How does one find the next big wine region? Is it something the Winestream Media can anoint by giving out scores and fawning over celebrity winemakers? Is it something the industry can do, in the way Sonoma has been marketing itself? Or is it about the quality of the wine, where the region works its way into our consciousness without much help from anyone?
Or is finding the next big wine region one of those quaint 20th-century things, like VCRs and walkie talkie-sized cell phones, something that doesn’t make much difference in the post-modern wine world?
The genesis for this post came from a blog visitor, who wanted to know why I don’t do more to identify wine regions that offer wines that people come here to find. I’m not sure that’s true — see my support for Sicily and Gascony — but it did make me wonder. What will be the next Sicily or Gascony, and how do we find it?
I’m sure that we won’t find it from the Winestream Media. It has been hyping Austria for years, mostly for gruner veltliner, with little success. That’s because, despite the enthusiasm for gruner, there isn’t enough of it to matter. The next big wine region has to produce enough wine for people to be able to buy it.
I’m also leery of industry-sponsored next big things; that approach gave us pet rocks. This doesn’t mean there isn’t great cheap wine in Sonoma. Rather, Sonoma, for all its insecurities, is an established part of the wine world, and that’s enough to rule it out.
Which means the next big wine region will sneak up on us, like Sicily did. And, wherever it is, it will offer the following:
• Favorable pricing, which means $15 or less. Otherwise, Napa and Bordeaux would be the next big thing. Which they’ve already been.
• Grapes that aren’t chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. Because what’s the point of the next big wine region making the same thing that everyone else does?
• Professional quality, which means consistently made wine from vintage to vintage. This rules out much of the regional wine business, where one great vintage is followed by several ordinary ones.
• Sufficient distribution, as well as enough production, to get its wine into retailers. Unglamorous yes, but that’s probably why Greek wine hasn’t made much headway. There’s enough of it, quality is adequate, the varietals are interesting, and pricing is favorable. But unless you’re on the East Coast, it’s almost impossible to find Greek wine in a store.
So what regions fit those requirements?
• Italy’s Abruzzi, with red wine made from the montepulciano grape. The only problem here is that the wines, if not old-fashioned, don’t have the ripe fruit that American wine drinkers have come to expect.
• New York’s Finger Lakes and its incredibly delicious rieslings. Distribution, thanks to large producers like Konstantin Frank and Ravines, is much better than most people realize, though pricing might be too high.
• Somewhere in Spain, and I wish I could do better than that. But Spain has 66 major wine regions, many of which produce wines amazing both in price and quality, and picking one instead of another is an exercise in confusion. Best guesses: Rueda, for whites made with verdejo, and Madrid, for red blends.
Image courtesy of Wine Folly, using a Creative Commons license