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The Wine Region of the Year

The Wine Region of the Year


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Wine writers like to give out awards. Sometimes, those awards are for wines that win comparative taste tests, a dubious proposition in many ways. Other times, it’s simply the best wine a writer has tasted all year. Perhaps I am naive, but I give out awards for different reasons, much to the consternation of some.

I recently choose a tannat from Brazil as my wine of the year, not because it was the best wine I tasted all year, but rather because it was the one wine that changed my view of wine most significantly this year. Likewise, I chose a winery of the year that doesn’t make the most expensive or most highly rated wines that I’ve tasted all year, though they do come close. Instead, I based my choice on factors that included the wines themselves, the quality and the price, as well as outside factors like respect for the consumer and the vineyards from which the wines come.

So now, I am sitting down to select my wine region of the year, and before I reveal too much, I want to lay out my criteria. They are fairly simple, the region should offer the consumer major bang for the buck. It should also offer something unique and something that is likely to enjoy broad appeal. Broad appeal is a loose term that includes both good pricing as well as easy to appreciate styles.

This year’s region of the year fulfills all of that criteria. It’s a region that should be on everybody’s radar, as it is producing excellent white, red, and rosé wines that range from value priced to fairly expensive. While much of the region is somewhat challenging to farm, prices are held down by the wide range of cooperative wineries that dominate the region, complemented as they are by an increasing number of private operations.

While prices are rarely rock bottom for the wines from this region, they also rarely tip much above $50 a bottle, putting the vast majority of wines produced well within the reach of the average consumer. Of course price alone doesn’t yield value, there has to be a certain level of quality in place as well. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with the quality of these wines.

The majority of the wines are produced in a slightly modern style, though there are examples of both high extract fruit bombs and lighter-bodied, more elegant old school styles produced here. To a certain extent, that is due to the varieties grown as some are better suited to a lighter touch and others are able to handle a more assertive winemaking style.

So, there is a bit of something for everyone there. Let’s take a look at what I mean by a bit of something for everybody. By there I mean…

Click here to find out!

— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth


Another Year in Recipes

Bruno Courrèges, chief of police in a small Dordogne village, belongs to the grand tradition of fictional detectives-cum-gastronomes, like Nero Wolfe and Salvo Montalbano. But there’s one big difference between Bruno and those others: Bruno cooks. While investigating crimes and unmasking criminals, Bruno always finds time to prepare meals featuring dishes of his region for colleagues, neighbors, and lady friends.

Author Martin Walker describes Bruno’s kitchen work so lushly and appealingly (it’s Perigord – think truffles and foie gras) that, reading along, I often feel I’d need no further recipe to make his dishes at home. So Tom and I and our friend Hope did just that for our latest cookathon, our periodic all-afternoon playings in our kitchen, followed by an evening of enjoying the fruits of our labors. Here’s the Bruno-style menu we prepared this time:

Foie-Gras Stuffed Figs
Truffle Omelets
Spit-Roasted Lamb
Sarladaise Potatoes
Asparagus
Perigord Walnut Tart

Lush enough for you? This dinner turned out to be truly caloric megadeath.

Foie-Gras Stuffed Figs

This isn’t actually one of Bruno’s own dishes, and it’s not in any of the books. The Bruno website, which has a recipe section, tells us that Bruno’s neighbor Pamela (“the mad Englishwoman”) once served them at a cocktail party, which undoubtedly Bruno would have attended.

We steamed dried Turkish figs to soften them a bit, sliced off the stems, poked a hole in each one, filled the cavities with pâté de foie gras, and chilled the figs for several hours. For serving we cut each fig in half. They were, as you’d expect, rich and luscious, though the two flavors remained independent, not combining to create any amazingly new third thing. Still, who can quarrel with figs and foie gras?

Bruno would have drunk a glass of the local sweet Monbazillac wine with this. I couldn’t find any, so we had a 1989 Sauternes, which comes from the Graves region of Bordeaux, just southwest of the Perigord. In France, this is a time-honored companion to foie gras. It went very well indeed.

Truffle Omelets

To date, Bruno has made truffle omelets in two of the books, Bruno Chief of Police and The Dark Vineyard. Of course, he uses eggs from his own hens and local truffles. We, alas, had to accept commercial products.

We’d intended to spring for fresh black truffles, but the Urbani company didn’t have any this week, so we had to settle for two ounces of flash-frozen. They were better than the ones that come in jars but not as fully fragrant as fresh ones. We were extravagant with them, though, steeping about half in the beaten eggs for several hours, then slicing the rest over the top of the cooked omelets – cooked in duck fat, in the true Bruno manner. Not at all shabby!

Since our cellar doesn’t run to Perigord wines, with this course we drank another Bordeaux, a 2008 St. Emilion.

Spit-Roasted Lamb

Bruno and his friends roast two whole spring lambs over an open fire at an outdoor feast in The Dark Vineyard. It was somewhat perverse of us to choose this recipe, since we have no access to an outdoor grill, and an entire lamb was clearly out of the question for three people. But we didn’t let logic or common sense slow us down. We had half a boned leg of lamb, which we stuffed with bay leaves and rosemary sprigs before rolling, tying, and setting up on my open-hearth electric rotisserie.

