It's hard to say how buzz about a wine region gets started. Sometimes it's due to a group of young winemakers full of energy and conviction. Sometimes it's because of an impassioned importer who has decided to take up the cause of a compelling varietal that has rarely turned up in the United States before. Whatever the source of the buzz, the seven places described here have it. But because the world is still finding out about these up-and-comers, their red wines are still terrific values. Read on to learn more about these regions, including the top bottles to buy and the best recipes to pair with them.
Grape Touriga Nacional
It seems odd to say that Portugal's Douro Valley is one of the world's up-and-coming wine regions. The Douro was, after all, the first officially demarcated wine region in the worldthe boundaries were set all the way back in 1756. It's also long been known as the home of port.
But in the past decade, Douro reds have gained popularity in the United Stateswhich makes a lot of sense. The region's vineyards, terraced steeply above the banks of the Douro river, their vines eking out a sparse existence in the rocky schist, can produce sublime table wine as easily as they can port.
Most of the Douro reds you'll see are blends of different, mostly Portuguese, varieties. Principal among them is the low-yielding but impressive Touriga Nacional, with its floral aromatics and juicy blackberry flavors. And while the Douro climate is harshas the Portuguese say, it's "nine months of winter and three months of hell"that helps create wines with firm structure and lots of depth.
BOTTLES TO BUY
The 2001 Três Bagos ($14), made by an unusual cooperative of small growers, Lavradores de Feitoria, offers red-plum flavors with black-plum spiciness. Spending more will get you the 2000 Quinta do Crasto Reserva ($29), full of Touriga Nacional's telltale purple fruit. At the high end, look for the 2001 Chryseia ($50), an ambitious joint project between the port-producing Symington family and Bordeaux winemaker Bruno Prats. It's refined and sleek, more red fruit than black, but still full of that forceful Douro character. If you don't think Portuguese reds belong in the same league as the great Bordeaux of France, this is the wine to change your mind.
The 2001 Duas Quintas Tinto ($13) from port producer Ramos Pinto is full-flavored with lots of black, plummy fruit, but it's only lightly tannic, which makes it a good match for crispy grilled dorado.
As Bordeaux prices continue to rise, the search for good, affordable Bordeaux keeps getting more difficult. How can it be so hard? After all, the region has more than 285,000 acres of vines, an area a third the size of Rhode Island, being farmed by 13,000 grape growers. Surely one or two of them must make amazing wines that sell at a reasonable priceright?
The answer is yes, and the place to look is the Côtes de Castillon. On the right bank of the Dordogne, close to the much more famous district of St-Émilion, this is a land of rolling hillsides and gentle valleys, a peaceful placeif you overlook the bloody battle of Castillon, back in 1453, which ended the Hundred Years' War. These days those battlegrounds are mostly covered in Merlot vines.
Most of the wines from the Côtes de Castillon are blends, with Merlot being the dominant player. And while Côtes de Castillon wines have been reputed to be rustic and aggressively tannic, in the past 10 years, thanks to the influx of some extremely well-known Bordeaux producers such as Stephan von Neipperg and Gérard Perse, they've exchanged that hard edge for polish, even grace.
BOTTLES TO BUY
The 2000 Château Sainte-Colombe ($16)a joint project between Gérard Perse, who owns Château Pavie, and Alain Raynaud, who owns Château Quinaultis light and full of red-berry flavor and modest oak notes. The 2002 Château Cap de Faugères ($16)made by another winemaking superstar, consultant Michel Rollandis a steal. It offers scents of red plum and chocolate, with sweet fruit flavors that last. The 2001 Château d'Aiguilhe ($25) is absurdly good Bordeaux for the price, with the scent of ripe red berries touched by graphite. And it's pronounced ay-guh-WHEEjust so you know.
Good Bordeaux almost begs for lamb. The 2000 Clos l'Eglise ($33), another joint effort from Perse and Raynaud, is full of black-cherry flavors, which play well against this braised lamb shoulder.
Austrians today have a reputation for being a touch doura pity, since Vienna back around 1900 was pretty much Europe's party central. While their white wines, such as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, are the latest darlings of high-end restaurants, you probably don't think of Austrian reds aswell, in fact most people just don't think of them at all.
This is a shame. Austria produces a lot of red wine, some of it very good indeed. For the best, look to Burgenland, the second-largest wine area in Austria. (The largest is Niederösterreich.) Lying south of Vienna along the Hungarian border, Burgenland is divided into four subregionsNeusiedlersee, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, Mittelburgenland and Südburgenlandwhich you'll often find on a bottle's label.
But don't worry about memorizing geographical esoterica; all you need to know is Zweigelt, the most significant grape in Burgenland. It produces dense, dark wines that somehow manage to come across as pleasantly weightless. The flavor tends towards cherry, touched with black pepper and licorice. And while some Austrian reds are expensive, a couple of the most appealing are quite reasonable.
BOTTLES TO BUY
The 2002 Zantho ($13), a joint project between well-known producers Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck, tastes of spicy red berries. The 2003 Paul Lehrner Claus ($18) offers softer cherry fruit with a touch less spice. And if you want to plumb the depths of Zweigelt, spend extra for the 2000 Umathum Reserve ($44). Black-purple in color, it's forceful and full of plum-berry flavors.
The caraway-and-garlic rub on the pork loin and its accompanient of tangy sautéed cabbage and apples need a medium-bodied red with a little spice, like the 2001 Pöckl Classique ($17).
Grape Nero d'Avola
Sicilian wines have always held a lot of promise, with luscious fruit that seems like it would develop into a wine with balance and finesse. Yet, no matter how many bottles I've opened, the wines have rarely been satisfying. Instead, they have been erratic, with too much alcohol and gobs of overripe fruit.
These days things are a little more in control. Over the past decade, a host of ambitious new wineries like Morgante, Valle dell'Acate and Abbazia Santa Anastasia have turned Sicilian winemaking around, primarily by paying firm attention to practices in the vineyard such as pruning more effectively, strictly limiting yields and bringing in sorting tables to improve grape selection. While many of these wineries have made a name for themselves with foreign varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Nero d'Avola is and always will be king of the island. At its best when grown in warm, dry parts of Sicily that experience dramatic shifts between day and nighttime temperatures, the Nero d'Avola grape says Mediterranean in every way possible, with its rich, ripe, black cherry flavor, often enhanced by a touch of earthy spice, and its sun-warmed, lush texture.
BOTTLES TO BUY
The charming 2001 Valle dell'Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($22) is a subtle, smoky Nero d'Avola with cherry and dried-herb flavors. The basic 2002 Morgante ($15) is fruity and a bit flashier in style, while the 2001 Morgante Don Antonio ($34) takes that dark fruit and adds some Sicilian earthiness and French oak. Tasca d'Almerita, the first producer in Sicily to dedicate itself ruthlessly to quality, still makes wines that are among the best on the island. And you don't have to spend a fortune for them. A good example of their wines is the 2001 Tasca d'Almerita Regaleali Rosso ($13). This bottling is classic Nero d'Avola, easygoing and warm.
The tomato-and-olive sauce for the meaty braised swordfish demands a robust wine to drink with it, such as the 2002 Abbazia Santa Anastasia Passomaggio ($20), a vivid blend of Nero d'Avola and a touch of Merlot.
Country United States
"We're sort of a neighborly but private group," says Michael Marston of Marston Family Vineyard, referring to the winegrowers of Spring Mountain District, near the town of St. Helena in Napa Valley. "I didn't get around to paving the road for 20 years."
It's true that there is a low-key feel to Spring Mountain. Great Cabernet has been produced up here since the 1870s, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that vineyard owners decided to apply for an American Viticultural Area designation (it finally came through in 1993).
Since then, and especially in the last three or four years, Spring Mountain Cabernet seems to get mentioned more and more. What sets it apart? "The region mostly faces east, and in the morning the vineyards are above the fog, so there's more sunlight," says Tom Ferrell, general manager of Spring Mountain Vineyard. "The cool afternoons help produce wines with tremendous color and bright, berrylike character." That climate also gives the wines a very long life: The best bottles can age well for decades.
BOTTLES TO BUY
Look for Cabernets from Sherwin Family Vineyards, Peacock Family Vineyard and, particularly, Marston Family Vineyard. The 2001 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet ($65) is a seductive wine that is loaded with sweet black-currant flavor and velvety tannins. The 2001 Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette ($90), seamlessly mixes Cabernet flavor and dark, spicy tannins. The 2001 Vineyard 7 and 8 Vineyard 7 Estate ($85) hews to a more Bordelais lineex-Château Latour winemaker Christian LeSommer consults herewith pure red-currant fruit. The 2001 Terra Valentine ($35) offers intense black-cherry flavor and is very appealing, especially at this price.
