Argentines have often been described as Italians who speak Spanish, dress like the English and live like Parisians. It is apt and is as good… Read More »
Argentines have often been described as Italians who speak Spanish, dress like the English and live like Parisians. It is apt and is as good a description of Argentine wine as it is for the people of this spectacular nation. For Argentine wine today is abundant like Italian wine, open to new world technique as wines are in Spain, dressed (labeled) like a Savile Row gentleman and in many cases as elegant and distinguished in style as a cultivated Parisian.
The industry in Argentina is vast and long standing. It is the fifth largest wine producing country in the world and more than one million square miles of land are under vine. Obviously, there is a wide variety of type and style. In the 19th century when much of today’s Argentine wine industry was founded, wines were grown for the local population and for everyday consumption. Entire city blocks in the wine growing capital of Mendoza housed “wineries” that combined fermentation rooms, workers’ housing, horse stables, living quarters for management and equipment hangers.
In the late part of the twentieth century, the Argentine wine industry began to evolve along with its rivals in the rest of the new world. Young entrepreneurs joined families long in the wine business to explore quality regions at higher altitudes, new techniques from California and France and new methods of controlling yields. The result has been a quality explosion which has propelled the growth of Argentine wines. Today, Argentine wine is the fastest growing “category” among all fine wines from all wine growing countries. This is remarkable and would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. It says more than anything how good Argentine wines are now.
Argentina’s growth has been fueled as well by its ownership of the grape that dominates its vineyards, Malbec. This varietal, originally from Bordeaux, is well adapted to Argentina’s high Andean vineyards where temperatures can fluctuate from very hot to very cold. Malbec is a late ripening varietal with thick skins. When ripe (which happens rarely in Bordeaux) it yields dense, rich, powerful wines with great flavor. It has enormous appeal especially to new wine consumers. The Argentine vineyards are no one-trick pony however. Bonarda, another special grape variety, is now coming to be known and Torrontes, a white varietal, is gaining popularity. Torrontes, actually a cross of Muscat and Riesling, tastes like a cross between Chardonnay and Viognier, fruity and floral at the same time, which makes it, like Malbec, very appealing to new consumers who account for the growth in the wine market generally and who have made Argentina a preferred source.
The vineyards in Austria cover 51,000 hectares which, for the most part, lie in the east and southeast of the country. Amongst the wines produced… Read More »
The vineyards in Austria cover 51,000 hectares which, for the most part, lie in the east and southeast of the country.
Amongst the wines produced here, white wines unquestionably make up the larger portion – cultivated in 70% of the vineyards are 22 white wine varieties permitted for high quality wine production. Nevertheless, red wine (13 varieties) has come to represent 30% of the vineyards in recent years.
Austria as a wine producing country is divided into 4 wine growing regions: ‘Weinland Österreich’ comprises the federal states of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) and Burgenland with a total of 12 wine growing areas; ‘Steirerland’ with its three Styrian wine regions, and ‘Wien’ (Vienna), Austria's capital, which comprises 700 hectares of vineyards. The other states of Austria are collectively referred to as ‘Bergland Österreich’ (mountain country Austria), where small vineyards are thinly scattered.
Austria burst into the American wine market five years ago like a young party crasher who ends up, today, the life of the party itself! And with good reason: Austrian wines are delicious, interesting, offer superb value and bring us names and flavors that delight us as they teach us something new. Gruner Veltliner, which is the most widely planted grape in Austria, has led the way with its bright, “zippy”, refreshing and easy-to-drink white wines. More “serious” wines from this grape and others, notably reds Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, have followed and are gaining followers.
France dominates our understanding of wine, our language about wine and our reference points. It is our center of gravity. To understand wine… Read More »
France dominates our understanding of wine, our language about wine and our reference points. It is our center of gravity. To understand wine is to understand French wine (that is not the same as understanding France or the French, two related but different subjects all together).
French wine can be understood simply by drawing a line from north to south and then another from east to west around the middle of the country. The northeast is the home of the Loire valley and the light, elegant wines made from Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc such as Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and Chinon. The northwest, more continental in climate, finds viticulture dominated by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Champagne all the way south through the magnificent vineyards of Chablis and Burgundy to the gentle hills of Beaujolais where Pinot Noir gives way to Gamay. Farther east begin the great vineyards of Alsace home to France’s most aromatic wines, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc. The Southwest enjoys the Atlantic climate it shares with the Loire but it is informed by sunnier and warmer weather. In Bordeaux, noble wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Surrounding Bordeaux the vineyards of Cahors are home to Malbec, which needs the extra warmth to yield its considerable charm. And, finally, in the Southeast, where the Rhone river runs north to south like a majestic highway, the vineyards overlooking the river produce the world’s greatest expressions of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre in red wine and Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne in white. These same varietals also inform the vast and developing vineyard of the Languedoc just south of the Rhone delta toward Spain.