In the book, the lambs were basted repeatedly with a mixture of vin de noix, olive oil, and honey. I couldn’t get the actual French fortified walnut wine, but we approximated it closely enough with nocino, the Italian version. We used equal parts of nocino, olive oil, and chestnut honey. To our regret, we also didn’t have a branch of a bay tree to brush it on with, as Bruno did. So there were some compromises in our version of this dish.

Happily, the lamb came out very well – tender and flavorful, delicately perfumed on the inside from the herbs and sweetly savory on the outside from the intriguing sweet/tart flavors of the baste. Continuing with Bordeaux wine, we drank a 1999 Chateau Gloria St. Julien, which accompanied the lamb beautifully: Cabernet always loves lamb.

Sarladaise Potatoes, Asparagus

In Black Diamond, Bruno makes venison stew for a dinner in the home of his friend the Baron. Three of the other guests prepare sarladaise potatoes. There’s a complete recipe for the potatoes on the Bruno website, which we mostly followed. We parboiled waxy La Ratte heirloom potatoes, sliced and sauteed them in duck fat until they began to brown, then stirred in minced garlic and parsley for the last few minutes.

This has not been a great winter for potatoes in our part of the world – most have been almost flavorless – but these were lush from the duck fat and zingy from the garlic. Alongside, we had fresh asparagus spears, just boiled and drizzled with melted butter. Bruno usually dresses his asparagus with hollandaise sauce, but for a meal he makes in The Devil’s Cave he doesn’t – because, he explains, there’d already been eggs in the omelet. So since we’d had our eggs too, we left the asparagus plain. We needed something on our plates that was green and not heart-stoppingly rich!

Perigord Walnut Tart

In the books Bruno doesn’t make desserts very often, quite understandably given the satiety level of his cooking, so we cast our eyes farther afield. Knowing that walnuts are a prized specialty of the Dordogne, we looked up walnut dessert recipes from Perigord on the Web and chose one that looked not too complex. It’s a tart shell of sweet pastry dough, baked with a custardy filling of eggs, cream, milk, sugar, and lots of chopped walnuts. (One caution if you look at the recipe: I didn’t trust its pâte sucrée technique so I used a different version, one I’d made before and had more confidence in.).

The tart was very sweet, but also very pleasant: cookielike crust, creamy center, crunchy nuts. I might well make it again – after a simpler dinner! – just cutting back a little on the sugar. With it we enjoyed another glass of the Sauternes, so ending with a liquid reminder of where we began.

As I said at the beginning, this was a totally over-the-top meal. I don’t know how Bruno and his Perigueux friends can get through so many rich dishes at a sitting. Maybe they do it only once a year? And eat only green salads for a week after? I’m sure that we’ll never attempt to do it all even once again. But it was a heroic and fascinating experiment.


The World’s Top 10 Wine Destinations for 2020

While January offers the perfect opportunity for post-holiday detoxing, it’s also the ideal time to look ahead and start planning those vacations that will motivate you through the dreary dregs of winter.

All travel should broaden the mind, but the best experiences are undoubtedly those that take place with a glass in hand. If you’ve already checked off the world’s premier wine destinations, firstly: congratulations! But now it’s time to consider the appellations, regions, and even nations that you may have passed by.

Whether you’re able to visit just one or all 10, here are the wine travel destinations that should be on your radar this year.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

10. Vienna, Austria

Austria’s capital boasts stunning baroque architecture and is a hub of music, art, and coffee culture. A lesser known but equally enticing reason to visit is that Vienna is the only world capital that produces significant quantities of wine. By significant, we’re talking over 1,700 acres of vineyards planted within the city limits — 85 percent of which are dedicated to white varieties such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Grüner Veltliner.

The best season to experience Vienna’s vineyards is during autumn, when the city hosts its annual Wine Hiking Day. With three routes spanning a total of 15 miles, visitors can amble the city’s vineyards while sampling delicious food and wine pairings. There are palaces dotted along the route, too, and expansive views of the city providing a picturesque backdrop.

9. Languedoc-Roussillon, France

For music-loving wine enthusiasts, the hottest ticket of the year is Jazz à l’Hospitalet, an annual festival organized by renowned winemaker Gérard Bertrand. Hosted at Bertrand’s 38-bedroom Château l’Hospitalet — a biodynamically farmed wine estate — the event takes place over a five-day period every summer.

By no means is this event the only reason to visit the region. Bertrand’s estate is located just outside the town of Narbonne, which lies inside the Corbières AOC. The most important appellation within the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Corbières has five established wine routes encompassing dozens of wineries that focus on organic and biodynamic viticulture. Narbonne itself is just a 10-minute drive from the Mediterranean Sea — a prospect that’s made all the more enticing by the year-round sunny Mediterranean climate.

8. Campania, Italy

Italy is the fifth-most visited nation on the planet, receiving more than 60 million tourists annually. While this means there are no longer any “undiscovered” regions, there are certainly spots that don’t get the recognition they deserve, such as Campania.

Located on the “shin” of Italy’s boot, Campania is home to Naples (and its world-famous pizza), Mount Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast, and the Pompeii ruins. For those guided by an oenological compass, the region specializes in wines made using indigenous local varieties, such as red grape Aglianico, and white grapes Greco, Fiano, and Falanghina.

