The act of drinking wines is to literally taste specific locations across the globe. I never cease to be amazed by how wines provide such an in depth lens into a particular country and culture. By far the best way to experience them is to of course travel where they're produced and visit the vineyards in person. But lack of time and/or money sometimes make this impossible. For those times, plan for some armchair traveling by tasting some reasonably priced and increasingly available local varietals from across the globe.
Bordered by Bourgogne to the north and the city of Lyon to the south, the Beaujolais region's roughly 67 square miles of rolling hills and wide open plains define these fresh young wines. A small community of 2,600 winegrowers cultivate 12 appellations including Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, and Pouilly-Fuissé with the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc at 98%. Most Beaujulais average between 12.5 to 13.5% alcohol, yet pack enough flavor for some excellent broad-based pairings.
Clos de la Roilette's vineyards, situated in the village of Fleurie, cover 22 acres with an eastern exposure on one of the most coveted slopes in Beaujolais Crus. Named after La Roilette, a locally renowned racehorse, this 2014 vintage comes from 100% Gamay grown in limestone soil enriched with manganese, granite, and clay giving its overall flavor profile noticeable depth and structure. Grapes are picked at maximum maturity, yielding a vibrant red and juicy richness on the palate. Macerating with native yeasts and aging in large oak foudres brings out fresh cherry and raspberry notes with hints of leather on the nose. Finishes with pure minerality and subtle tannins.
Situated in the hamlet of Solutré-Pouilly, multi-generational Domaine Cheveau's cellars were established in 1950 by
André Cheveau. His son Michel followed and now Michel’s two sons Nicolas and Julien actively run this 34-acre estate. In addition to sourcing from local vineyards, Domaine Cheveau draws from grapes grown in Davayé in the Maconnais as well as Saint Amour in the Beaujolais. But regardless, all grapes are harvested by hand while fermentation occurs parcel-by-parcel terroirs in either barrel or stainless steel tanks. Soft tannins and distinctive fruitiness make it a standout for sipping straight up.
With a background in biochemistry and cooking, winemaker Christophe Pacalet partnered with his uncle Marcel Lapierre in 1999 to form the Marcellins (the field) with the full intention of producing the best Gamay grapes using sustainable practices. All grapes are harvested manually at maximum maturity, picked and carefully sorted, and then stored overnight in a cold room for steeping the next morning. Next, stainless steel tanks are filled with grapes and saturated with carbon dioxide to dry ferment the resulting juices for 20 days using indigenous yeasts without adding sulfur dioxide. Pressing is done on a vertical wood press in typical Beaujolais style and then aged in French oak Burgundy barrels for 10 months before bottling. Deep ruby with pure violet and faded pink notes bely the pink granite with manganese seams of soil these grapes grow in. More on the spicy end of the spectrum, this Beaujolais still showcases mellow fruitiness and subdued tannins so typical of this varietal.
The third most widely planted red grape in Spain behind Tempranillo and Bobal, Garnacha primarily grows in the Priorat, Calatayud and Rioja regions. This dark inky fruit (also spelled Garnatxa) yields deep powerful red varietals that in many instances reward cellaring. Unfortunately, depending on your point of view, a large quantity of Garnacha is often blended with better known varieties like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir to produce spicy whites and perfumy rosés. But never fear, plenty of bottles, including the next three, celebrate and showcase the full essence of pure unadulterated Garnacha.
Situated in Spain's Somontano region between the towns of Barbastro and Salas, Pirineos utilizes some more traditional methods in their vineyards like trellis training and cordon pruning. The soil here is a deep, sandy loam mixed with limestone and Winemaker Jesús Astrain Losilla capitalizes on the sharp contrasts in summer/winter and day/night temperatures, which provide an ideal ripening cycle. Harvested at optimal ripeness, fermentation and maceration last a total of four days before aging three months in American and French new oak casks. Sipping acquaints you with a voluptuous mouth feel, lavishly projecting complex and spicy cedar and vanilla notes with rich intense fresh cherry, blackberry, and raspberry lingering on the palate.
