Wednesday, November 2, 2005
For most of us, the geography of the winemaking world doesn't extend past California, France, Italy and Australia. Those are the big boys, so why would anyone look for wine anywhere else? I'll tell you why: There's fantastic wine to be had around every corner, so you owe it to yourself to branch out.
Would you believe that there is world-class wine coming out of Lebanon? Believe it. Founded by Frenchman Gaston Hochar in 1930, Chateau Musar is considered one of the great wineries of the world. The red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault, which are known for their ageability. This wine is hauntingly different from the norm, displaying wonderful raisiny fruit character with soft, velvety tannins. This wine gets better and better with age.
The white is made from an indigenous grape variety called Obaideh, which people often compare to Chardonnay or Semillon. Bartholomew Broadbent, the importer of this wine and a personal friend of mine, describes this wine as "the white that thinks it's a red." There is quite possibly no wine more freaky on the palate than this one. Check it out.
What about Austria? They've been making wine longer than they've been making classical music. This country's most widely grown grape varietal is Gruner Veltliner. They produce as much of this type of wine as California produces Chardonnay—and that's a lot, folks. These white wines are light in color and light-bodied, crisp with hints of mineral and citrus. Two great ones to try are the Loimer "Lois" and Domaine Wachau (both around $13).
Now about South Africa: Wine has been made there since the 1600s. Often compared to Australia in terms of wine style and quality, but seldom getting the same attention as the Down Under guys, these wines are worth a try—hell, several tries. Pinotage is their signature grape. It's a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault and grown only in South Africa. These wines are reminiscent of Pinot Noir, but more subtle, usually with dried fruit character. Kaapzicht makes a good one, but it may be hard to find around these parts.
Everyone knows that Portugal makes jillions of gallons of port each year, but did you know that they also make some really outstanding unfortified table wines? The inexpensive reds are usually made from blends of up to a dozen different grape varieties and are great little wines to take to a party. When trying to impress (whether it be yourself or someone cute), go for the single varietal Touriga Nacional by Quinta do Crasto (about $40). This wine has great, rich fruit character and firm tannin, so it can stand to sit around for a few years if possible. If you get thirsty before that, don't worry about it. It's still incredible. If you're into white wines, try the Broadbent Vinho Verde (about $9). It's crisp and acidic, with fresh, young fruit flavors.
So when you see a wine on the shelf at your favorite retail shop and it makes you say, "I didn't know they made wine there," purchase it immediately. Any questions?
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