The best place to enjoy Campania’s fruity, acidic reds and complex, seafood-worthy whites is, of course, the region itself. With the hub of production located around 50 miles east of Naples, visitors can feasibly use the ancient city as their base camp and make daily day trips to the region. Alternatively, they can plant themselves in the heart of wine country, in and around towns such as Avellino and Taurasi. Plan a visit during late spring or early autumn to avoid the summer crowds and enjoy pleasant, cooler temperatures.

7. Porto, Portugal

Set to open in mid-2020, the Fladgate Partnership’s World of Wine is a wildly ambitious tourist project that will offer five museum experiences, nine restaurants and bars, a wine school, and multiple exhibition spaces, all within Fladgate’s former Port warehouses in the city of Porto.

The experience aims to highlight Portugal’s importance not just as a historical winemaking nation, but as a world leader in cork production. A separate wine-related museum will also focus on the history of drinking vessels, with a collection of hundreds of cups and chalices dating back thousands of years set to be on display.

Porto’s proximity to the Douro Valley, which can be accessed by boat, train, or car, makes visiting actual vineyards a possibility while staying in the city. But with a thriving dining scene and local aperitifs to discover, you can be forgiven for saving that excursion for a separate, return visit.

6. Cape Winelands, South Africa

With direct flights now offered from New York to Cape Town, it’s easier than ever to access South Africa’s Cape Winelands, the home of the country’s most prestigious wineries. The drive from Cape Town to wine country takes just 45 minutes, and established shuttle services make day trips a viable option. But with opulent accommodations in the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl (each located in the heart of the region), staying in the region is preferable, allowing for exploration of the Winelands at a more leisurely pace.

Expect to sample bottle after bottle of Pinotage, South Africa’s smoky, earthy signature red variety, and an ever-improving range of Chenin Blancs. For sparkling wine lovers, the nation’s Méthode Cap Classique wines serve well-priced, traditional-method bubbles, which are made using Champagne varieties.

Culinary options range from roadside farm stalls (a staple of South African culture) to carefully curated menus at winery restaurants. For those wishing to work on their handicaps, a number of the region’s wineries even house plush, upscale golf courses.

5. Tenerife, Spain

Spain is currently undergoing an exciting winemaking renaissance, and it’s on the island territory of Tenerife that many of the most compelling bottles are made.

The largest of the seven Canary Islands, Tenerife is split into north and south territories by the dominating volcanic Mount Teide. The southern half is hotter, drier, and sunnier, making it a popular year-round destination for hordes of European tourists. The north, by contrast, is cooler and more humid, providing the perfect conditions for high-quality viticulture.

Tenerife’s well-established wine route and the majority of its bodegas (wineries) are located in the northeast of the island, close to the city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna. Visitors can enjoy an array of wines made using indigenous varieties, including the delicate Listán Blanco and Listán Negro and Baboso Negro, which is vinified into powerful, flinty reds. Arguably, the most exciting bottles currently arrive from Listán Prieto, an ancient red variety that’s enjoying a resurgence around the world.

When the time calls for a break from wine tasting, there’s sea, sun, and sand to savor on the south of the isle. For adventure seekers, Teide offers numerous hiking trails and serves as the winter training camp for many of the world’s top professional cyclists.

4. Uco Valley, Argentina

A high-altitude sub-region within Argentina’s Mendoza province, the Uco Valley offers breathtaking views of the Andes mountains and some of the finest wines currently coming out of South America. While Argentine Malbec is recognized and enjoyed worldwide, a number of winemakers within the Uco Valley are working to establish new sub-appellations and highlight the complex terroir that often goes under-appreciated. Many of these wines reach international markets, but a visit to the region offers the unique opportunity to taste single-vineyard bottlings and boutique projects that aren’t produced in large enough quantities to export.

There are a number of small, sophisticated hotels in the Uco Valley that cater to the growing enotourism market. Properties such as Casa de Uco, Casa Petrini, and Casa de Huéspedes situate guests within a stone’s throw of the best winery experiences, including Bodegas Salentein, Familia Zuccardi, and Alfa Crux.

Bookend your visit with stays in the city of Mendoza, which receives flights from Buenos Aires (Argentina), Panama City (Panama), Lima (Peru) and Santiago (Chile). Though relatively modest in size, the city boasts extensive dining options, with world-class meals prepared by Francis Mallman at the critically acclaimed 1884 cozy, family-style restaurants, and classic parrillas (steakhouses).

3. Piedmont, Virginia

Once home to Thomas Jefferson, who, more than 200 years ago, had grand visions of a thriving wine industry in his home state and country, Virginia’s hilly Piedmont region has established itself as an attractive, convenient destination for American wine tourism.

Centered around the city of Charlottesville, a few hours drive southwest of Washington D.C., the region is home to the Monticello Wine Trail. Named after the former estate of President Jefferson, the trail comprises over 30 member wineries, each located within a 25-mile drive of Charlottesville. The list of members includes all the state’s best producers, such as Barboursville Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, Early Mountain Vineyards, and Veritas Vineyard & Winery.

Each of these properties offers a sophisticated visitor experience, with vineyard tours, tasting rooms, and award-winning restaurants. A visit to these or any one of the 35 wineries that make up the trail should be the focus of your trip. Alternatively, annual events, including the Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival, provide the opportunity to taste the region’s plethora of amazing wines in one location.