Founded in 1932 in Aragon and named after Cariñena, one of Spain's oldest designations of origin, Care's wine making heritage actually extends back to 3rd century BC, during Roman times. One hundred percent of the grapes used in Care's wines come from their own vineyards, comprised of four estates, the largest of which are Bancales and Cadillos, each covering 124 acres. In addition, Peña Negra and Zagalcerro vineyards are characterized by steep slopes embodying their wines' strength, personality, and character. With the Bancales Reserva you're getting one-hundred-percent Garnacha from 80-year-old vines. Fermented in stainless steel tanks at 29º Celsius and then macerated with skins for 21 days, the wine is aged in French oak barrels for 14 months and then in bottle 17 months before being released. You get bright-red layered color with clean powerful aromas of ripe red and black fruits with balsamic notes. The finish continues on a more elegant level of fruit forwardness.
Located east of Rioja in the small domain of Carinena, all grapes for Urbezo's wines come from their 247-acre vineyard. Now in their fifth generation, vines are still cultivated in a traditional and environmentally friendly way without resorting to pesticides, herbicides, pheromones, or manufactured fertilizers. Growing takes place at 2,000 feet above sea level in thick gravel soil with medium-size stones buttressed by a thick clay subsoil in the plots of La Pallaresa, Mingo López y Cascarrera. Urbezo holds fast to their philosophy that only hands on cultivation, pruning, and harvesting can guarantee optimal quality in the cellar. Their 2013 one-hundred-percent Grenache comes from “old vines” ranging from 42 to 65 years. Grapes are cold macerated, fermented for 15 days, and aged for three months in French oak barrels being bottled in March 2014. You get intense fruity aromas of strawberry and red mature fruit blended with light vanilla notes and full bodied yet well balanced mouth feel with good acidity on the palate.
Renowned for magnificent chateaux steeped in history, The Loire Valley situated in the heart of France, comprises five distinct wine regions of Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and Centre-Loire clustered around the Loire River’s banks. Collectively, these regions showcase no less than 4,000 wineries, 170,000 acres of vineyards and 61 appellations of origin. The yield for this wine making powerhouse totals 380 million bottles per year. So it only stands to reason that winemakers here know a little something about production...namely Pinot Noir, the valley's predominant vine.
Situated in the heart of Pouilly sur Loire on 25 acres straddling both banks of the Loire River, Domaine Cedrick Bardin has been at it for 15 years sustainably growing grapes in four separate terroirs defined by Kimmeridgian marl, limestone, clay sand, and flint. 2013 was a particularly cold late harvest year, creating the perfect storm for an unusually complex flavor profile in their Coteaux du Giennois Rouge. Harvesting of Gamay (80%) and Pinot Noir (20%) for this vintage was bumped to October 6. Malolactic fermentation at 20°C for three quarters of the yield in stainless steel tanks and one quarter in new oak barrels further exentuates the unexpected factor with intense black currant, liquorice, and raspberry notes unfolding into red fruit puree. At 12-percent alcohol, you get a strikingly clean, sharp bite on the palate moderated by balanced tannins.
FX BARC owner François Xavier uses his longstanding connections in the Loire Valley's wine trade to source grapes from the best plots in local vineyards run by St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, Bourgueil, Chinon, Saumur, and Touraine. Traditional vinification techniques capture a unique fruitiness polished by soft, round tannins. Relying more on other sources rather than his own vines allows him year-to-year flexibility in what he blends and how each wine tastes. In the case of his Jus de Gamay, you get a delicate mouth feel riddled with spices, red fruits, and a quiet punch to the mid-palate.
The Vignoble des Bois Vaudons (Vineyards of the Vaudons Woods), a 25-acre hillside estate on the Cher River's left bank, has been run by the Mérieau family for three generations. Its south-southeast orientation and rich, complex soils produce a range of wines varied and rich in color. Jean-François took over the family estate in 2000, making it his key initiative to work hands-on with cultivation, aggressively pruning many of the vines ranging in age from 10 to 60 years, and harvesting by hand. This extra care complemented by uniqueness of terroir most certainly defines Le Bois Jacou, another one-hundred-percent Gamay ruby red that's fruity yet pleasantly mouth filling delivering tons of bramble berry characteristics. This is a wine to drink young either on its own or with poultry dishes and cheeses.
Photos: Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting.