Adventurous wine lovers no longer need to contain their oenology-based destination travel to the usual suspects of France, Napa and New Zealand — these days, you’re more likely to find the world’s most exotic and exciting wines as far flung as Asia or the tip of South America.
“Great wines these days are coming from Corsica, Greece, Canary Islands, Madeira, Patagonia — hell, even China,” Michael Cruse, owner/winemaker at Cruse Wine Company (and one of our 2018 Influencers), tells the Gazette. “The first four are all known for native varieties which, honestly, basically means a bunch of things every wine lover has a hard time keeping track of. Patagonia and China essentially grow international varieties: Pinot and Chardonnay for the former, Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties for the latter.”
Of course, the growing of grapes for wine in many of these regions isn’t a newfangled fad: In areas like Corsica and China, cultivation has been underway for centuries. That’s where native varietals come in, like Corsica’s red grape sciaccarellu, grown mostly in the south, or niellucciu, a Sangiovese twin. Corsica’s volcanic soils are part of a hodgepodge of terroir in the nation, which also includes a blend of sandstone, clay, limestone and even granite — all of them asserting themselves in different regions and all of them lending distinct (and delightful) qualities to the wines lucky enough to be grown there.
So, too, is the lineage long and deep on the Canary Islands, which dates its wine growing back to at least the 15th century, and whose remoteness allowed it to avoid the deadly phylloxera aphid that wiped out much of Europe’s vineyards from the 1860s to the 1880s. Back then, hardy and immune American rootstock came to the rescue (hooray!), but if you’re a diehard wine purist, the ability of Canary Islands roots to spring vines directly, thus yielding ungrafted vintages, can be particularly appealing. There you might also look for the native rosado wine, made from the listán negro grape, which fell out of favor in California after the Spanish lost control of the territory, but is very much alive and well on the Islands. Also popular? Negramoll, a red grape; malvasia, most often used locally to make espumoso, a dry, sparkling treat; or listán blanco, the area’s go-to white varietal.
Friend of the Gazette and beloved local sommelier Dustin Wilson says that, for him, there are still gems to be found even in the Old Country. “I’m currently in Spain so a couple places here that I think are doing great things are Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra and Rias Baixas, [all in] Galicia,” says Wilson, whose new Pac Heights-based wine store Somm is standing at the ready to help if you’re ever wondering where to begin on your wine journey.
Other tempting, sensational tasting adventures await in Patagonia, where a deep-seated and beautifully maintained tradition of winemaking from old growth Pinot Noir wines has led to both stalwart reds and delightful hybrids like Sassicaia, as well as Pinot Noir’s frisky and popular local cousin Malbec, which originally hails from the South of France. Another perk for some wine travelers might be the Río Negro Valley’s dearth of wine-intense tourism and all the pitfalls that come with those institutions (read: long lines, too many wineries packed into a small area and copycat vintages all in a row).
“You can Google a bit to see what is interesting, and Kermit Lynch imports quite a few wines just to get you started,” Cruse says. The real challenge is figuring out where to begin — but if you read to the end of this article, we have every confidence you have what it takes to become a wine adventurer!