For history buffs, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, which is the only home in the U.S. to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is open for public tours. Meanwhile, Charlottesville’s pedestrianized Downtown Mall offers fine dining, boutique shopping, and the simple pleasure of people watching while enjoying a coffee at numerous outdoor cafes.

2. Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe is closer to Los Angeles than Napa Valley and is located just 75 miles south of the U.S. border. For decades, the Valle has been overshadowed by America’s West Coast wine destinations, but Mexico’s premier wine region is now garnering international attention for the world-class bottles produced by its 100-plus wineries.

Instead of one or two signature varieties, producers such as Decantos, Monte Xanic, Vena Cava, and Lechuza Vineyard focus on a range of grapes suited to the warm climates of southern Europe. Think: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Vermentino, Viognier, and many more.

The high-quality winemaking is matched by farm-to-table dining and multi-course tasting menus, from acclaimed chefs such as Drew Deckman, Diego Hernandez, and Javier Plascencia. The latter helms Finca Altozano, which is arguably the region’s hottest restaurant.

While its proximity to San Diego makes driving an option, a number of the Valle’s resorts and wineries offer pickup services from San Diego International Airport. Without a doubt, it’s the most hassle-free method of arrival, and subsequent taxi travel around the region means all within your party can fully appreciate the broad selection of local wines.

1. Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles is located on California’s Central Coast, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The charming city and its surrounding wine country might be familiar to Californian oenophiles, but the region still flies under the radar from a national and international perspective.

This is a shame Paso is home to award-winning wineries set in a spectacular backdrop that rivals anywhere else in the state. The city’s historic downtown features a wide range of dining establishments that dedicate themselves to serving locally sourced, organic produce and meats. Accommodations range from boutique hotels to vineyard resorts, luxury villas, and national chains where you can spend those well-earned points.

But those who’ve become acquainted with the region know that Paso’s main draw is its very tangible sense of community. The members of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance are connected not only by their regional marketing operation, but by deep-rooted friendships stretching back years and even decades.

The 40,000-acre AVA is home to more than 200 wineries, with stalwarts such as Tablas Creek Vineyard, Castoro Cellars, and Eberle Winery pioneering the production of more than 60 grape varieties. Some might argue such diversification and the lack of focus on a signature variety can hold a region back. To them, we counter: Variety is the spice of life.

Nowhere is Paso’s community spirit more evident than at Tin City, an industrial complex that sees wine producers, breweries, cider makers, and creameries work side by side to share their artisanal fare.

“This community of wildly independent artisans love what they do, and they are part of Tin City to pour that love into everything they make with the sole purpose of sharing it,” Tin City’s website states. “All you need to do is show up and enjoy it.”


Wine Basics

Often, the first clues about a wine come from its label. Unless you have the opportunity to taste before you buy, you'll have to answer all your questions about the wine (what variety of grapes it was made from, what vintage it is, what winery produced it) simply from the information on the label.

At First Glance

As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. But can you judge a wine by its label? It's tempting to choose a wine with an eye-catching label. The label seems to give the wine a personality -- all those colors and graphics beckon invitingly from the shelf, clamoring for your attention. And the sheer number of wines available, even at the local grocery store, is enough to reduce anyone to eeny-meeny-miney-moe. Imagine if choosing a quality wine were as simple as liking the label!

Although there is no guarantee that you will like a wine if you like the design of a label, you may be able to determine whether you'll enjoy the wine from the information on the label. Wine labels come in all shapes and sizes, some with a bare minimum of information, others with a wealth of data that explore virtually every aspect of the wine. Most labels fall somewhere in between. Learning to read the label can give you some indication of what to expect from the wine, just as the plot summary on a book jacket can help you decide if you'll enjoy the story within.

A Closer Look

At the very least, a close examination of the label will reveal the name of the wine and where the grapes came from. The label may also include information about when the grapes were harvested, the identity of the person or company behind the wine, the wine's alcohol content, and the bottle's net contents. Some of this information appears on the label facing the consumer, but most wines also have a "back label," which should be read as well.

Wineries must submit their labels to a government agency to ensure that they meet certain legal requirements. That's good news for anyone trying to learn more about a wine. Simply look to the label for answers to the following questions:

Who made the wine?

This is the most important piece of information on the label, because the quality of the wine depends to a great extent on the reputation of the winery. The better wineries also have a distinctive style, making the selection process much easier.

The label (usually the back label) also indicates the extent of the producer's connection with the wine. The highest designation is "grown, produced, and bottled by," which guarantees that the winery named on the label grew the grapes and produced and bottled the wine, making it a complete estate wine. If the label reads "produced and bottled by," the named winery crushed the grapes and made the wine. However, if the wine was fermented elsewhere, the phrase on the label may say "cellared and bottled by." The phrase "made and bottled by" reveals that the winery used grapes it crushed, along with wine that was fermented elsewhere.

What kind of wine is it?

If the name of a grape variety appears on the label, the wine was made entirely or predominately from that grape. When two or more grape varieties are listed, the wine is a blend of those grapes. Sometimes, however (as is the case with most Old-World wines), a growing region or appellation of origin is listed instead of a grape variety. In this case, it is still possible to determine which grape varieties were used -- it just takes a little more work on your part. You'll need to know, for example, that Chianti is made from Italian Sangiovese grapes, and Puligny-Montrachet is made from French Chardonnay grapes. Some people believe that naming a growing region can actually be more informative than naming a grape variety, because different growing regions have different soil, climate, and viticulture practices--all of which can alter the taste of a wine.

