“With the country practicing social distancing, sheltering in place and traveling a lot less, we thought it would be kind of cool to explore the world in 8 wines from Europe to South America; Australia to Japan. No masks required. We picked wines slightly off the beaten path that you may or may not know and that we think you will really enjoy reading and learning about.”
Germany’s Rheingau Region
Our first stop is Germany’s Rheingau region, thirty miles west of Frankfurt. Rheingau is actually relatively small in terms of vineyard acreage, but it is one of the most important wine-growing regions in the world. It is the birthplace of Riesling. And the 50° latitude on which it lies, marks the most northerly point in which viticulture is possible.The special climate, described as a continental cool climate in viticulture, occurs only at the 50° latitude and provides ideal conditions for the Riesling grape, a late-ripening grape variety. Since the Rhine River makes a slight detour for approximately 30 km, the Rheingau region enjoys an ideal microclimate. The river, which warms up during the day, and the shallow layer of Taunus quartzite emit heat and cause optimal air circulation: the best conditions for Riesling to thrive and prosper. Riesling viticulture was first recorded in Rheingau in 1435.The story of the Schloss Johannisberg winery and estate is rich in history and begs to be told, much like a James Mitchener or Ken Follett novel. The characters and settings are bold, diverse and intriguing. Schloss Johannisberg was the first winery to create a monopole of 100% Riesling production, the first to discover Spätlese in 1775, the first to use the term Auslese in 1787, the first to attempt to define various predicate levels and the first to create Eiswein in 1858.It’s believed the first harvest at Schloss Johannisberg was in 817. That’s when vineyards are first mentioned, by Louis the Pious, (Ludwig der Fromme) during the dark ages and reign of his father, Charlemagne. It is said that Louis the Pious made 6000 litres of wine during his father’s reign.The estate was originally founded as a Benedictine monastery and identified as an ideal area to grow grapes. In honor of John the Baptist, the hill on which the monastery was built, was named “John’s mountain,” or Schloss Johannisberg. Centuries of wars ravaged the region and its reign.The wine we are tasting from this region is the restaurant and hotel exclusive, 50º Degree Riesling. Made under the watchful eye of world renowned Schloss Johannnisberg, this fresh, crisp and delicious wine comes from grapes that are hand harvested and softly crushed. It undergoes a slow, gentle fermentation thanks to the use of temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then the wine settles on the lees for two months. It pairs fabulously with everything from crustaceans and poached fish to grilled chicken and all Asian fare. The 50º Riesling has aromas of ripe peaches, green apples with a hint of citrus. It’s crisp and tangy, yet elegant with a perfect off-dry finish. Why not do a curbside pick-up from your favorite seafood, chicken or Chinese restaurant like Mastro’s or P.F. Chang’s to pair with this on-premise only wine.
France’s Beaujolais Region
From Germany, we head south to France, more specifically to the Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy. The main grape is the Gamay grape and most of the wine produced here is enjoyed on a single day; the third Thursday of November, aptly called Beaujolais Nouveau Day. And while this day is a fabulous day of parties throughout France and around the world, the wine in the Beaujolais Noveau bottles is not the best this region has to offer. The area’s best wines are from the ten cru Beaujolais communes. And as opposed to Alsace and Burgundy where the phrase cru refers to an individual vineyard, the cru in Beaujolais refers to an entire wine producing region. Starting from north to south are Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.There is actual debate happening right now in France about this region which started when Beaujolais producers began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Growers in the Côte d’Or got upset that Beaujolais producers were putting Bourgogne, an appellation, on their labels. Now The Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO), the governing body of France’s appellation system, is revisiting who can use Bourgogne on their labels.But back to these communes that produce the highest quality wine in Beaujolais. Brouilly is the largest of the cru Beaujolais. Originally planted around the year 1000 by the monks of Cluny, this region is known for the Gamay grape and Beaujolais. The vineyards here are still worked by hand using traditional methods to protect the unique characteristics of each vine.The second largest cru after Brouilly is Morgon. Wines from this village come close to a Burgundian Pinot Noir. Unlike the lighter bodied bottles of Brouilly, the age-worthy cuvées from Morgon are meaty, robust and generous with their fruit. And yes, you guessed it, this is the wine we are tasting from Beaujolais; the 2017 Henry Fessy Morgon Les Tourelles.Henry Fessy was founded in 1888 and is located in the heart of the village of Brouilly. It is a family owned company specializing in the production of Beaujolais Crus. Yes, like every wine producer in the region, they make a Beaujolais Noveau, but the focus and mission at Henry Fessy is to protect the diversity of the Beaujolais Cru vineyards.The 2017 Henry Fessy Morgon Les Tourelles is 100% Gamay and comes from 2 hectares of estate vines. The average age of the vines is 50 years old. It’s very fruit forward with notes of cherry, kirsch and apricot. It enjoys traditional vinification with controlled temperature. The color is very deep and intense, and the nose reveals aromas of cherry pit and again, kirsch. In the mouth the wine is quite supple, the tannins silky and the length pretty extraordinary. For this one, you will want to have some cheese and charcuterie delivered. Or maybe try your hand at a roast. I made a vegan mushroom Stroganoff that matched perfectly with this wine.