In each of these areas, native grape varieties find original and authentic expressions. To understand Sauvignon Blanc, one must understand Sancerre. Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be tasted or appreciated without having some experience tasting and drinking the great wines of Bordeaux. To appreciate Syrah, one must understand the wines of the Northern Rhone, such as Hermitage and to understand Riesling, one must understand Alsace Riesling.
France then is THE point of reference and the beginning of our understanding of fine wine. And, in the heady pleasures and unmatchable quality many of its wines offer, France is, very often, the ultimate point of that understanding too.
France also is home to the production of spectacular spirits, aperitifs, elixirs and liqueurs. From Cognac to Armagnac to Calvados, French spirits are among the best in the world. This is true too for the great French Liqueurs, many of them still made to original (and secret) formulas and recipes and many still owned by the churches and monasteries in which they were born.
German wine labeling is the most complicated in the world. And it is a shame; for German wines are among the easiest to appreciate and enjoy… Read More »
German wine labeling is the most complicated in the world. And it is a shame; for German wines are among the easiest to appreciate and enjoy and among the simplest to apprehend if not understand.
The key to understanding German wine is understanding the grape variety Riesling, Germany’s signature varietal and a grape that produces wines in Germany like nowhere else.
The most prized growing areas for Riesling are the Mosel and the Rheingau. And they could not be more different: the first, a study in elegance, finesse, small “bones” and nuanced aroma; the second a study in power, depth, concentration and sheer authority. After these many regions produce spectacular wines, always from Riesling, most notably the areas around the core of the Rhinegau, the Rheinhessen and Rheinpfalz. Always, Riesling dominates. And always, Riesling expresses itself as the prefect translator of soil, climate and vintage. Riesling in Germany is not just about Riesling; it is about where the grape is grown and how it translates its provenance.
The German wine industry has been buffeted by changes in wine consumption as have all wine industries. In Germany the result has been a move toward simpler labeling (though rarely simple) and drier wines (though often not completely dry). Some of these changes have been beneficial but many have distorted the fuller expressions of German wine. Better have been the traditionalists, who have dug into their soils and traditions, adopting bio-dynamic methods, improved their winemaking techniques and are today producing exceptional wines.
Italy is not a country to understand; it is a country to love. And to love Italy is ultimately to understand it; so too Italian wine. Complicated… Read More »
Italy is not a country to understand; it is a country to love. And to love Italy is ultimately to understand it; so too Italian wine. Complicated to the extreme and yet utterly simple, Italian wine confounds and pleases at the same time.
There is scarcely a square meter of land in Italy that is not planted to vineyards of some kind. And this speaks to the long domestication of the vine itself in Italy. It also speaks to the civilizing influence of wine and wine growing. For without the vine, man would not have been able to cultivate many parts of the arid peninsula we know as Italy today. In these places, the vine found water and allowed human communities to settle and become, like the vineyards themselves, part of a region. This is the origin of quality and individuality. And these, finally, are the great gifts Italian wine has given to the world of wine (and to humanity): civilization and regional identity.
Italian wine is decidedly and infinitely diverse: divided into 19 wine growing regions, more than 70 DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Contollata e Garantita), or controlled designation of origin guaranteed, more than 300 DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Contollata) and 60-plus IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) appellations. In the north, rich, tannic reds produced from Nebbiolo in Piedmont, bracing whites from Gavi near the Italian Riviera, luscious dry Pinot Grigio from the Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Collio, powerful and jammy Amarone from Veneto’s Valpolicella and elegant Sangiovese in Tuscany are neighbors, yet each is unique. In the South and on the Islands, briny, dry Vermentino, warm, deeply-flavored Nero d’Avola from Sicily, rich, bittersweet Primitivo and Negroamaro from Puglia and noble, age-worthy Aglianico from Basilicata share only their embrace of the sun; each, again, an individual and special experience.
New Zealand is an island nation — a cluster of three large islands that have a north-south span of close to 1000 miles with less than a 200… Read More »
New Zealand is an island nation — a cluster of three large islands that have a north-south span of close to 1000 miles with less than a 200 mile span east to west at their broadest point.
