Five Wine Regions on the Cusp of Greatness
Published: May 2009
By Leslie Brenner
From New Zealand to South Africa, five up-and-coming wine regions to visit before the crush
The idea of touring wine country was in its infancy three decades ago, as Americans began to discover the joys of the Napa Valley, with its handful of B&B's and restaurants. Today wine tourism has exploded—not only in California, but around the world. Care to charter a private jet to go taste the vintages at Château Mouton Rothschild and view Baron Philippe's collection of wine-related objets d'art?Pas de problème: Specialized tour companies custom-tailor luxury wine tours to France, as well as to Italy, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and California.
Given those striking vineyard landscapes and the colorful personalities who populate the wine business, it's not hard to see why wine trips are capturing the imagination of more and more travelers. Oenophiles love the added bonus of sampling or purchasing wines that normally don't leave the area. And "new world" regions, which have developed largely since the advent of transcontinental travel, are particularly hospitable to visitors. Here's the rundown on five of the world's newest wine-growing destinations.
When we think New Zealand, we think white—specifically Sauvignon Blanc, which, mainly due to Cloudy Bay Vineyards, has brought the country international recognition. Now Kiwi reds are worth looking into as well. Pinot Noir, first planted in New Zealand in 1883, is only now coming into its own.
The Marlborough region, on the northern tip of the South Island and a short hop from Wellington, is known as the Napa of New Zealand. It's the perfect place to discover the new fruit-forward Pinots. Auckland-based MoaTrek offers six-day wine-lovers' tours through Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, and Martinborough—the country's top three wine regions (64-9/524-8567; www.moatrek.com; $1,900 per person).
Marlborough is also in the vanguard of New Zealand's culinary revolution, and many of its wineries have their own restaurants. In the sparkling light of a Marlborough morning, the dining room at Cellier Le Brun (Terrace Rd., Renwick, Marlborough; 64-3/572-8859) fills up for sparkling wine breakfasts, while Twelve Trees, at Allan Scott Winery (Jacksons Rd., Blenheim; 64-3/572-9054), is top-notch. The town of Blenheim is a good base for exploring, with its plentiful restaurants, wine bars, and boutique hotels—such as the stylish nine-room Hotel d'Urville (52 Queen St.; 64-3/577-9945) in the historic Public Trust Building, or the elegant four-room Old St. Mary's Convent (Rapaura Rd.; 64-3/570-5700), just outside town and surrounded by vineyards. Wherever you stay, stop by the d'Urville's Wine Bar & Brasserie to raise a glass with some of the local wine makers.
Although Chilean wines are more familiar to Americans, Argentina is the South American country to watch, and Mendoza is where the action is—some 600 wineries' worth. Spectacularly set against the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, the terroir of these vineyards expresses itself most impressively with Malbec, a grape variety used for blending in red Bordeaux.
Aficionados should see the legendary Bodega y Cavas de Weinert (5923 San Martín, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza; 54-261/496-0825), as well as Trapiche (Nueva Mayorga FN, Maipú, Mendoza; 54-261/497-2388), where French superstar wine maker Michel Rolland has been producing stunning wines in collaboration with Trapiche's own vintner, Angel Mendoza. Less well known in the United States, La Agrícola (Fray Luis Beltrán, Maipú, Mendoza; 54-261/427-2027) is worth visiting for its new Familia Zuccardi "Q" line of wines—not to mention the gaucho-style horseback vineyard tours with stops at "tasting stations" along the way, followed by lunch of Argentinean beef. Escorihuela winery (1188 Belgrano, Mendoza; 54-261/424-2282), in the Godoy Cruz district, is home to a 63,000-liter barrel—the world's largest. But savvy travelers come for its restaurant, 1884 Restaurante Francis Mallman (54-261/424-2698; dinner for two $50), where Patagonia-raised Mallman, a chef renowned throughout South America, treats diners to his alta cocina creations on a shady patio.
The town of Mendoza, founded by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, is the perfect home base. The historic Plaza Hotel, with its graceful 19th-century Spanish façade, has just reopened as the Park Hyatt Mendoza (1124 Chile, Mendoza; 800/233-1234 or 54-261/441-1234). The hotel's stylish wine bar, Uvas, and Bistro M, with its impressive "wine library" snaking up a central spiral staircase, serve the best vintages of the region.