Italy’s Piemonte Region
Now it’s time to rev up the Lamborghini as we drive 413 klicks (256 miles) southeast from Beaujolais to Piemonte, Italy. Cantina Pertinace is named after Publio Elvio Pertinace, valorous soldier and Roman Emperor, who was born in Alba in 126 A.D. The winery is located in Treiso, which borders Alba, and where the native Nebbiolo grape flourishes. Alba is famous for its truffles and something else pretty delicious; Nutella.Cantina Pertinace is actually a wine-growers cooperative that began with 13 members when it was founded in 1973 by Mario Barbero. This innovative idea was to create a business that could grow superior grapes and then put a great new brand onto the market. The name Pertinace was picked for the co-op and wine brand as a reflection of the tenacity, love of the land and perseverance of the growers and employees, traits of the great Emperor Elvio Pertinace.The winery has never stopped developing and growing. Modernizing their winemaking facilities in the 80’s and 90’s. In January of 2016, the number of growers in Cantina Pertinace grew to 17, increasing the total number of hectares under vine to 90. That’s 222 acres. Most of the vineyards are planted to Nebbiolo, but there are also Dolcetto, Barbera d’Alba, Moscato and Chardonnay. Cantina Pertinace produces 650,000 bottles a year, roughly 54,000 cases.If you are unfamiliar with the Nebbiolo grape, it’s pronounced “Nebby-oh-low” and it’s native to Piemonte. Wines made from this grape are typically full bodied but translucent like a Pinot Noir with robust tannins and high acidity.On this sojourn, we are tasting the 2013 Pertinace Barolo DOCG, made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes from La Morra vineyards, which has long been a major wine growing region with a very interesting story. It was actually illegal to cut down a Nebbiolo vine and the penalty ranged from a fine to having a hand amputated to hanging. The name La Morra comes from the latin “Murra,” which translates to “sheep fencing” which is prevalent throughout the area.This particular vintage of the Pertinace Barolo was aged for 24 months in Slavonian oak casks and is intense and persistent with wild berries, spices and licorice. In the mouth it is soft and velvety with good tannins and a long finish. There are the obvious food pairings like truffles, Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh Burrata, ragu, beef, braised pork and Prosciutto. But it’s also a sensational match with Asian fare, specifically brown sauces and Asian 5-spices sauces. For the vegan or vegetarian, mushroom pizza, braised leeks, roasted fennel, sunchokes and grilled radicchio.