The history of wine in New Zealand dates from the mid-nineteenth century at the time of the British colonization. However, a more accurate history, a consumer’s history if you will, would date from the early 1970’s, not unlike the history of wine in the United States when new consumers began to arrive and to appreciate the possibilities of wine grown locally and in regions outside the “old world”. It has taken much more time for New Zealand to come to the attention of consumers than for California. In part this is due to the country’s isolation and for relatively small production there (except for one or two large wineries). However, in the early 1990’s as consumers tired of Chardonnay and began experimenting with new white wines, New Zealand found its voice in its marvelously fruity and peppery Sauvignon Blancs. Oz Clarke, one of the UK’s foremost wine writers said that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can “arguably be considered the best in the world”.
The fashion for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, much of it sourced from wine regions on the north island or north on the south island (the warmer regions) masked the potential for New Zealand to produce superb red wines in its colder terroirs such as Otago. Here Pinot Noir has thrived and produces, lively, fruited, again peppery, versions of this classic grape. Bordeaux varietals also are grown in New Zealand and can be very successful too. In fact, clones of Merlot from Chateau Petrus were illegally imported to New Zealand to plant in the warm vineyards of Waiheke island and are still producing wine there today.
Portugal Like all of Latin Europe, Portugal owes its history of winegrowing to the Romans. Known as Lusitania, Portugal was an important source… Read More »
Portugal Like all of Latin Europe, Portugal owes its history of winegrowing to the Romans. Known as Lusitania, Portugal was an important source of table wine for the empire and wine has been in dissociable with Portuguese culture ever since.
Grapes grow in Portugal from north to south in a variety of delimitated zones. Unique among countries in southern Europe, Portugal is both Mediterranean in climate (for the most part) and yet totally Atlantic in maritime influence. Portugal, in fact, has no access at all to the Mediterranean sea!
Like Spain, Portugal is an old world country, especially in its wine industry, buffeted today by international trends and change. And so, new styles of wines and winemaking adapted from the new world have found a home in Portugal. Tempranillo (called Tinto Roriz in the north and Aragonez in the south) is the dominant grape variety in Portugal although the vineyards are home to many indigenous and interesting varietals such as Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Periquita, Tinta Cao and many, many others. These indigenous varieties make the tasting and discovery of Portuguese wines a great pleasure.
There are four basic types of Portuguese wines: red table wines, grown principally in the south and central parts of the country; the fortified wines, Madeira and Port; and very dry whites, grown in the far north. Port is, without doubt, Portugal’s great contribution to wine culture in the world. Fortified from a variety of grape varieties grown on the steep terraces of the Douro river, Port seemingly can age forever and gains complexity as it does. Younger Port wines, Port wines aged in wood, and white Ports are delicious as aperitifs or after dinner drinks. Today, the same vineyards that provide grapes for Port are being marshaled for the production of intense, noble dry wines, Douro reds. These are the most exciting new wines to emerge from Portugal in many centuries and will no doubt re-establish Portugal as a high quality European wine producing country.
Spain today is the most exciting wine growing country in Europe. To state this is to take nothing from the quality and dynamism of France and… Read More »
Spain today is the most exciting wine growing country in Europe. To state this is to take nothing from the quality and dynamism of France and Italy or Germany, its three European rivals. Each of these three produces wines of unequalled quality and each continues to evolve and grow. However, Spain and the Spanish wine industry, released from isolation after World War II, have grown explosively in the last decades of the twentieth century and in ways its more established neighbors could not.
To understand Spanish wine today is to understand, as nowhere else, the intermingling undercurrents of old world terroir, habits, vineyards and agriculture with new world lifestyles, tastes, techniques and points-of-view.
Along the northern ridge of Spain’s huge central plateau (a mountain in fact were it not so large and so flat), is Rioja, certainly Spain’s greatest vineyard region and indisputably one of the world’s greatest. In this area, divided into three zones, the Tempranillo vine has dug into the rocky soil of Rioja from the north to the south of the region with its tenacious and powerful roots and has allowed the region to sustain its population. Nowhere more than in Rioja can one see (and taste) the intermingling, and sometimes the conflict, between old world and new.
Several other Spanish regions are worth noting here. The vast expanse of the Duero River has allowed viticulture to flourish and is home to famous vineyard regions like Ribera del Duero (simply “banks of the river Douro”) and new regions like Cigales where 100 year old vines are just being discovered for their enormous quality potential. In Spain, The early ripening Tempranillo, the variety that puts the spine into a high proportion of Spain's most respected red wines, is king. Its thick skinned fruit is capable of making deep-colored, long-lasting wines. Whether it is called Tempranillo (Rioja, Navarra), Tinto del Pais or Tinto Fino (Ribera del Duero, Cigales), Tinto de Toro (Toro), Cencibel (Valdepeñas) or other, one thing is certain: the wines are uniquely impressive.
The all new specialty spirits division of Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd. Read More »
The all new specialty spirits division of Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.