"I need to hear everyone singing," Peter Weiss said. "Because if I don't I'm going to think you're eating the grapes." I was on the west side of Keuka Lake hand-harvesting riesling at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. Weiss, who is from Germany's famous Mosel region, is the winemaker responsible for riesling there.
When you visit the Spanish Basque Country, walk into any pintxo bar in San Sebastián or Bilbao and you'll see an entire wall of green bottles. What's in them? A bright, slightly fizzy wine called txakoli. There are three regions that make this wine, and I recent visited them all to learn about the differences in the wines they produce.
A long, thin region on the eastern side of France, about a 2.5-hour train ride from Paris, Alsace lies on the border with Germany. The first thing you notice when you get there is how beautiful it is. Steep slopes, timbered houses, and clear light all define the landscape. Here are 14 delicious Alsatian wines to seek out.
Ever wonder what makes those little bubbles in your glass of Champagne? Do you know how long it took to make that bottle you're popping this Thanksgiving? I recently traveled to France to check out this winegrowing region and learn what I could about the history of the area and how your bubbly gets made.
It is one thing to drink wine at home, to open bottles at a dinner party, to remark on how delicious something is. It is one thing to read the long, hard-to-pronounce words on a label as you sip, and find a picture of that place online or in a book. It is another thing entirely to stand on that hard-to-pronounce hill and feel the wind pulling at your hair, feel the loose red rocks slipping under your sneakers.
In Pomerol, Fronsac, Saint-Emilion, the wines are almost exclusively merlot-based blends, which grow well in the clay soil that dominates the region. Plateaus of limestone and patches of sand scattered throughout the vineyards allow for modest growth of other grapes which lend structure and personality to the merlot with which they are blended. Unlike Left Bank wines, which are dominated by tannic cabernet sauvignon that's built to age and meant to sit for years in a cellar, these merlot-based wines are lower in tannins and acid, which gives them incredible versatility.
Can you imagine arriving here and thinking, 'that looks like a good place to plant grapes'? It's so steep that it's hard to keep your footing, the red slate rocks sliding out from under your shoes.
Before Champagne, before Cava, before Prosecco, there was sparkling wine in Limoux, France. Way back in the early 16th century, the monks at the abbey of St. Hilaire were producing a semi-sweet sparkling wine from blanquette, the Occitan word for the white Mauzac grapes of the region. The first bottles were most likely produced by accident. Indeed, even well into the 18th century, the bubbles created by secondary fermentation were considered a flaw in wines in most regions; the pressure built up when yeast trapped in the bottle digested fermentable sugars and produced carbon dioxide didn't just make the wine bubbly, they caused bottles to literally explode.
Last month I went on a whirlwind wine tasting trip in Languedoc, the Southeastern section of France that hugs the Mediterranean. Before the trip, if I were to have judged from the amount of Languedoc wines I see in the U.S., I would have guessed Languedoc to be, say, around 4 to 5% of the total wine production of France. I would have been wrong. Indeed, coming in at a full 30% of France's production, Languedoc is the most prolific wine-producing region not just in France, but in the entire world.
A journey to Austria isn't complete without a monster schnitzel (daily), and at least one stop at Vienna's käsekrainer stands, but I visited mostly to taste wine, especially riesling and gruner veltliner. Here are my snapshots, along with snippets of winemaker-conversation, and a peek at some of the food we tried.
When I say Argentina, you probably think Malbec, and there's definitely a reason for Argentinian Malbec's popularity. On my recent visit to Mendoza, I did see Malbec everywhere I looked, and I tasted some delicious examples. But there is much more to Argentina than Malbec. What should drink if you're interested in exploring the rest of Argentinian wine? Here are a few other grapes to look out for, and some bottles to seek out, plus some snapshots of the vineyards and many, many varieties of empanadas.
The wine industry in Chile is far from new—Spanish explorers brought grapevines to the country as early as 1523, and wine has been made there for centuries. Here are my snapshots of harvest season in Chile, from 135-year old cellars to new coastal plantings.
You might think that winter wouldn't be an interesting time to visit a winery, but now that the wines are fermented and safely tucked into barrels and tanks, winemakers are busy blending and bottling the wine. A recent trip to the North and South Fork of Long Island gave me the chance to chat with local winemakers, tour the cellars and taste barrel samples, as well as try some wines that have been aging in the cellars for a decade—impressive stuff. In the fields, there's some pruning to do, but most of the excitement is in the wineries these days—at least until the first green buds appear on the vines.
When I was invited by the Washington State Wine Commission to check out Eastern Washington's grape-growing areas in mid-October, I figured the grapes would be picked already, and we'd probably be looking at stripped-bare vines and smelling the sweet, bready aroma of juice fermenting into wine in the cellar. But it's been cool in the Northwest—so cool that harvest was just beginning when I arrived.
Paso Robles has been called the "anti-Napa," "the new Napa," "the Napa 25 years ago." Basically this means you can roll into just about any winery, many of which don't have tasting room fees, and though it feels casual and homey without the hoity-toity pomp, the wines are carefully and contentiously made by obsessives. Since 2000, the number of wineries in this region has more than quadrupled from 50 to more than 200.
The grape harvest has begun in the Finger Lakes! Thanks to Upstate Wine Company, which distributes many Finger Lakes wines to restaurants and wine shops in the NYC area, I had the chance to visit a handful of vineyards this week (and taste more than a handful of wines.) Highlights of the trip included sampling grapes on the vine, learning about harvest-time decision making from local winemakers, and discovering quite a few excellent bottles from this often underestimated region.
Spain is one of the biggest wine-producing countries, third to France and Italy. There are all sorts of native grape varieties but 80 percent of the wines produced here come from the same 20 grapes, many of which you've probably had in your glass before: Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, and the cava grapes, Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Here are some snapshots from my trip: the wines, the grapes, the hillsides, the oak barrels, and the chorizo bites in between sips.