In Vino Veritas L (50th Edition!) – Love Every Region

As this is the 50th edition of the ‘In Wine There Is Truth’ column, it’s a good time to reflect on many of the oenophilic topics addressed in the past. As the Roman numeral for 50 is ‘L’, the first word that comes to mind is ‘Love’. That is, once you begin to truly engross yourself in viticulture, you’ll start to relish in all the details that distinguish the subtle characteristics of one bottle from another.

Once you deepen your knowledge of all things related to this worldly grape libation, you’ll realize that wine is as much about what’s in the bottle (varietal, production methods, vintage) as it is where the bottle came from (terroir, climate, regional traditions). As such, it’s important to have a few key facts handy about each name of origin to further develop the narrative and appeal for a customer.

In this sense, communicating that you or your servers love wine to enrich a patron’s dining experience means having a unique sales proposition (USP) ready for each label on the menu to quickly convey the most salient aspects of each growing region. Below are those USPs – a cheat sheet if you will – that address a couple important points to help your servers enhance wine sales.

Australia – Known for its Shiraz, which is bastardization of the Southern French grape of Syrah, this New World producer has plenty to offer in the mid and mid-upper tiers, with many of its wines emulating the Californian style in production and flavor.

Austria – Although this landlocked nation has plenty to offer, its foremost gift to the world is the Gruner Veltliner, a tart greenish hued white with distinct notes of apple.

Bordeaux – A vast and highly admired region in the southwest of France, it’s most prestigious chateaux use a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the proportions of which depend on whether the vineyard is situated on the Left Bank (south side) or the Right Bank (north side) of the Garonne River. Bottles from the five Premier Cru houses easily run over a thousand dollars.

Burgundy – Light, crisp Pinot Noir for reds and oaky, honeyed Chardonnay for whites. Look for the grand cru or premier cru labeling to indicate the best in the world in these two varietals.

Canada – My home country can be whittled down to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and select areas in Lower Ontario. Harnessing the harsh northern climate, Canada is best known for its ice wines, a delightful and syrupy addition to any dessert.

China – Surprisingly, this billion-plus nation produces a ton of its own grapes, almost of which goes toward raw consumptions juice, cooking or jug wines. They are, however, vast importers, with China’s rising spending power causing massive inflation of popular regions’ output.

Eastern Europe – Lots of hidden gems are now coming out of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and, to a lesser extent, Moldova, parts of Russia and the Balkan states, while the Tokaj region in Hungary will always be known for exquisite dessert wines.

Germany – Coming into its own of late, the steep vineyards along the Rhine are where vintners have perfected the German white wine centerpiece – the ultra-sweet yet vigorous Riesling – while the Spätburgunder and Dornfelder varietals make for rich yet breezy reds.

Greece – With a vinicultural legacy dating farther back than the written word, Greece’s wines are as diverse as its many Aegean Islands, all of them delivering strong Old World flavors. If you want to know names, remember Assyrtiko for white and Xinomavro for red.

New Zealand – The cooler oceanic climate makes for the perfect environment for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, most of which come from Marlborough, a hot pocket on the northern shores of South Island.

Northern California – The prestigious appellations of Napa and Sonoma Counties ostensibly produce the quintessential New World flavor of fresh fruit and complex sugars in its Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay offerings.

Piedmont – The sweltering summers and milder winters in Northwest Italy help to create some of the most impressive wines in the world. The best hills are saved for Barolo or Barbaresco, where aging for at least a decade brings out all the flavors. For everyday drinkers, go for the sweeter yet crisp Nebbiolo from which those two reds are made while sparkling white Moscato d’Asti is making a comeback.

Portugal – Having developed their own varietals long ago, this Atlantic country has some great drops, and if you must remember one appellation to communicate to guests, go with the Douro River where the fortified port wines are also made.

South Africa – The lands around Cape Town are ideal for winemaking, and even though the past two decades have been a shift towards international varietals, the country’s best are still its homegrown hybrids – Pinotage for red, and Colombar and Steen for white.

South America – Argentina ostensibly makes stronger, drier and spicier Malbec than the Southern France where the grape originates, while Chile has rediscovered the lost Carménère varietal which produces a deep crimson wine bursting with softer flavors of red fruit.

Spain – One of the globe’s largest producers and consumers, its hot Iberian growing regions are perfect for leathery, tannic varietals such as Tempranillo. And never forget that sangria uses red wine as well.

Tuscany – The most familiar growing region in Italy, your first thought of Tuscany is likely one of scarlet red Chiantis or Brunello di Montalcino, both crafted from the tart cherry Sangiovese grape.

I’m sure you have your own favorites and are open to your own regional additions. More to follow in the next 50 editions!

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on September 16, 2016)