A proprietary or fanciful name, such as "Insignia" or "Opus One," may not be informative if you are unfamiliar with the wine. In such a case, the back label might provide more information. If a wine is labeled "Meritage," it must be a blend of two or more of the traditional Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Cabernet Franc.

Where were the grapes grown?

The growing area or appellation noted on the label provides the source of the grapes used to make the wine. It might be as broad as an entire state or region, such as California or Burgundy, in which case the grapes came from two or more growing areas within the borders of the state or region. More specific appellations include a county or subregion a growing area within a county or subregion, such as Napa Valley (within Napa County) and a subappellation within a larger one, such as Oakville (an area within Napa Valley). An even more specific designation is the name of the vineyard within the appellation. As a rule, the more specific the designation of where the grapes were grown, the higher the quality of the wine.

How old is the wine?

The vintage date tells you the year in which the grapes used to make the wine were harvested. If no vintage date appears on the label or neckband, the wine was made from mixed vintages. Vintage can be a very important piece of information, or it can mean relatively little. Just as the same variety of grapes grown in two different regions can produce wines that taste different, so too can the year the grapes were grown affect the quality of the wine they produce. Weather conditions, such as rainfall amounts, temperature highs and lows, can affect how well the grapes grow and, consequently, how a wine tastes. However, because weather patterns don't differ as dramatically in some parts of the world as in others, the vintage date may mean very little for certain wines. It can be difficult to sort it all out. Luckily, wine publications do it for you, analyzing vintages on a qualitative basis. This information can be a handy shopping tool, especially when purchasing expensive wines.

How is the wine different from other wines?

Some special designations refer to production techniques that distinguish the wine from others, such as barrel fermented or unfiltered, which will make the wine more attractive depending on the consumer's personal preference. Other terms, such as reserve, private reserve, special selection, barrel select, old vines, and estate bottled, indicate a qualitative distinction. In some cases, a special designation has no legal definition it means whatever the winery wants it to mean. A prime example is reserve, which has a legal definition in parts of Europe but none in the United States. The term implies that the wine meets higher standards for ripeness or aging, and this might be true for a wine so labeled, justifying its higher price tag. However, because use of the term is not regulated everywhere, wineries may put "reserve" on the label simply as a marketing ploy. The winery's reputation should provide some guide as to whether the designation is meaningful.

On American wines, use of the term estate bottled is legally restricted. This phrase indicates that the wine was bottled where it was made and the grapes for the wine came either from the winery's own vineyard or a vineyard on which the winery has a long lease. For French wines, chateau- or domaine-bottled means the same thing. Look for the phrase mis en bouteille au chateau on a Bordeaux wine and mis en bouteille au domaine on a Burgundy wine.

What's the wine's alcohol content?

This is usually stated as a percentage by volume, such as 12. 5 percent by volume. In general, the higher the percentage of alcohol, the stronger the wine.

How much wine is in the bottle?

The quantity is usually given in milliliters. A standard bottle is 750 ml, which is about 25 fluid ounces. A magnum, the equivalent of two standard bottles, is 1. 5 ml. European wines may indicate quantity in centiliters a standard bottle is 75 cl. The quantity indication is usually on the back label of an American wine but on the front label of a French wine.

Examples of both an American label and a French label are provided below:


“Wine Region of the Year”: Trentino nominated by Wine Enthusiast

Wine Enthusiast has nominated the province of Trentino for the Annual Wine Star Awards in the Wine Region of the Year category. Competing with Trentino are Adelaide Hills (Australia), Mendoza (Argentina), Rías Baixas (Spain) and Santa Barbara County (California). The authoritative New York magazine and one of the most prestigious wine magazines in the world, which has described the best wine production in the world since 1988, was behind the nomination.

In the Dolomite mountain range of Northern Italy, the province of Trentino is home to a host of world-class, terroir-driven wines. Some of the most best-known offerings are bottled under the Trento Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), which produces classic examples of traditional-method sparkling wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero.”

As the editorial staff of Wine Enthusiast explains, Trentino is competing for this prestigious award thanks to its long history as a province that produces great wines. First and foremost is Trentodoc, a Metodo Classico sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero and Meunier grapes. Its distinctive features include its unique quality and originality that have led to the brand’s increasing popularity in the US market.

In addition to Trentodoc, Pinot Grigio, Teroldego, Lagrein and Merlot are mentioned as some of the many varieties produced that represent this territory:

The province is also home to the Trentino DOC, which encompasses a wide range of still wines that represent the backbone of the region made from Pinot Grigio, Teroldego, Lagrein, Merlot and many other regional and international varieties.”

In addition to the Wine Region category, the Annual Wine Star Awards, now at its 21st edition, highlights many other aspects of the beverage sector with its nominations for Person of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, Philanthropy, Innovator, Wine Executive, Winemaker, American Winery, European Winery, New World Winery, Importer, Retailer of the Year, Spirit Brand/Distiller of the Year, Sommelier/Beverage Director, Social Visionary of the Year and Winery Experience.


Pouring on the wine and charm at Lodi's Oak Farm Vineyards

Wow. The nationally distributed Wine Enthusiast Magazine has conferred one of its 2015 Wine Star Awards on Lodi, as its Region of the Year.

