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First-time visitors who tour Canada’s Okanagan wine country are invariably startled. Apart from the natural beauty of the region, the sheer number and diversity of its vineyards and wineries provoke head-scratching wonder.
Why does it remain such a mystery to the world? In part, outdated trade barriers make it difficult to sell British Columbian wines even to other Canadian provinces. Subsequently, the region’s wines have stayed out of the spotlight.
On the plus side, it offers world-class wine-touring amenities. The opportunities to expand your palate are exceptional, with good-to-excellent representations of all the world’s classic wine grapes, and some fun oddities.
Stretching roughly 120 miles north from the U.S. border, the region’s wineries cluster on either side of a chain of lakes that moderate the climate.
Winery growth throughout British Columbia has been explosive, from 17 wineries to more than 270 in 25 years. Radical changes in viticulture means the once-ubiquitous hybrid grapes are vanishing, replaced by vinifera varieties.
Clustered just across the U.S. border are the warmest vineyards in the farthest reach of the Sonoran Desert, where rainfall is scarce and soils sandy. The thickly tannic wines favor Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux reds.
Drive farther north, and the vineyards rise in elevation as high as 2,000 feet. Here, red grapes mix with cool-climate varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The wines show refined flavors, favoring elegance over intensity. They exhibit delicate aromatics and mineral-drenched acids that have been likened to a stylistic bridge between Oregon and Burgundy. As you reach the most northern wineries, Riesling and its cohorts take center stage.
Most wines fall under the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) designation, which verifies the grape, vintage and region. But subregions are still being defined, notably the Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench and Black Sage Bench.
Does the Okanagan have a signature grape? Andrew Melville, chief steward of The Hatch, a tasting room in West Kelowna, says there are approximately 129 varieties grown, and he’s “totally on the fence” about what’s best. Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Riesling head his list.
The Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) is attempting to give Canadian consumers access to all of the nation’s wines. Federal legislation approved direct-to-consumer shipping four years ago, but only three provinces have jumped on board. With just a handful of British Columbia wines exported to the U.S., consumers will have to jump on a plane to Penticton or Kelowna, the regional hubs, to see what all the excitement is about. —Paul Gregutt
It might sound like a Hollywood script, but the first grapevines planted on Tasmanian soil arrived on the H.M.S. Bounty in 1788. Yet, a scant four years later, there was no sign of them—the only surviving plant brought by the original crew was a lone apple tree.
Subsequently, European colonists brought more vines with them, often sourced from South Africa during the voyage. By 1823, a local newspaper reported that grapes were thriving, and the earliest record of wine for sale—“made in imitation of Champaigne [sic]”—dates to 1827.
With this sort of history, why consider Tasmania an up-and-coming region?
Because by the end of the 19th century, Tasmania effectively had no wine industry. Commercial vineyards didn’t reappear until Pipers Brook in 1974. Even 10 years later, there were fewer than 200 acres of vines. In essence, Tasmania’s viticultural history is only a vine-generation old.
Today, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling are the dominant grape varieties, and sparkling wines from the likes of Clover Hill, Jansz, Apogee and Pirie (the latter not available in the U.S.) are the most consistent performers. Still, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are successful—the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Penfolds’s top-end Yattarna Chardonnay were primarily Tasmanian. Dalrymple, Glaetzer-Dixon, Josef Chromy and Tolpuddle are other worthy producers imported to the U.S.
Most importantly, these constitute just the tip of the spear. There are more than 100 wineries in Tasmania, and, as it’s the most profitable wine-growing region in Australia on a per-acre basis, you can expect that number to grow.
With the island’s focus on high quality and boutique quantity, Australia’s focus on premiumization and an increasing global appetite for flavorful, refreshing wines, Tasmania’s future is bright. —Joe Czerwinski
Corsica may be French by law, but culturally it’s a mashup of nearby nations. The Mediterranean island that lies south of Provence is always looking over its shoulder at its neighbors: France to the north and Italy to the east. Names are a mix of both languages—for example, the surname of Napoleon Bonaparte, born on the island, is Italian, not French.
Such comingling is also true of the wine. Grapes are an almost random mix of French and Italian, with a few that occur nowhere else.
The classics consist of two reds, Nielluccio (grown across the sea in Tuscany as Sangiovese) and Sciaccarello (Mammolo in Tuscany), and one white, Vermentinu (or Vermentino to the rest of the world; the Corsicans like to adapt spelling as well as names).
You’ll also find the white Biancu Gentile, red Carcaghjolu Neru (Parraleta in Spain) and even rarer grapes like Genovese that come from Italy. French grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Chardonnay and even Cabernet Sauvignon.
The tastes of these wines are as unique as the island itself. Corsican wine once stayed in Corsica, enjoyed by locals and tourists. Not anymore. Some ambitious producers are creating cuvées reminiscent of the best of Bandol or Languedoc, but with a spicy twist that comes from the wild herbs growing on the hillsides. Crisp whites, spicy reds and sweet wines are being crafted from Muscat grapes.
Often delightfully low in alcohol (11–12% abv) and with a freshness imparted by the winds that sweep in from the sea, Corsican wines are light and airy. All have a bright, clean character and sport reasonable prices, which makes them the latest French wines to seek out.
Vineyards here follow the coast, as the interior is too mountainous. Nine appellations range from island-wide (the Vin de Corse AOC) through two regional appellations (Ajaccio, named after the island capital, and Patrimonio), to small village appellations. There is one island-wide IGP called Île de Beauté, perhaps one of the most romantic names of any appellation in France.
