malbec, comes this powerful, elegant, and brilliantly detailed Cabernet Franc, its blackberry and black cherry liqueur giving way to purple-blossomed flowers and a haunting note of eucalyptus.
Matello Fool’s Journey Deux Vert Vineyard Syrah – Viognier 2013 ($30) – Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of the top places in the world for Pinot Noir, but don’t overlook this Côte-Rôtie-inspired gem. With green and pink peppercorn to spare, as well as wild strawberries and a slightly floral note on the finish, this is a savory, unforgettable bottle worth seeking out.
Matteo Correggia Blanc de Blanc Severina 2005 – Roero, in Italy’s Piedmont region, may be best known for excellent Nebbiolo and some of the top Arneis on Earth, but this remarkable classic-method sparkler, crafted from 100% Chardonnay, proves that great blanc de blancs can come from the most unexpected places. Notes of butterscotch, apples and pears, honeysuckle, and buttermilk dance profoundly together.
Trout Trilogy by Sawtooth Winery Petite Sirah 2013 ($30) – Nearly opaque in color, with flavors of sweet-oak-spiced black cherry compote, blueberry, black fig, and chocolate. This hedonistic, delicious wine from the Snake River Valley of Idaho is perfect for grilled burgers or sauce-slathered ribs.