But why? In their own press release, Wine Enthusiast listed a number of the region&rsquos achievements over the past 25 years, and then distilled it all down to one &ldquoprime&rdquo reason: &ldquoIt&rsquos these young people (i.e. &lsquotwenty-somethings from Lodi grape-growing families that often return to work in the family vineyards and cellars&rsquo) and the youthful attitude of their elders that drive the innovation pushing Lodi forward&rdquo (our italics).

While declaring, &ldquoDon&rsquot write Lodi off,&rdquo the San Francisco Chronicle somewhat skeptically suggests that it may seem &ldquolike a stretch to call Lodi the wine region of 2015 &ndash that&rsquos out of all the wine regions of the world.&rdquo Which, even if backhandedly, makes the honor all the more impressive.

The Chronicle, however, may have missed the Wine Enthusiast&rsquos point. Truth is, the Enthusiast&rsquos criteria for picking Wine Star Award winners varies from year to year, depending upon the recipients. Their 2014 Wine Region of the Year, for instance, was New York, which produces about 3.5% of the wines grown in the U.S. (California produces 89%) most of it rarely seen outside the Northeast. Nonetheless, New York has a laudable history of inventive winegrowing especially considering such marginal climatic conditions which engender markedly leaner styles of wine than that of the West Coast or even most of Europe although New York Rieslings are probably second to none. Point being, even regions like New York, of rather provincial popularity and distribution, deserve some love.

So kudos to Wine Enthusiast for maintaining a catholic criteria when making its yearly selections. Other previous Wine Region of the Year honorees have included Paso Robles (2013), Spain&rsquos Ribera del Duero (2012), and Italy&rsquos Prosecco (2011). 2015&rsquos nominees, along with Lodi which drew the winning hand, included Marlborough in New Zealand, Sonoma&rsquos Russian River Valley, Sicily in Italy, and Washington/Oregon&rsquos Walla Walla Valley &ndash all outstanding wine regions deserving Wine Star Awards.

Estate Crush's Alison Colarossi punching down her Stellina Lodi Zinfandel

No one, not even in Lodi, takes a Wine Star Award to mean that the best wines in the world are now being made in Lodi. That&rsquos silly. The best Paso Robles style wines in the world are still made Paso Robles, just like the fact that absolutely the finest Prosecco still comes from Prosecco and no region beats Russian River Valley when it comes to Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Lodi is special, but for its own reasons. If you ask us to count the ways, we would admit pride in the fact that this is the year that factors such as the following finally seem to matter:

1. Lodi&rsquos long overlooked history of viticulture, dating back to the 1860s living on in thousands of acres of ancient vine plantings as old as 129 years, still being lovingly cultivated and often bottled as vineyard designated wines today.

2. Lodi&rsquos recent history of growers (some 750 of them) and wineries (up to about 75) working hand in hand with each other through the Lodi Winegrape Commission, founded in 1991 in a close-knit, cooperative spirit that is virtually unheard of in other American wine regions.

Michael David's 6th generation grower Kevin Phillips epitomizes Lodi's 150-year-old winegrowing history

3. Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing &ndash a rigorous, thoroughly comprehensive third party (Protected Harvest) certification program of sustainable viticulture, first implemented in 2005, and which has since become the blueprint for all other sustainable wine grape programs in the U.S., surpassing USDA National Organic Programs (such as CCOF) and all other accreditations in terms of industry-wide usage.

4. Credence finally being accorded to the reasons why over 16% of California&rsquos wine grape acreage (easily the most in the state) is in the Lodi Viticultural Area which is, simply because Lodi&rsquos Mediterranean climate (neither "hot" nor "cold," but moderate like mid-Napa Valley and easterly Sonoma County) and well drained soils are highly conducive to cultivation of premium quality Vitis vinifera (i.e. classic European grape varieties).

5. Very recent developments such as the Lodi Native Zinfandel project, which has been attracting a ton of press because of the way that native yeast fermented, non-interventionist style of heritage vineyard winemaking is showing off a delicate, balanced, fragrant side of the grape completely natural to the region &ndash a profile to which more and more consumers and connoisseurs of the varietal also happen to be leaning.

McCay Cellars' Matt McCay represents perhaps an even better Lodi generation to come

6. Lodi&rsquos steady movement towards &ldquoalternative&rdquo style grapes that grow comfortably in the region&rsquos mild climate and vine-friendly soils, to which consumers are enthusiastically responding &ndash from white wine varieties such as Albariño, Bacchus, Grenache Blanc, Kerner, Piquepoul, Riesling, Verdejo, Verdelho and Vermentino, to black skinned varieties such as Aglianico, Alvarelhão, Carignan, Cinsaut, Dolcetto, Garnacha, Graciano, Montepulciano, Pinotage, Sagrantino, Souzão, Tannat, Tempranillo, Teroldego, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Zweigelt. all told, over 100 different cultivars, more than in any other American wine region.

7. The steadily growing number of artisanal style winemakers from outside the region investing in Lodi grown fruit &ndash starting with highly respected figures like Tierra Divina&rsquos Patrick Campbell and Uvaggio&rsquos Jim Moore in the 1990s, and in recent years, high-profile winemakers such as Onesta&rsquos Jillian Johnson, Turley and Sandlands' Tegan Passalacqua, Forlorn Hope&rsquos Matthew Rorick and Bedrock&rsquos Morgan Twain-Peterson &ndash who are all sending out signals to the rest of the industry that Lodi is indeed a &ldquocool&rdquo place to source unique, premium quality wines.

