Contributed to by Robin Bell Renken, Amanda Sauer, and Andrew Welch
In contemplating how to make a truly global experience out of today's annual National Wine Day, we decided to ask several of our wine writing friends to tell us about their favorite of the world's wine regions. We left the question open ended to be as specific (Santa Barbara's Ballard Canyon AVA) or as wide open (several regions scattered about New Zealand), and loved what we found.
This is Syrah Country: Ballard Canyon AVA, Santa Barbara County, California, USA
Tucked into the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County you will find Ballard Canyon. As you drive the canyon from the North to South you begin with beautiful views of Saarloos + Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. Continuing down the canyon, through the curves and early morning fog, you might see buffalo as well as cattle and bicyclists, in addition to vineyards of mostly Rhône varieties. More than half of those vines will be syrah. All of wines here have nuances of minerality, clarity of fruit, structure and tannins that run through them, while exhibiting differences due to the climate changes from the top of the canyon to the bottom. You will see vineyard names from Ballard Canyon gracing the bottles of many Santa Barbara wines, but only those grower/wineries with estates in the valley are able to use the signature “Ballard Canyon” bottles for syrah with the AVA name in raised letters ringing the shoulder of the bottle. These wines can be very expressive. To get started, look for wines from Beckmen, Larner, Saarloos + Sons, and Stolpman Vineyards. Currently there is only one tasting room in Ballard Canyon at Rusack, with many of the others have tasting rooms in nearby Los Olivos.
2012 Larner Vineyard Reserve Syrah
97% syrah and 3% viognier with the syrah clones 383, Estrella, 877 and 3, it spent 36 months in 50% new french oak. This bottling was from just four barrels, one for each clone, fermented separately. 2 barrels were 25% whole cluster and one whole cluster co-fermented with the Viognier to give a fuller more rounded mouth feel. Only 97 cases were produced. The tannins are silky and you get black berries, cedar forest, smoky meats and a bit of anise.
Beyond Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand Wines
New Zealand has some of the most photographed wineries in the world. Most of us know New Zealand for Marlborough and its world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc. But, what you may not know is that New Zealand has a total of ten wine regions. Each of these regions offers a range of varietals and styles to suit most palates. We visited four of these regions on our tour of New Zealand: 1) Central Otego, 2) Wairarapa, 3) Hawke’s Bay and 4) Auckland. While I could spend hours telling you about each of the regions we visited, here’s our best summary of each region.
First, Central Otego offers silky French style pinot noirs. We stumbled upon Rippon Vineyard on one of our walks. Rippon Vineyard offers unique German varietals with indescribable views of Lake Wanaka. Second, Martinborough, a sub-region of Wairarapa, is home to a mystery grape called the Mad Red. The quaint little (and flat!) town of Martinborough is great for biking to wineries. Third, Gisborne, in Hawke’s Bay, is home to New Zealand’s signature sparkling wines. Also, great region to visit for chardonnays and gewürztraminers. But if you prefer reds, we loved Black Barn Vineyard in Hastings.
Finally, one of our personal favorites is Waiheke Island, a sub-region of Auckland. Waiheke Island is a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland. This picturesque island is full of Bordeaux style cabernet blends, floral viogniers, and bold syrahs. Our pick is the Man O’War Vineyard. Man O’WarVineyards produces the Belleronphon, a beautiful Syrah with a touch of Viognier. The Belleronphon is a unique, peppery wine that will age well.
On our tour, we didn’t find or even taste a Sauvignon Blanc. Instead, we found New Zealand offers a range of full-bodied wines that rival its beauty. Finding New Zealand wines can be difficult in the US. Be sure to add New Zealand to your Wanderlist along with your wine list.
Escaping Rioja: Outstanding wine from Spain's lesser known regions
There was a time when Rioja felt nearly synonymous with Spanish wine to the taste of most American drinkers. And while Spain's leading wine making region consistently produces an excellent product for the export market, we've found bodegas offering truly outstanding bottles further afield.
Consider Toro, admittedly the best known of the Spanish regions we'll share here. It's about two hours' drive northwest of Madrid, where dry summers, hot days, and cool evenings yield red wines made from the Tinta de Toro grape (that's Tempranillo in the local vernacular). A day under an outstretched blue sky, whisps of white clouds overhead, kicking through vineyards as loose stones clicked beneath my feet has formed the inspiration of several pieces over the last several years. Bodegas San Román and Bodegas Elias Mora are superstars of this region that produces big, bold reds that appeal to lovers of wine from both Spain and California.
Look to Méntrida, near the city of Toledo, to escape Tempranillo entirely. There in the middle elevations they prefer to grow Garnacha alongside other traditional French varietals that include Syrah and Petit Verdot. There are only about a dozen wineries here, but keep your eyes out for bottles produced by Bodegas Arrayán and Bodegas Alonso Cuesta (of the two, Arrayán is far more available in the American market).
Finally, Spain is unique for its production of wine that let's us escape Europe entirely. Spain in Africa, the Canary Islands to the west of the Moroccan coast offer wines that are both startlingly different and ridiculously good. Bodegas Monje, on the island of Tenerife, served us one of the best wine pairing dinners we've ever had, and certainly the best wine drinking view we've ever seen. The volcanic terrain of Lanzarote, to Tenerife's east, makes for vineyards with truly other-worldly qualities. Look specifically for wines from the el Grifo and Los Bermejos wineries here, and more generally for whites made from the Malvasía Volcánica grape, reds made from the Listan Negro grape.