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Wine-Lover’s Guide: 5 Regions to Visit Now

David Cicconi Tanja Sirk at La Subida

Photo: David Cicconi

Spain

Majorca

This Spanish island’s tourism bona fides are impeccable. The 13 million visitors who pass through annually make it one of Europe’s most popular destinations. Of course, hardly anyone comes for the wine; vacationers are lured to Majorca by sunshine, beaches, an abundance of good hotels, austerely beautiful scenery, and inexpensive airfares from just about every cold, gray, dingy metropolis on the continent.

But the Spanish wine revolution hasn’t skipped Majorca, which has a viticultural history that extends back a third of a millennium. (The enterprising friar who introduced wine grapes to California in the 1760’s, Father Junípero Serra, was ­Majorcan.) A combination of ambition, technical acuity, outside investment, and the lure of a growing international market has lately boosted the wines from the island’s two official appellations, just as it has the powerful reds and refreshing whites being made throughout the rest of Spain.

Over a long weekend of visiting the island, I don’t think I saw a single producer that didn’t have something endearingly quirky about it. Bodegues Macià Batle, in the center of Majorca, was typical. Ramon Servalls i Batle, a former director of sport and culture for the regional government—and a serious gourmand—specializes in blending the indigenous Manto Negro grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The striking facility, an old stone macia (farmstead), that has been retrofitted with glass, polished floors, and an extensive collection of Modern art, is emblematic of another recent Spanish trend: using wineries to make architectural statements.

Perhaps the best Majorcan producer of the moment is Bodegues Ribas, which is owned by the painter Maria Antonia Oliver. The 90-odd acres of vineyard planted on the flatlands just outside the small town of Consell have been in Oliver’s family since the 18th century, but the push to make compelling wines from them has only occurred over the past decade. Oliver’s children, Araceli and Xavier Servera, have recently taken charge as winemakers, and the Ribas de Cabrera 2001, a lush Manto Negro–based blend they made in conjunction with Sara Perez, a star enologist from Spain’s Priorat region, speaks to the potential in the vines.

Because tourism is the island’s economic engine, the choice of hotels and restaurants here can be almost overwhelming. Palacio Ca Sa Galesa, a renowned boutique hotel in Palma de Mallorca, the capital, sits adjacent to the old cathedral and is a perfect home base from which to venture out to a different section of the island each day. All of the wineries are close enough that you can easily return to Palma for an evening swim in the Mediterranean before dinner. Try doing that in Napa Valley.

Chile

Casablanca Valley and San Antonio

Chile is known for making $8 wines that taste as if they cost $12, which is both a benefit and a bane. Historically not much of a wine-producing country, it gives an air of having created an industry out of a frenzy of marketing meetings.

On a recent trip, I discovered two viticultural regions that are challenging that notion. Both are nestled between Santiago and the Pacific Ocean, and either can be accessed on a day trip from the capital. The Casablanca Valley is the older and more evolved; think of it as the Napa to San Antonio’s Sonoma. San Antonio, 16 miles southwest of Casablanca, didn’t have a single vine until 1995.

The landscape of these two appellations, like nearly every other in this narrow yet capacious country, is marked by fertile valleys walled by densely forested mountains. That makes for stirring drives between wineries—though you’ll be grateful if you prolong some visits by including a meal. Two of Chile’s finest chefs—both of whom formerly cooked at the seminal Agua, in Santiago—are now running lunch-only dining rooms for the wineries Indòmita and House of Morandé.

At Indòmita, in a prefab castle on a hill just a mile or so into Casablanca Valley, chef Oscar Tapia brings inspiration gained from his work under several of Spain’s most adventurous chefs to classic Chilean cooking, serving sea urchin done three ways; mahi mahi accompanied by a corn purée studded with king crab; and a robust duck confit set beside chilote stew that brought out the best in the full-flavored Indómita reds. Down the hill and across the highway at House of Morandé, where the urbane Pablo Morandé planted Casablanca’s first vines in 1982, ­chef Christopher Carpentier’s menu is more international but no less appealing. Both restaurants rank among the country’s 10 best dining experiences.

And the wines?There’s been steady improvement in the tangy Sauvignon Blancs and muscular Pinot Noirs from Casablanca through the years, but I was even more excited by what I found in lesser-known San Antonio. At Casa Marín, just 2½ miles from the ocean, veteran enologist María Luz Marín has built a traditional manor house in the centuries-old pueblo of Lo Abarca and set up shop making Chile’s best whites. (They’re also Chile’s most expensive: the two single-vineyard Sauvignon Blancs, Laurel and Cipreses, are priced at $30 in the U.S. market, an act of substantial bravery.) To me, wineries of strong personal vision like hers are the country’s future. Or should be, at least.

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