Spain’s Rioja Region
Heading Southwest, we jet over to Spain and the Rioja wine growing region. Located in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, Rioja wine is made from grapes grown in the autonomous communities of La Rioja, Navarre and the Basque province of Alava. Rioja is a D.O.Ca., “Qualified Designation of Origin.” There are three zones within the Rioja; Rioja Alta, Rioja Oriental and Rioja Alavesa.So now you are wondering which winery we are visiting. Well, it’s one that has been producing premium wines for more than 150 years. Bodega Faustino, which is pretty much like stepping right into the history of wine, is located in Oyon Rioja Alavesa. Bodega Faustino is the Rioja’s leading exporter of Gran Reservas, including the one we will taste at our stop here.But before we reveal the wine, let’s talk some interesting figures about the winery. For starters, 30 of every 100 bottles of the category Gran Reserva DOCa (Qualified Appellation of Origin) Rioja sold worldwide are for Faustino. They have more than 14 references of old vintages in their collection and they are typically ranked in the top 50 of the most admired brands in the world. In 2017 they ranked 26 on this list.And finally, the wine; the 2009 Faustino Gran Riserva is produced from the three classic Rioja grape varieties; Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo. The Graciano gives the wine its lively color and high acidity. The Mazuelo, it’s flavor and abundant tannin. Together with the Tempranillo, all three are the perfect coupage for long aging wines. This wine is, as expected, complex and intense in color and taste. The flavors are well integrated with warm hints of ripe fruit, notes of vanilla and sensations of cinnamon, blond tobacco and cocoa. Very elegant in the mouth, the finish is sweet and surprising for a Rioja Gran Reserva.And as with any masterpiece, this Gran Reserva takes time and requires a minimum of 26 months in American and French oak barrels. Not surprisingly, Spanish cuisine is a fantastic match with this wine. Think lamb, pork, garlic and saffron. And of course Paella, Manchego and my favorite, Gambas al Ajillo. However, don’t feel limited to the food of Spain, a steak, roasted chicken, pasta and pizza are also completely delicious with the 2009 Faustino Gran Reserva.
South America’s Uruguay
It’s time to board a jetliner, and as long as this is virtual, it’s business class of course, and jump continents, for the long flight to South America. We land in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Uruguay sits between Brazil and Argentina and stands as one of the most important countries in the Latin American wine world. Known for its beach lined coasts and pretty rad surf, Uruguay sits on the same latitude as the wine growing regions of Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Uruguayan wines have become almost synonymous with Tannat, a red wine grape varietal with roots in the southeast of France.130 Klicks, roughly two hours from Montevideo is Punta del Este and the Bodega Garzón Winery. Sitting among sloping hills that meet the sea, it’s picture perfect postcard with a charming plantation, vineyards, orchards and groves. The breeze from the ocean creates perfect growing conditions.Founded by Alejandro Bulgerhoni in 2016, Bodega Garzon has won dozens of awards for their ultra-premium wines; more than sixty 90+ point wines. They were named “New World Winery of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast last year in 2019; the first Uruguay winery to do that.The actual winery is built into natural terraces with a staggered design that uses a gravity system to produce wines. The 550 acres planted to vine are divided into over 1,000 separate plots and are home to 13 different grape varieties. The hilly terrain offers diverse exposures and microclimates. The largest plantings are of Tannat, Albariño and Cabernet Franc. Bodega Garzón is the largest producer of Albariño in South America.But let’s get back to the winery. Modern and pretty breathtaking is how most describe it. There are three fermentation areas and one staging area with stainless steel containers and epoxy-free concrete tanks and oak truncated cone-shaped vats.The winemaking facilities not only produce wine but also wind and photovoltaic energy. Bodega Garzón is the first winery outside North America to be sustainable and LEED certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), following the very strict requirements set by the United States Green Building Council. At Bodega Garzón, this covers the entirety of the facilities including the 19,050 m2 building that has a capacity of 2.2 million liters of wine.Now your wondering what to eat with the 2017 Garzón Reserva Tannat? Well, think garlic, olive oil, mint, beef, lamb and game for starters. It also pairs perfectly with rich cheeses like Roquefort, gouda, gorgonzola and any dish with mushrooms. And you definitely can’t go wrong with either barbeque, pizza or tacos.And in fact, when Bulgheroni and his wife Bettina first discovered Garzón, this was their dream; to have the most emblematic winery of modern viticulture in Uruguay and premium wines with an intense personality and a deep sense of belonging to the land. Bodega Garzón is exactly that. On hand are experts on viticulture, gastronomy, hospitality and tourism.Now on to the wine we are going to taste; the 2017 Garzón Reserva Tannat, the grape variety that has put Uruguay on the global wine map. Deep purple in color, this Tannat exhibits fresh aromas reminiscent of red and black fruits such as raspberries and plums together with lovely notes of spice. In the mouth, it’s loaded with personality, ripe tannins and a fabulous expression of the grape and terroir. It recently received 90 points from both Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits.Now you’re wondering what to eat with the 2017 Garzón Reserva Tannat? Well, think garlic, olive oil, mint, beef, lamb and game for starters. It also pairs perfectly with rich cheeses like Roquefort, gouda, gorgonzola and any dish with mushrooms. And you definitely can’t go wrong with either barbeque, pizza or tacos.