These wines are so different, with many new flavors, they’re uniquely appealing. And among the growers, there’s a spirit of openness. Look for the wines of Yves Leccia, Clos Venturi, Clos Poggiale, Domaine Alzipratu and Domaine Vetriccie. —Roger Voss
England’s temperate and cool climate, it turns out, is ideal for sparkling wine production. What seemed initially a sort of English stubbornness—a steely determination to ripen grapes in a rain-prone region north of 50˚ latitude—is now a burgeoning industry.
There are now 4,900 acres of vineyard in England, a figure that has doubled over the past decade. The acreage is expected to grow by 50 percent, and production likely to double by 2020. The average annual production stands at 5.2 million bottles.
There are now 503 commercial vineyards and 133 wineries, mostly concentrated in the southern counties of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, which thrive on greensand (sandstone), chalk and loam soils. Rows of vines suit the green hills and sheltered valleys of southern England extremely well.
Half of the vineyards are planted to the traditional sparkling wine varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The English have made a splash with sparkling wine, winning accolades for their fizz.
It was two Americans, Stuart and Sandy Moss, then owners of the Nyetimber Estate, who sparked the idea of English bubbles in 1986. They put England on the map with their 1992 Blanc de Blancs release.
Since then, the industry has been boosted by serious investment and expertise. The ultimate stamp of approval came when two Champagne houses, Taittinger and Pommery, began investing in England.
“It’s an exciting time for Ridgeview and all English sparkling wines,” says Tamara Roberts, CEO of the pioneering Ridgeview Wine Estate. “We have proven that we can produce serious sparkling wines of the highest quality year after year.”
Indeed, there is a wonderful, invigorating briskness to the wines.
“The key to English sparkling wine lies in acidity,” says Charlie Holland, winemaker for Gusbourne Estate. “Our climate allows us to fully ripen our grapes during a longer-than-average growing season, whilst retaining a firm acid structure. This provides great flavor intensity and wines that are bright, fresh and vibrant.
“With an ever-increasing level of knowledge, investment and expertise, the only way is up.” —Anne Krebiehl, MW
The best response to a wine snob’s claim, “I drink only Old World wine,” is to ask how often he or she drinks Georgian Saperavi.
With a winemaking history that stretches back 8,000 years, Georgia is among the oldest wine-producing areas on the planet. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a Russian embargo on Georgian wine imports was lifted in 2013, this small country has made great strides with its wines.
The most important red grape in Georgia, and a source of national pride, is Saperavi, which translates as “dye” or “paint” due to its deeply colored pulp, skin and resulting wine. It’s made into dry, semi-sweet or sweet-fortified wines, so read the label carefully before buying a bottle. In a dry version, expect flavors of blackberry and plum, notes of mocha and truffle, strong tannins and rich acidity.
Georgia’s finest dry Saperavi wines hail from the Mukuzani and Napareuli regions, with Mukuzani wines having better U.S. presence. These subappellations are on opposite sides of the Alazani River, within the larger Kakheti region. Aged three years before release, their dark fruit flavors are enhanced by notes of smoke and leather.
Kindzmarauli wines are late-harvest, semi-sweet wines from the Kvareli region. If the label reads “Akhasheni,” the wine will also be semi-sweet, but come from the Gurdshaani region. For dry Saperavi, look for bottles from Kindzmarauli Marani, Teliani Valley, Jakeli Wines and Shalauri Cellars.
The largest and most important viticultural region, Kakheti is home to about two-thirds of the country’s vineyards. Winemaking here is a mix of modern and ancient techniques, including fermentation and aging in qvevris, which are clay amphorae.
The most popular white grape is Rkatsiteli, although you may also come across Mtsvane Kakhuri, Kisi and Chinuri. A typical Rkatsiteli will have flavors of white peach and pineapple with floral notes and touches of bitter almond. The finest whites come from Tsinandali.
Amber or “orange” wines, produced by fermenting white wines on their skins, are common. While they have rather unique flavors, many other Georgian whites retain bright acidity and fresh fruit flavors. Seek out bottles from Our Wine, Vinoterra, Orgo, Schuchmann Wines and Pheasant’s Tears. —Mike DeSimone
Michigan’s wine industry dates to the 1930s and the repeal of Prohibition. Large plantings of Concord grapes set the state up for a future of grape growing, and today, its four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)—Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula—house 121 wineries.
Approximately 51 percent of Michigan’s wine grapes grow in the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula AVAs, which sit at 45˚ latitude, the same as heavy hitters Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace. Michigan’s commercial wineries bottle more than 2.3 million gallons annually, ranking it 10th in U.S. wine production.
Most of the state’s quality wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. Its lake effect protects the vines with snow in winter, slows bud break in spring to avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks.
Increasingly, critics praise the quality of Michigan’s diverse output. Among its Vitis vinifera plantings of European varieties, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Merlot and Pinot Blanc offer balance and elegance, playing well with the soils and climate. French-American hybrids like Cayuga, Seyval and Traminette, as well as resilient varieties like Frontenac, appear in varietal wines and blends.
L. Mawby in Leelanau and Riesling-notable Chateau Grand Traverse in Old Mission created a foothold and helped pave the way for decades, but now new producers are pushing innovation in technology, plantings and marketing.
At Mari Vineyards, varieties are grown under heat-capturing canopies (nella-serra) to allow maturation through the cold spring and cool autumn temperatures. Other wineries, like Shady Lane Cellars, 2 Lads Winery and Brys Estate, have successfully defied the “too cold for reds” rule.
That said, Riesling remains the state’s calling card, with producers like Peninsula Cellars, Black Star Farms and Chateau Grand Traverse leading the charge. A two-day City of Riesling event is held in Traverse City each July. It features symposiums with Riesling producers from around the world and a consumer tasting called “Night of 100 Rieslings.” Gewürztraminer is a growing focus in the state and is gaining momentum with critics nationally. —Susan Kostrzewa
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