The best Rieslings? Not necessarily from Germany. Chablis? Unfairly maligned. Want to stay current? Keep reading.
By Jim Clarke and Guy Anglade
1. You’re probably more sophisticated than the average French thirtysomething.
"People my age—I’m 34—they drink Coke or beer," says Olivier Magny, who runs the wine school and bar O Chateau in Paris (the U.S. passed France as the top market for wine in May). "we’re seeing some young French people start to drink wine again—but not because they love France and the wine. They just want to act like New Yorkers. The French are mostly clueless."
2. Learn the latest lingo.
Briny→ Sometimes replaces mineral to describe the presence of a salty taste.
Pet-nat→ Short for petillant-naturel, a technique for making rustic sparkling wines that are less bubbly than champagne and have a hint of sweetness, like prosecco.
Skin Contact→ When white wines are made the way reds are, with skin and juice fermenting together, giving the finished product an orange hue.
Slurper→ Your everyday wine. “As much as I love cracking open an old Grand Cru Burgundy, it’s the day-to-day stuff that gives me the most immediate pleasure,” says Dustin Wilson, sommelier at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. “They’re gulpable—you just chug them.”
Unicorn→ A term thought to be popularized by Rajat Parr, the longtime wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurants, that’s used to brag about tasting (or even photographing) an extremely rare wine.
3. Find your favorite wine in an unexpected place.
Forget Australia. Washington State’s growing great Syrah.
Looking for a middle ground between the sweet fruit bombs from Down Under and their spicy old-world cousins? “Syrah does really, really well in Washington,” says Chris Tanghe, a master sommelier at the Spanish-influenced restaurant Aragona in Seattle. This is true particularly in Walla Walla, where temperatures and terrain mimic France’s Rhone Valley.
ONE TO KNOW: Gramercy Cellars 2011 Lagniappe drinks older than it is.
Make Grüner Veltliner (Austria), not Pinot Grigio (Italy), your everyday white.
"Pinot Grigio has lost its soul," says Aldo Sohm, sommelier at New York City’s Le Bernardin. Once it got popular, wineries planted it where it’s easy to grow but doesn’t yield good wine. Sohm suggests Austrian Grüner Veltliner as an everyday white: "It’s a wine with more flesh, more character."
ONE TO KNOW: Pinot Grigios have less alcohol, so stick with Stadt Krems 2012 Weinzierlberg, which, at 12.5 percent, is a solid low-proof option.
Portugal: Not just for Port.
The Douro region, the home of Port, is turning out some of the best dry reds on the western side of the Sierra Nevadas. “Some people are like, ‘They make wine in Portugal?’” says Julie Dalton, who runs the wine program at Wit & Wisdom, the restaurant inside Baltimore’s Four Seasons. “But if you love a big, full-bodied red, you’ll pay half the price for a Douro than a similarly made wine in the United States.”
ONE TO KNOW: The oaked Quinta do Crasto 2009 Reserva is celebrated, but the 2012(left) is more available.
Sicily is the new Burgundy.
The Italian island has a native grape, the Nerello Mascalese, that compares to Pinot Noir (the grape in Burgundies). Nerello “is lighter, higher-acid, and aromatic,” says Jennifer Tietz, wine director at Chicago’s Tru. Look to Etna, a winemaking region in the 1920s whose vineyards fell into disrepair and have been resuscitated only in the past decade.
ONE TO KNOW: Try Passopisciaro’s 2010, which is made from grapes on old vines, helping concentrate intensity.
The best Rieslings might come from upstate New York, not Germany.
Traditionally, German winemakers sent their sweetest Rieslings to the U.S. and kept the dry stuff for themselves. But in New York’s Finger Lakes region, “there’s more variety of soil types than anywhere else Riesling is grown,” says Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at New York City’s NoMad Hotel. “The minerality you find is more piercing,” for a slate-smooth finish without the sugariness.
TWO TO KNOW: Hermann J. Wiemer’s Dry Riesling 2013 (far left) is the closest you’ll get to the dry Germanic style. For one that’s dry and fruity, try Ravines’ Argetsinger Vineyard 2012 (near left).
4. Georgian wines pair really well with food.
As Western winemakers obsess over ancient techniques—like pet-nat, on the previous page—Georgia’s 8,000-year-old “amphora” style of making wines was bound to intrigue oenophiles in the U.S. (Georgian eporters targeted America after Russia, their primary importer, embargoed sales from 2006 to 2013 for counterfeiting.) The method is simple, to say the least: Get clay pot, fill clay pot with crushed grapes, bury clay pot so grapes ferment, unearth clay pot when you want. Wines done in this method pair excellently with food. “They enhance the flavor of spices and meats without sidetracking it,” says Frank Dietrich, who, as the owner of Blue Danube Wine Imports, based in Los Altos, California, has brought many bottles made from the country’s 500-plus indigenous grapes to the U.S.
ONE TO KNOW: The 2006 Vinoterra Kisi, with its walnut and honey aromas, complements cheeses like Roquefort.
See more: Is Wine the Cause of Your Hangover?
5. Don’t buy wine at auction.
In the wake of high-profile counterfeiting schemes, “library wines,” aged and sold by vineyards themselves, are being touted as a safer bet. Barolo vintages of Giacomo Borgogno, stored on the grounds in northwest Italy, go back to the seventies (a 1975 runs about $850), and extended aging is the norm in Rioja, Spain, where Bodegas Riojanas releases its 1964 and 1975 Reservas for upwards of $500.
6. California is cool again.
In the mid-nineties, some Golden State winemakers began over-oaking because bolder flavor profiles win competitions. Now they’re “going back to winemaking from the seventies and eighties,” says Eric Railsback, who runs Les Marchands wine shop in Santa Barbara (that means moderate oaking, lower alcohol, and higher acid levels). “It’s kind of a renaissance.” Here, three of California’s bright spots.
Yes, Sideways put Santa Barbara on the map 10 years ago. But now it’s attracting younger producers like Justin Willett, who is doing lighter-bodied Pinot Noirs in Lompoc, and Rajat Parr, who is crafting Chardonnays in the Santa Rita Hills. Try Willett’s Santa Barbara County and Parr’s Sandhi Bentrock, both 2012s.
Lake County has long been a hidden source for quality blends. Now the secret’s out. Obsidian Ridge’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon has a touch of vanilla, and Six Sigma’s 2009 Tempranillo Reserve lays claim to the region as the most hospitable U.S. home for the Spanish grape.
Though its first vineyards appeared in the eighties and nineties, Anderson Valley never developed into a tourist spot: If you were driving from San Francisco, you’d have to bypass Sonoma (and all of its hotels, restaurants, and wineries) to get there. Breggo’s Savoy Chardonnay 2011 is spicy and floral.
7. Your next destination: the Greek Isles
"Santorini has this volcanic, poor soil, but when you taste wines like Assyrtiko, you’re blown away by how everything is so light and refreshing," says Laura Maniec, who opened a second Corkbuzz shop in New York City last summer, adding that Greek wine’s bad rep comes from the pine-resin taste that flavors the traditional stuff, called Retsina. “And then you have wines like Vinsanto. The grapes are grown in these basketlike shapes so the wind doesn’t blow them off the vine. It’s interesting to see how the environment will change the way grapes are grown.”
8. Choosing a wine isn’t always about the fanciest bottle. It’s about knowing your audience.
When Caroline Styne, wine director at the Los Angeles Mediterranean restaurant Lucques, was charged with creating a list for a Barack Obama fund-raiser in 2011, she stayed close to home. “I chose Emanuel Tres, which is by a guy named Chris Keller,” Styne says. “A young, innovative winemaker seemed to make sense for this occasion and for this president. He seems to reflect Obama himself.”
9. The only app you need is Delectable…
It’s what you wish you’d had all of those times you were in the wine store in desperate need of advice. The app lets you take a photo of a label, upload it, then see what experts like Michael Madrigale, head sommelier at Bar Boulud in New York City, have said.
See more: How to Order Wine Like a Pro
10. …and the only book you need is The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert.
Seriously, if you’re in the wine world, you’re touting master sommelier Richard Betts’ charming guide. It demystifies winespeak, taking readers on an engaging, scratch-and-sniff journey through “all the wine smells.” The book looks like it’s for kids—it’s printed on thick stock, with illustrations and stickers that smell like stone fruit, leather, grass, etc.—and yet it’s not, which is why it’s so much fun.
11. Ignore the stereotypes. These regions have been unfairly maligned.
KNOWN FOR: The California interpretation sold by the jug in the eighties.
NOW: The real stuff from the north of Burgundy (Chablis is a village in the region) is 100 percent Chardonnay—high-acid and no oak. “Patrick Piuze does one called Terroir de Chablis (left),” says Carlton McCoy, head of the Aspen wine mecca Little Nell. “It’s stunning, and it’s less than 20 bucks.”
KNOWN FOR: Beaujolais Nouveau. Marketed as a wine to drink right after the fall harvest, it doesn’t have time to develop, giving it a rep as that tasteless stuff moms put on the Thanksgiving table.
NOW: The best Beaujolais, like the Pascal Granger Moulin à Vent 2011 (left), are examples of what happens when Gamay grapes aren’t rushed into production. “I’ve always preferred Beaujolais,” says Pierre Derrien, co-owner of Bones, a popular new Paris restaurant. “It’s a strange thing, this image that it has.”
KNOWN FOR: Being the wine in the straw-basketed bottles at Italian joints.
NOW: Today’s best Chianti Classicos are “good values for high-quality wines,” says Jeff Porter, who oversees the list at Del Posto in New York City. He prefers Chiantis that are 100 percent Sangiovese or blended with the traditional Colorino or Canaiolo, like Isole e Olena’s Chianti Classico (left).
12. It’s okay to ask your sommelier dumb questions.
"Empathy and humility are character traits that you can demonstrate in service," says Robert Bohr, co-owner of Charlie Bird in New York City. "If you don’t know a lot about wine, you will inevitably ask questions that are a bit sophomoric. How does someone react to that? You don’t study it for a living. But that doesn’t mean you should be treated with disdain."
photo: Victor Prado
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