We are fortunate to be living in a “golden age” of wine. Never before have there been so many easily available choices of grape varietals and blends from such a vast number of countries. More accessible, too, are the countries and regions that these new wines come from. Given the startling increase in the number of wine lovers who travel to regions where their favorite vintages are made to meet iconic winemakers, and taste and tour at wineries, it is exciting to look at the wine regions that will be the proverbial talk of the town in 2012. So here are our five picks for swilling and spitting this year.
Ribera del Duero, Spain
From the first moment that you pair a platter of suckling lamb with the wines of Ribera del Duero, it strikes you how regionally specific the wines are here, and how they impart a sense of place. The wine region is a 90-minute drive from Madrid, and is as famous for brawny red wines as it is for suckling lamb (lechazo).
While the town of Peñafiel is the geographic center of the region, a more ideal base a few miles away is the elegant accommodation at Posada Fuente de la Acena, a lovingly restored 300-year-old flour mill set on a weir that is comprised of several rooms and a fine restaurant on the banks of the river Duero (which becomes the Douro as it flows west and enters Portugal).
Ribera is not as hyped as the more glamorous Rioja region, but it produces some of Spain’s finest red wines. Vega Sicilia is located here, with wines that are as inaccessible as the winery itself can sometimes be (though equally worthwhile). But my favorite experience and wine, was found at Dominio de Pingus, where Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck has the genie, quite literally, in the bottle. I tasted wines at his unassuming property in the valley looking up at the castle in Peñafiel, circa the 11th century, which, lit up, was a proud accompaniment to a strong wine. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gronberg)
No less enjoyable were visits to Legaris, where vine management and drip irrigation is an art form, and Tinto Pesquera, which comes as close to providing a traditional winery visit experience as you will find in the Ribera. For the most part, vineyard owners or winemakers need only half an excuse to bring out the manchego and jamón to present with their wines. This humble and generous tradition in medieval settings left me with an impression of abundant generosity.
Argentina is one of a handful of countries where the U.S. dollar still goes a long way, it’s an easy overnight flight from New York City, and has a wine region whose landscape is changing very rapidly — Mendoza.
Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo Valley contains the country’s winemaking standard bearers; it also has Cavas Wine Lodge, which may get the nod as the most romantic accommodation on a vineyard, globally. The approach to each adobe-style villa is literally through vineyards, but the coup de grace is each private rooftop sleeping terrace, complete with fireplace, sleeping bags, and a picture-perfect view of the majestic Andes. Use it as a base to taste wines at some of the best boutique wineries in the region — many of these wines (or at least their full lineups) don’t get exported, and therein lies the thrill of traveling to the region to discover them. Producers like Mendel, Bressia, and Pulenta are making malbecs that are velvet and supple with real aging potential. In addition there are little gems like the Mendel Semillon; another development is the advent of (malbec-dominated) blends. (Photo courtesy of Darren Humphreys)
And, you’ll constantly feel like an insider. “You have extra time?” is a question enthusiastically asked by many winery staff and what is intended as a one-hour visit rapidly morphs into two and a half leisurely hours. Their all-encompassing hospitality can easily see you horseback-riding through vineyards or enjoying asado among the vines.