Lodi icons: Mettler Family Vineyard's Larry Mettler (right) with Jason Eels

8. The proven success of homegrown Lodi producers in markets across the country and beyond (in Europe as well as Asia) &ndash notably, Michael David Winery, Mettler Family Vineyards, Klinker Brick Winery, and LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards &ndash who are paving the way for a growing number of boutique-sized producers, reinforcing the region&rsquos growing reputation for handcraft wines.

Make no mistake, though: Lodi still plays the same role that it has over most the past century &ndash as a supplier of giant production, value priced wines. Thank goodness for that, because consumers deserve access to consistently good quality, reasonably priced wines, too!

But when you look at the history of regions such as Napa Valley and Sonoma County, you clearly see that as recently as 30, 35 years ago the bigger producers like E. & J. Gallo and Sebastiani were still taking over 50% of the wine grapes grown in those places, too. The big guys got big because they&rsquore no dummies &ndash they know a darned good wine region when they see one.

And right now Lodi is looking pretty good, now that more people are appreciating the special things coming out of this slowly awakening giant of a wine region.


May: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Though Memorial Day Weekend means big events in wine regions across the US, plan to spend yours up in Oregon&rsquos picturesque Willamette Valley. Over 150 wineries and tasting rooms are participating in festivities that include special tastings, vineyard picnics, concerts, food pairings, chef-led lunches and dinners, art shows and more. The 2019 event listings are yet to be released, but you can get a good idea of what might be in store by looking at last year&rsquos guide.

The Allison Inn & Spa is the nicest hotel in the Willamette Valley.

Travel Tips: The Willamette Valley is just an hour outside Portland, so you could even get out there on a long layover. Instead, consider spending a few nights at the area&rsquos nicest hotel, The Allison Inn & Spa. If you do stay in the city, though, there are excellent points options including The Nines, which is part of Marriott&rsquos Luxury Collection, and the Hilton Portland Downtown.

Come under friendly fire at Haro&rsquos Batalla del Vino. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images.


Wine Enthusiast magazine names Sonoma County 'Wine Region of the Year'

The Wine Enthusiast has named Sonoma County “Wine Region of the Year,” as part of its 2019 Wine Star Award Winners, citing Sonoma County’s “long history, resilience, commitment to diversity and global leadership in sustainability.”

Recognition for the region’s sustainability comes in the wake of the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ goal of becoming a 100 percent sustainable wine region by the end of 2019. The effort made headlines earlier this month for achieving 99 percent sustainability with a slate of new farming practices among wine growers.

Sonoma County, just an hour north of San Francisco, has more than 50 miles that ride the Pacific coastline. The region has more than a million acres, with only 6% or 59,000 planted in wine grapes. The wine industry - from farming to production to tourism - is a key economic driver of the region.

The environmental efforts have provided another means for Sonoma County to distinguish itself from the Napa Valley region, which hasn’t initiated a comparable sustainability campaign and also doesn’t feature the same level of diversity in growing regions and varietals.

“I don’t know of any other region that has so many different micro climates in such a narrow range geographically,” said Mick Schroeter, winemaking director of Windsor’s Sonoma-Cutrer.

The key to the region’s character, he said, is where the fog rolls in and how it burns off.

“A great example,” Schroeter said, “are two estate vineyards - Vine Hill Ranch and Owsley Ranch Vineyard. They’re 7 miles apart and they can have a 10-degree difference in temperature. We harvest them a week apart.”

Jesse Katz, founding winemaker of Aperture Cellars and Devil Proof Vineyard, agrees with Schroeter’s take on why Sonoma County is getting more recognition. Katz has spent time in 100 countries on six continents, and made wine in Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Argentina, Italy and Santa Barbara.

“From everything I’ve seen there’s nothing that can compete with Sonoma County in producing diversity able to showcase Burgundian varietals, Rhones, zins, Bordeaux and sparkling wine,” he said.

“Within Sonoma County, Bordeaux varietals ripen in Alexander Valley and closer to the coast, some sites are cooler than Champagne, France.

“If that doesn’t tell you the diversity in one region, I don’t know what does,” he said.

Katz said he’s staking his career on the belief that Sonoma County’s best sites for Bordeaux varietals can rival any in the world.

Schroeter, a native Australian, said he’s also smitten with Sonoma County but joked it’s a good idea to keep tight-lipped about this geographical paradise.

“Shhhhh,” Schroeter said. “Don’t tell everybody because otherwise everybody will be coming here.”

Keeping Sonoma County a secret may be unlikely as it moves toward its goal of 100% sustainability, as well as participating in and leading other environmental initiatives. According to the Wine Enthusiast, the Sonoma County Winegrowers has been selected as the exclusive partner in the launch of the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Climate Adaptation Certification program. Piloted in Sonoma County, this program will then be shared with other wine regions across the globe.

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at [email protected] or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.


