It’s a fair assumption that we’d all like to travel more than we get to. We have more money now than we did when we backpacked through Europe, yet decidedly less time (and, well, not much more money). Rather than just hang our heads (and our passports), resigning ourselves to the status quo, why not commit to a few wine-assisted trips?
We’re not suggesting the hallucinatory kind caused by drinking several bottles in one night, of course, but the transportive kind that conjure foreign lands, exotic flavors and non-native tongues. Navigating Old World selections – like German wines, for instance, with their skinny necks and incomprehensible labels – can be daunting. And in France and Italy, it’s more often the region that’s listed than the grape variety, so there’s an assumption of knowledge there that sometimes escapes our “it’s been a long week” attention spans.
Luckily, a bunch of talented American winemakers have taken to growing Old World grapes on their New World soil. They’ve translated the results (say Blaufrankisch with us: blou - fran - keesh), while leaving their charming accents intact.
So put down that bottle of Red Zinfandel and let the jet-setting begin!
First Stop: Portugal
Portugal’s tops on our destination wish list and Forlorn Hope’s Cali-fied take on the Iberian country’s herbal, aromatic white, Verdelho, and its spicy, sultry red, Alvarelhao, take us there on a nonstop flight of flavor. Complete the fantasy with piri piri-laced popcorn, bacalhau and caldo verde (shredded kale, potato and chorizo soup).
Second Stop: France
Being a Franco-oenophile comes at a price when you’re after Burgundy and Bordeaux. They are, of course, nothing to sniff at, but in the hands of the Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery in California, Sémillon, one of Bordeaux’s white blending grapes, flies solo and nails it. Same goes for the California-made Young Carignan – another grape that usually plays backup for Southern French wines needing a little structure. Then there’s this Grenache from Mendocino: Full of juicy berries and joie de vivre, it feels like the Rhône Valley came to you.
Third Stop: Germany
Yes, umlauts can be scary. And so can the queasy memories of an evening gone bad with Blue Nun. German wines (especially those from the Mosel) are so worth revisiting though and Hermann Wiemer’s Finger Lake’s ripe and seductive version of a Mosel Gewurztraminer is case in point. Oh, but then there’s his clean, mineral-driven Dry Riesling too. Prost and Prost.
Fourth Stop: Austria
Blaufrankisch might not roll off the tongue easily when offering a glass to your honey after work, but this is about broadening our horizons, remember? Besides, this is one delightfully easy wine to swallow – plummy and peppery and perfect with schnitzel, spätzle and braised cabbage. Plus, the Long Island-based Channing Daughters still presses their grapes by foot. How Old World is that?
Fifth Stop: Italy
Italy’s more than 2,000 grape varietals can fluster even the wine-obsessed. That is, until you realize that Italian wines aren’t about pretense, but passion and pleasure. Idlewild’s Arneis and Ryme’s Fiano are California whites that embody Italy’s effortless style. Paired with risotto or chicken piccata, they manage to be guzzle-able and unforgettable at the same time. And your pizza or pasta will taste molto autentico with a carafe of this Sonoma-grown Sangiovese plunked in the middle of the table. When (pretending to be) in Rome...
Okay, so before you leave, don’t forget to stock up on cheese (internationally inspired or otherwise!) for this little trip around the world. Just think how much you’ll save on airfare.Bon Voyage!