At its heart, Tuscany is home to the red sangiovese grape. You might not have heard of it, because like many of Italy’s indigenous vines, this one doesn’t love to travel. But you’ve probably heard of Chianti, which has grown up from its bottle-as-candle holder days into a high-quality offering at prices that range from steal to splurge. As with many Italian wines, the Chianti name refers to the growing district rather than the grape. “Classico” refers to the historic heart of the Chianti zone, and “riserva” means the wine has had extra aging. If you have heard wine geeks refer to so-called “Super Tuscan” wines, these are wines made to push the boundaries of Tuscan tradition by mixing French grapes and, very often, French barrels with the local varieties. The results are magnifico, so if you feel like splurging, check them out.
En route to the city of Bordeaux from Bergerac, France, where Belingard is located, is the impeccably preserved medieval town of St. Emilion. Its winding, cobblestone streets are lined with expensive wine shops, all touting “worldwideshipping” in English and Japanese. Here you can descend into the cramped hermitage where the monk, Emilion, received pilgrims in the 8th century. The disciples who followed Emilion herewere the ones who started a wine trade in earnest.
At Chateau Franc Mayne, a nearby vineyard, it’s possible to tour the former limestone quarries whose pale ochre innards were used to build the town. The quarries beneath this and many other St. Emilion chateaux are now wine caves-happily, they possess the perfect conditions for aging wine in oak barrels. A tour guide points out a skylight punched into the roof of Franc Mayne’s cave. It shows the cross-section of limestone that gives St. Emilion’s mostly merlot and cabernet franc grapes their character, along with the stories of Roman poets and monks and queens, of course.
In Bordeaux, the busy Place de la Comedie is the city’s social center. Mayor Alain Juppe launched an aggressive clean-up and modernization initiative when he was elected in 1995, and today the city is an obvious “after.” A sleek tram makes it easy to get around, and the bulk of 8th century facades have been sandblasted to remove centuries of built-up dust and grime from the porous yellow limestone. The broad avenues gleam, and the tiny squares at the ends of the St. Pierre quarter’s narrow streets are packed with students, young couples and families, caffeinating, kissing and splashing in fountains.
On the banks of the Garonne River, many plaques advertise the offices of negociants, or wine merchants. Negociants have been trading from this port since the mid-r2th century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henryof Plantagenet, the future Henry II of England, which led to many trade exchanges between Bordeaux and England and the golden age of claret.
That tidbit is imparted duringatwo-day course called “Bordeaux Wine Tasting, from A to Z” at L’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux, a few blocks from the Regent Grand Hotel. After this crash course in a classroom with white-slab countertops and chrome spit-sinks, it’s practically required to apply the new knowledge downstairs at the posh Le Bar a Vin. More than go wines by the glass are available, and little foldout maps on each table pinpoint where each wine originated. The servers are well equipped to steer people toward clarity when the breadth of choices becomes overwhelming.
At its heart, Tuscany is home to the red sangiovese grape. You might not have heard of it, because like many of Italy’s indigenous vines, this one doesn’t love to travel. But you’ve probably heard of Chianti, which has grown up from its bottle-as-candleholder days into a high-quality offering at prices that range from steal to splurge. As with many Italian wines, the Chianti name refers to the growing district rather than the grape. “Classico” refers to the historic heart of the Chianti zone, and “riserva” means the wine has had extra aging. If you have heard wine geeks refer to so-called “Super Tuscan” wines, these are wines made to push the boundaries of Tuscan tradition by mixing French grapes and, very often, French barrels with the local varieties. The results are magnifico, so if you feel like splurging, check them out.
Just 45 minutes from Santiago is Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo(cellar of the devil) winery. It is one of Chile’s most historic wineries, and the cafe and tasting room make it a delicious jumping off point to Chile’s Valle Central wine-growing region. On wine labels, you are likely to see the names of top subzones such as Maipo, Colchagua and Curico, which are famous for growing Chile’s best reds from the cabernet sauvignon and carmenere grapes. The cabs can be every bit as elegant and powerful as their counterparts in Bordeaux and California, often at a fraction of the price. And the carmenere, with its spicy-meaty-savory notes, is a truly distinctive red that’s irresistible with hearty dishes like stews and rich cheeses.
What about whites? Chile has that covered in the Casablanca district. Sandwiched between Santiago and Chile’s gorgeous Pacific coastline, it gets cooled by oceanbreezes, making it the perfect home for growing lively, zingy, passion fruit-scented sauvignon blancs that are the best white wine deals going right now.
Fori the foodie and wine buff, it’s no exaggeration to say that Sonoma could be called heaven. l can think of no other place where you can find local, world-class examples of every possible wine style-and the artisanal food to go with them.
The reason is the county’s incredible climate and geographical diversity. For example, near the seacoast, ocean breezes create the cool climate needed to grow amazing chardonnay whites along with pinot noir reds that are every bit as good as French Burgundy. Look for the subregions of either Sonoma Coast or the Russian River Valley on the label, and you’ll know you’re in the right place. Away from the coast, there are sun-soaked valleys with ripe and juicy chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and merlots that are often labeled as Sonoma County and typically budget-friendly. The Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley subregions serve up wind-whipped hillside vineyards and pleateaus so rocky and rugged you’de thinl no vine would want call them home, yet, big zins and cabernets thrive there. For a sensory experience of wine and food, visit Kendall-Jackson’s estate in Santa Rosa. For a taste of history and excellent pinot noirs, visit Buena Vista, California’s oldest winery, in the town of Sonoma.