The newest official American Viticultural Area is Long Island, New York, producing some of the most exciting wines in the country. Determined not to jump on the California bandwagon of heavily oaked, high-alcohol wines, top Long Island producers such as Paumanok (1074 Main Rd., Aquebogue; 631/722-8800), Bedell (Rte. 25, Cutchogue; 631/734-7537), Palmer (108 Sound Ave., Aquebogue; 631/722-9463), and Wölffer Estate (139 Sagg Rd., Sagaponack; 631/537-5106) have been developing, over the past 10 years, an exquisitely balanced style that makes the most of their own unique terroir. Meanwhile, wine tourism has become so popular on Long Island that vintners wonder how they'll continue to supply their tasting rooms.
Most of the wine is produced on the North Fork, a rural area that lies between Long Island Sound and a series of small bays. Long Island's star varietal, Cabernet Franc, tends to be richer and more intense than the light red version from France's Loire Valley. Excellent Merlots—often finer and more complex than their West Coast counterparts—are being made as well. In whites, attractive, steely Chardonnays invite oyster-slurping on a warm early-summer afternoon.
On the island's South Fork, Duckwalk Vineyards (231 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill; 631/726-7555) draws huge crowds, but those in the know head to Wölffer Estate, on a former potato farm. Besides the winery and tasting room, the 170-acre property also has an equestrian center, as well as Wölffer Farmstand, where visitors can pick up farmstead cheese, vegetables, and verjus, or sour grape juice.
Hotels and restaurants haven't kept pace with the rapidly developing wineries on the North Fork. One option is to stay at Sunset Beach (35 Shore Rd.; 631/749-2001) on Shelter Island, a short ferry ride from both Sag Harbor and the North Fork. André Balazs's beachy-chic 20-room inn and restaurant has become the watering hole of choice among the Hamptons' glitterati.
The cool climate, deep granite soils, and old clay loams of the Winelands region on South Africa's southwestern tip have begun attracting some of the world's top vintners. Pierre Luron, producer of Saint-Émilion's famed Château Cheval Blanc, recently signed on as a consultant to Morgenster (Morgenster Ave., Somerset West; 27-21/852-1738), in the Lourens River valley. Back in 1997, local wine maker Zelma Long and her husband Phillip Freese teamed up with Backsberg Estate's Michael Back to develop Simunye (Backsberg Estate, Paarl; 27-21/875-5141). The partners bought land in the Paarl Valley to plant Sauvignon Blanc; while waiting for their vines to mature, they've produced a generous, lime-tinged winner using grapes purchased from another estate. Many believe South Africa's fruity Sauvignon Blancs have the potential to rival New Zealand's—they lack the vegetal notes some find unpleasant in Loire Valley renditions.
Cape wine country, which includes the regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch, Wellington, and Franschhoek, is just 45 minutes northeast of Cape Town, and as you drive up the coast you're as likely to see a pod of whales in the water as you are to see baboons by the road. Although it's not cheap to get to South Africa, once you're there the opportunities for wine touring are not only marvelous but inexpensive—dinner at Buitenverwachting (Klein Constantia Rd., Constantia; 27-21/794-3522), one of the country's top restaurants, located in a 1796 manor house in a historic Constantia winery, costs about $50 for two. In fact, many of the wineries—such as Delaire (Rte. 310, Helshoogte Pass; 27-21/885-1756), outside Stellenbosch—have restaurants and even guest cottages, with vineyard views that are unmatched anywhere in the world.
Mendocino County has some of California's most spectacular coastline, redwood forests, and rolling green hills, but its wine country is its best-kept secret. There are more old vines in the Golden State's northernmost major wine region than anywhere else in the nation. And older varieties, such as Petite Syrah and Barbera, are making a comeback. Gregory Graziano's Italian-American family has been producing wine here for nearly 85 years; today he's the wine maker of Domaine Saint Gregory (13251 Hwy. 101 S., Ste. 3, Hopland; 707/744-8466). For his new label, Fattoria Enotria, Graziano has resurrected several of the varieties his grandfather originally planted—Barbera, Moscato—with resulting vintages that are lusher and more emphatic than their Piedmontese forebears.
Mendocino is also at the forefront of organic and biodynamic (taking organic farming one step further) wine making, and Fetzer Vineyards leads the way. Fetzer's new bed-and-breakfast (13601 Eastside Rd., Hopland; 707/744-1250), overlooking the winery's famed organic gardens, has been winning raves.
The town of Hopland, up Highway 101 from Healdsburg, is home to the tasting rooms of both Domaine Saint Gregory and Fetzer, as well as the excellent Mcdowell Valley Vineyards (3811 Hwy. 175; 707/744-1053). And what do the wine makers do for fun?Look for them unwinding at the boccie ball court behind the old schoolhouse, now Brutocao Cellars (13500 Hwy. 101 S., Hopland; 707/744-1664).