South America’s Chile
Staying on the South American continent, it’s time to hit the skies once again, for a 1900 klick(roughly 1200 mile) hop, skip and jump over to Chile. If your imagination is vast like mine, you’ll want to stock up your Gulfstream for the flight as we change time zones and land in Isla de Maipo, Chile and the Santa Ema Winery. Pioneers in the region, Santa Ema’s roots date back to 1917 when the Pavone family first arrived from Italy as grape farmers. Nearly 100 years and four generations of hands-on experience gives Santa Ema a deep understanding of the Maipo Valley’s unique terroir.Vinos Santa Ema winery opened in 1956, experience you can taste in every bottle of wine they produce with the best expression of terroir from the mountains to the coast. World famous for its red wines, specifically Merlot, the Maipo Valley’s unique terroir is what Santa Ema is all about. The family has established a 500 acre viticultural ‘path’ from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, featuring the best terroir from each zone of Maipo: Alt a, Medio and Costa (Leyda). Vineyards at Santa Ema are planted along the banks of the Maipo river. And it’s the cooling influence of the Maipo River on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other gives this wine growing region a very long growing season. Extensive and selective vineyard ownership allows for creativity and innovation in the vineyards and winery, while guaranteeing quality control.Santa Ema has two primary cellars in the Maipo Valley; in Izaga where the winery offices are located and El Peral where the main winemaking facility sits amidst the El Peral vineyards. Built under sustainable architectural principles and equipped with the latest technology, it allows ventilation, illumination and cooling to occur in a natural way.If you have guessed that the wine, we are tasting on this juncture is Merlot; you are right. The 2017 Santa Ema Reserva Merlot which is 100% Merlot. Deep violet and ruby red in color, this wine is very fruity with notes of plums and blackberries and unmistakable notes of caramel, vanilla and chocolate. It has ripe tannins, good structure and excellent balance. And the reason why is simple; the 2017 harvest was one of the earliest in the past decade. It began three weeks earlier than usual due to a dry spring and an early and hot summer. Yields were actually lower than expected and the grapes were highly concentrated, very healthy and aromatic. The complexity, volume and well-rounded texture are the result. Try a bottle with a cheese platter, pasta, poultry, beef and game.
