First of an occasional series
Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Othello, II. iii. (315)
The chance to experience a truly fantastic wine is a great reason to go out to dinner. It’s an equally good reason to travel the world.
The old Latin saying tells us that “in vino veritas” — in wine (there is) truth. You may also find that in wine, there is culture, geography, politics, intrigue and a whole lot more. A lot the Old World’s history can be found inside its giant wooden wine casks.
It’s also one way to get the flavor of a place, literally.
A cabernet sauvignon from Napa may use the same variety of grape as one from Naples, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to taste exactly the same. The air, the soil, the climate, all the things that make those two regions unique, also make for a unique wine.
And if you’re drinking for taste instead of “the buzz,” you will pick up the difference from one region to another.
So how many regions are we talking about? Lots!
When I was a kid and someone mentioned wine — real, serious wine — you thought of France and Italy, and that was about it. As I grew a little older, I added Spain and Germany to the mix, but to my mind, good wine was still all about Europe.
If you thought of California at all, it was because of what one Internet wag calls “bumwines,” which serve no purpose other than to prematurely kill as many of your brain cells as possible. I’m talking about things like Ripple, Thunderbird, Boone’s Farm and similar offerings from what I used to call “the trashcans of Ernest and Julio Gallo.”
For my next trick, an understatement: Things have changed!
The French and Italians are still very much in the game, and the wine-producing regions that gave their names to their wines — Burgundy, Champagne, Chianti, to name a very few — are happily still with us. In the 21st century, though, their list of competitors has grown considerably. Argentina. Chile. Australia. New Zealand. South Africa, and that’s just scratching the surface.
These days, it’s hard to find a region of the world that doesn’t produce some wonderful wines. You could rack up a lot of frequent-flier miles on your favorite airline in pursuit of the grape.
You could start right in my home state of California, which has spent the last half-century shedding its image as the trash wine capital of the world. A drive or a bike tour through the Northern California wine counties — Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, among others — will leave you with an educated palate and a trunk or pannier full of bottles.
The same can be said of New York and Washington states, among others. They don’t have to be huge, sprawling operations, either. Just as American microbreweries are producing some really tasty craft beers, there are small wineries around the country putting out some excellent wines.
Some of those wineries may be no more than a half-day’s drive from your house.
Want to use your passport in the name of wine? Head north to Canada. There, you’ll find ice wine. No, it’s not wine made from ice!
Remember those Shakespearean tales and Robin Hood stories from Olde England that made reference to a drink called mead? You can still find lots of Canadian wineries making it.
As you might expect from Canada, they also have a fair number of wineries producing organic wines.
If you’d prefer both your wine and yourself not frozen, you can always head south instead of north. Mexico has some significant wine-producing regions, and the most important of them are within easy reach of the U.S. traveler.
Look at that. We’ve got you happily sloshed already, and we haven’t even left the continent yet.
But we will. Count on it!
First, however, we’re going to take a look at the two California wine countries. That’s right, two, one on each side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Those will be our first stops on our global wine road. So pack up your tastebuds, decide who’s going to be the designated driver…and get ready to get your drink on!