This tagliarini with pork and lamb meatballs can stand up to a big wine like the 2001 Beringer Marston Vineyard Cabernet ($80), with its plum and chocolate notes.
Country South Africa
For years, the wine producers of South Africa inexplicably seemed to be putting all of their creativity and effort into Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut that on a good day tastes fruity but unmemorable and on a bad one is more like boysenberry fruit chews wrapped in horsehide.
Thankfully, they've reconsidered this approach. In the past few years, less Pinotage is cluttering store shelves, and more Shiraz (Syrah) is taking its place. This is a fine thing, because the best South African Shiraz can compete with the finest from Australia, the United States and France. And most of the best comes from Stellenbosch, one of the country's premier wine regions.
Just east of Cape Town, Stellenbosch is possibly the most stunningly beautiful place on the entire planet to grow grapes, with striking mountains running along its northeast edge. The climate is Mediterranean, but the cool Atlantic Ocean breezes off False Bay to the south cut into that gentle weather, making it ideal for growing Shiraz. "Stellenbosch Shiraz typically has hints of blackberry, plum and white pepper," says Kevin Arnold, winemaker for Waterford, one of the region's top wineries. "The vines on heavier, clay soils offer more smoked-meat and raspberry-jam flavors."
For an introduction to Stellenbosch Shiraz, try the 2002 Brampton ($15). It's big and boisterous, with dark fruit flavors pumped up by generous amounts of sweet oak. The 2002 Rudera ($26), is subtler, with the scent of just-ripe blackberries and the flavor of black cherries. The 2001 Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection ($30) is stern and dark, all black raspberries and leather. The 2002 Kevin Arnold Michael Ian ($38) is powerful but elegant, made with grapes from select vineyards on the slopes of Helderburg Mountain; this wine is proof that Stellenbosch can give Shiraz an unusual refinement and finesse.
These rich molten chocolate cakes topped with vanilla ice cream are delicious paired with a wine that has superripe tannins. With its blackberry fruit deepened by notes of bitter chocolate and sweet oak, the 2000 Saxenburg Private Collection Shiraz ($22) is ideal for matching with this decadent dessert.
Not that long ago, Americans went to Greek restaurants for cheap, hearty food. Now, all across America, Greek food is getting ambitious, as chefs like Jim Botsacos at Manhattan's Molyvos and Pano Karatassos at Atlanta's Kyma update traditional dishes. And now there are more and more terrific Greek wines to have with these fresh flavorswines that are very different from the thin, sharp, ill-tempered ones of the past.
In fact, head to a good wine shop right now and say one word: Nemea. Located in the eastern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula, southwest of Athens, this region of red-earth vineyards and craggy hills, dotted with ruined pillars and with the slopes of Mount Cyllene rising in the distance, makes some of the finest red wines in all of Greece. Vinified from the Agiorgitiko grape and typically aged for a year in oak, the wines from Nemea are full-bodied with soft tannins and a lush feel, the flavors shading from red cherry to plum. The 2000 and 2001 vintages are especially terrific.
BOTTLES TO BUY
The quality of the 2000 Papantonis Meden Agan ($20), a medium-bodied wine with bright red-cherry notes, matches its name, which means "nothing to excess." The richer 2001 Gaia Estate Red ($50) tastes of cherry compote with a hint of gaminess. The 2001 Palivou Vineyards ($20), a lovely wine full of deep blackberry and chocolate flavors, has flavors similar to an Australian Shiraz. "Then again, Australian Shiraz tastes much like Agiorgitiko," winemaker George Palivou notes, "because Agiorgitiko has a 3,000-year head start."
Rich and subtly spicy, this moussaka will change your preconceptions about Greek food the way a good Nemean Agiorgitiko will change your mind about Greek wines. Burgundy-trained vintner George Skouras's 2001 Domaine Skouras Nemea Grande Cuvée ($21), with oak notes and dark cherry flavors, is sophisticated enough to match it.
Ray Isle is the managing editor of Wine & Spirits magazine.