Australia’s Margaret River Region
We are staying in the Southern Hemisphere for our next stop; however, we will need to take three airplanes and travel more than 7700 miles to get there. Yes, we are headed from the Maipo Valley in Chile to the Margaret River in Western Australia.Known locally as “Margs,” Margaret River is a town and wine growing region along the Margaret River, nearby the coast. It’s known for both wine and surfing; a pretty rad combo. You may not have heard of the local world-renowned surf breaks like Main Break, The Box and Rivadog, but I am guessing you have heard about many 90 plus point wines from this very intriguing wine region. The Margaret River wine growing area attracts an estimated 500,000 visitors a year, but it hasn’t always been like that. Before it was discovered as an ideal place to grow grapes and make wine, it was mostly known for hardwood timber and agricultural production not related to grapes.Margaret River has definitely made its mark as a premiere place for Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and my personal favorite grape of the region; Chardonnay.We find ourselves in the heart of the Wilyabrup district in northern Margaret River at Robert Oatley Vineyards where 110 hectares (271 acres) have been planted. The property also boasts a rose garden with 1000 flowers. And if the name Oatley rings a bell, it should. Robert Oatley founded Rosemount Winery in 1969 and literally put Australian wine on the world map. The Oatley family history in Australia goes back even further. The family arrived with the European settlement there in the 19th century. Robert’s great, great grandfather, a British watchmaker, arrived in Sydney in 1815. There is even a suburb in Sydney called Oatley.Robert Oatley Vineyards is the reincarnation of the Oatley family winemaking dynasty. Oatley and his eldest son Sandy started this new winery with vineyards throughout Australia. Director of Winemaking, acclaimed vigneron Larry Cherubino, together with an acclaimed team of winemakers and viticulturists oversees the Margaret River vineyards as well as vineyards in the Great Southern’s Justin Vineyard at Frankland River and McLaren Vale. All of the vineyards are attended as organically as possible and wines are made with minimal intervention. This includes sustainable grape growing and wine production.Also paramount to the Oatley family is that “sense of place,” the idea that you should taste the region in every glass. Robert Oatley Vineyards focuses mainly on single-varietal, single-region wines like the one we are tasting; the 2016 Robert Oatley Finisterre Margaret River Chardonnay. And if you are like me, you’re curious about where the name Finisterre comes from. Well, the name Finisterre derives from the Latin finis terrae, meaning “end of the earth.” In this case the westernmost point of Australia; the Margaret River winegrowing region. Hand harvesting, fruit sorting and intuitive winemaking delivers small-parcel wines with clarity, purity, great texture and flavor expression.The 2016 Robert Oatley Finisterre Chardonnay received 90 points from both Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast. It’s well balanced, medium in weight with great acidity. The traditional secondary fermentation is forgone in order to keep it true to its grape expression and for improved aging. The taste has some of that lovely peach accented with a subtle oak kiss from the variety of French barriques of which 20% are new.Great food pairings include all shellfish, especially crab, prawns and lobster, steamed and grilled fish, chicken, vegetables, pasta, risotto and even a delicate beef. Wild mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, grilled asparagus and spicy cuisine also work fabulously.
Japan’s Niigata Prefecture
For our final stop we head 8000 kilometers (5000 miles) north to Japan. And yes, we are tasting sake, which as a rice wine is technically not the wine we have been tasting but finds itself on many wine lists. Sake, like beer, is an alcoholic beverage made by converting the starches in a grain like rice into sugar and then fermenting them into alcohol.As you may or may not know, Japan is divided into 47 Prefectures which are similar to the 50 United States and provinces of Canada. For example, Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka and Okinawa are all Prefectures. We are visiting the Niigata Prefecture which is on the west coast of Japan’s Honshu Island, bordering the Sea of Japan. It is Japan’s 5th largest Prefecture and in the historic Hokuriku region. It’s best known for its ski resorts, national parks, hot springs, seafood and yes, sake. In fact, the Niigata Prefecture has a reputation for producing some of the best sake in Japan due in part to growing some of the best rice in the world.The sake brewery we are visiting is Yoshinogawa, which dates back to 1548 and is the oldest sake brewery in the rice-growing heartland of Niigata Prefecture. Using this legendary rice, Master Brewer Fujino focuses his team’s efforts on crafting the absolute finest sake. Together they draw from centuries old knowledge and techniques, crafting diverse style that reflect their beautiful, lush and fertile agricultural region.The Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo is pretty stellar. It’s a super-premium grade sake made with rice polished between 51 to 60% and just the core Junmai ingredients (rice, water koji and yeast) are used. The knowledge of multiple centuries goes into crafting each bottle of Yoshinogawa sake. Every sip is a representation of the lush agricultural region, deep winter snow and abundant pristine water.The Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo is dry, crisp, fruity and floral. On the nose it’s positively delightful with tropical notes of melon, lightly floral aromatics. It’s got a medium body that is refreshing and clean with honeydew and lychee on the palate. Avoiding the obvious; sushi; fantastic food pairings include fresh fruit, poppy seed dressing, grilled pork, Vietnamese rice noodle salad, and well pretty much anything Asian, but also so much more. Risotto with Parmesan, Beef tenderloin and even that juicy burger.A few other pluses; it’s gluten free, sulfite free and received 90 points from the Tasting Panel.