Off The Beaten Path
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” – Benjamin Franklin
The sheer variety of wine is what makes it such an exciting topic. While it can be easy to think of the popular choices like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, there are over 10,000 different grape varieties that we know of. A similar story is told with where the wine is produced; while only 10 countries make 80% of all wine, there are still many great options outside of the wine producing giants. ‘Old World’ wines are known to portray more complexities of the grape and tend to be less fruit forward than those grown in the ‘New World’ (think ex-Europe). There are three Old World areas that deserve a quick spotlight: Germany, Austria, and Portugal.
Germany – When talking about German wine, Mosel is the region that must be discussed. Mosel is a river that starts in France and flows through Germany to create the Mosel Valley. This wine region is most well-known for its Rieslings. Rieslings get a bad rap in the States due to the mass marketed sugar bombs that most people think of. But these wines have a wide variety of sweetness, from bone dry to dessert levels that are most often associated with the wine. The Mosel Valley produces most of the best rieslings in the world and this can be credited to the geography of the region. The climate is cool which allows for a slower ripening of the grape which produces the non-fruit forwards flavors that are experienced with aromatic wines.
Austria – Austria tells a similar story to Mosel in the sense that their number one wine is an aromatic and acidic wine that can challenge your palette in a pleasing way. Austria has strict standards that ensure their winemakers follow proper procedures to produce the best juice they can. The country has a large number of regions with extremely difficult to pronounce names that yield a variety of different wines. South of Vienna, there are reds made from the Zweigelt grape that are similar in style to the well-respected French Grenache or Gamay grapes seen in southern Rhone and Beaujolais respectively.
Portugal – When it comes to their winemaking, Portugal is most widely known for their fortified wines, Port and Madeira. Fortified wines are made by adding grape brandy to the wine and can be dry or sweet, but most famously lean on the sweeter side; when fortifying the wine, the process will also make the alcohol content higher in the 17-20% ABV range. Portugal also produces fantastic bottles of ‘normal’ or table wine. More specifically, the Douro Valley makes wonderful dry but fruity red wines thanks to its warm climate. This is also the same valley where the grapes that are used for Port wines are grown. Also, many of the vines used today were planted by the Romans as early as the 3rd century.
In the world of wine, there will always be the heavy hitting favorites, but there are also some underdogs hiding in plain sight that are well worth your time. Exploring new wines and regions can be a fun experience, especially if you’re picturing the vineyards and valleys they hail from as you enjoy a glass. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend grabbing a new variety and region every once in a while, but if you’re a little more cautious you can always google similar flavor profiles to what you currently drink to find something that matches your palette.