The Wine Region of the Year - Recipes

Lodi, CA, November 3, 2015 &ndash The Lodi Winegrape Commission is excited to announce that Lodi has been named &ldquoWine Region of the Year&rdquo by the Wine Enthusiast, one of the world's most well regarded publications dedicated to wine, spirits, food and travel. The announcement was made this morning, with the actual award to be presented at the Wine Star Awards on January 25th - the publication&rsquos annual black-tie gala dinner at the New York Public Library in New York City. WSA_Trophy

Each year since 2000, the editors of Wine Enthusiast have honored individuals, companies, regions and organizations whose vision has impacted the wine and spirits industries with their coveted Wine Star Awards. Wine Enthusiast&rsquos stated purpose for the &ldquoWine Region of the Year&rdquo award &ldquois to recognize not only excellence in wine quality, but also innovation and excitement coupled with the courage to take risks and the skill to succeed.&rdquo With the &ldquoWine Region of the Year&rdquo award, Lodi is recognized in good international company in the category with previous recipients including New York State, Paso Robles, Ribera del Duero, Colchagua Valley, Mendoza, Alexander Valley, Rioja, and the Rhône Valley.

&ldquoBeing named Wine Region of the Year is exciting for Lodi as it recognizes the historic and ongoing commitment by our winegrowers, winemakers and Lodi wine region fans to grow, make, promote and enjoy amazing world-class wines from our region.&rdquo said Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. &ldquoLodi has been supplying winegrapes to wineries for generations and is emerging in its own right as a world-class wine producing region focused on heritage, innovation and our commitment to place and people through our leadership in sustainability. The future for the Lodi wine region is brighter than ever and all of our growers, winemakers and community are thrilled to be honored with this award and recognition.&rdquo

The other nominees for the 2015 &ldquoWine Region of the Year&rdquo were Marlborough, New Zealand Russian River Valley, California Sicily, Italy and Walla Walla, Washington.

About Lodi, California

Located south of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevada, the Lodi wine region features 110,000 acres of vineyards that thrive in the classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings.

A major winegrape growing region since the 1850s, today Lodi boasts over 750 growers. The region owes much of its recent success to the increase in critical and consumer attention paid to Lodi-designate wines. Known for its high quality winegrapes, Lodi was always a winegrowing region first &ndash known best for specializing in viticulture and sustainability practices and selling its highly-coveted winegrapes to wineries and wine companies in Napa, Sonoma, and California&rsquos Central Valley. However, the past 10-15 years has seen astronomical growth in demand for Lodi wines, as well as in tourism to the wine region, incentivizing winegrowers to hold on to larger percentages of their crop for craft production under their own labels. The result has been a dramatic shift in quality perception, with explosive growth enhanced by a friendly business culture that emphasizes collaboration, community and innovation.

Today, Lodi is home to over 85 boutique wineries specializing in small-lot, handmade wines that have garnered major awards at both domestic and international wine competitions. In addition, Lodi is one of the leading wine regions when it comes to sustainable viticulture. The Lodi Winegrape Commission created Lodi Rules&trade, California&rsquos first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program, which recently won Governor Jerry Brown&rsquos annual Governor&rsquos Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) - the highest environmental award in the state of California - for its mission to address major environmental, economic and social challenges facing California agricultural industry.

With more than 100 varieties currently being cultivated, Lodi offers a diverse portfolio of wines. While long renowned for its high-quality Zinfandel production, including an estimated 2,000 acres of pre-Prohibition own rooted vines, the area also produces award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay. More recently, Lodi has been gaining consumer traction for its other exciting varietals such as Albariño, Tempranillo, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Graciano and Vermentino, among many others.

2015 has seen a tremendous swell of support and recognition for the Lodi wine region. In addition to the prestigious GEELA award, Lodi was also selected in August 2015 to be the host for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference, the pre-eminent gathering of hundreds of wine bloggers and wine writing professionals who come together for educational sessions, networking and social gathering.


Trentino Wineries You Need to Know

Ferrari

No, not that Ferrari. This Ferrari family has been producing classic-method sparkling wines since the turn of the 20th century, making it the founding winery of Trentodoc (an appellation of white and sparkling wines produced in this region). The winery is run by the third generation of Giulio Ferrari's protégé, Bruno Lunelli, and combines modern winemaking with the deeply rooted tradition of Trentodoc that the family helped put on the map.

Try: Ferrari Perlé, a vintage Trentodoc made with the vineyard's best Chardonnay that is elegant with balanced, fruity aromas and toast-like notes.

Cesarini Sforza

Another family-run Trentodoc producer, Cesarini Sforza focuses on brut and rosé sparkling wines. Using the longstanding tradition of Trentodoc wines, the winery prides itself on the long cellaring that every bottle undergoes.

Try: Cesarini Sforza Brut, a lively and creamy Trentodoc made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes that ages in dark cellars for 24 months until it reaches its renowned fragrance and taste with scents of cotton candy and brioche.

Moser

Founded in 1979 by Diego and Francesco Moser, the famed Italian road-racing cyclist, Moser is known for producing classic-method sparkling wines of top quality high on the hills above the capital city. The pair opened a modern winery in a former bishop's residence in 1988 that offers gorgeous views of the countryside.

Try: Moser 51,151 Brut, named after the number of meters Francesco biked to break the Hour Record, commemorates the achievement with an explosion of freshness and mineral flavors and an intense, fruity nose.


Watch the video: Wine Region of the Year: Valpolicella, Italy (December 2022).