Yesterday I mentioned a whack of my favourite wine tasting places. Today I'm adding five more, with some random thoughts at the bottom just because it's a Wednesday and we need to celebrate the week is almost half-over. (Speaking of which, I saw an outstanding cartoon in the paper on Tuesday that showed a management type talking with a camel wearing a suit inthe camel's office. There was a calendar on the wall that said "Tuesday, Sept. 25" and the management guy had this great look on his face with a caption above that said something like "If you wish me 'Happy Hump Day' again tomorrow you're fired." Absolutely hilarious, if completely off topic. Because we were talking about wine. I don't know any good wine jokes, but I do remember a great episode of the Tonight Show once where Johnny Carson was talking about a wine and cheese event in Ohio somewhere in the 1970's where they had trays of Velveeta and glasses of wine, thoughtfully with bowls of sugar alongside in case folks found the wines too dry. Also hilarious.
So, anyhoo, with those side issues out of the way, here's my Wednesday look at some of my favourite wine-tasting-sipping-slurping-guzzling spots around the globe.
1. Australia. The Barossa Valley near Adelaide is Australia’s best-known area for high quality wines but you also can try the Yarra Valley near Melbourne for a great variety, including fine sparkling wines at the lovely Domaine Chandon (see photo). Heading further afield? Check out the increasingly high-profile Margaret River region in Western Australia for great Cabs and Shiraz. Only headed to Sydney? The Hunter Valley is close by and they make very good reds and whites. They also do fun events such as “Jazz in the Vines” and “Opera in the Vineyards.”
2. British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley has great food and fabulous, award-winning wines. In the
south section around dry (think tumbleweeds and cactus) Osoyoos, they make excellent Syrah blends that are big and round, with a bit of California meets France halfway feel. Angels Gate and other wineries further north, near Kelowna, make fabulous Pinot Gris. Not washy, tasteless Pinot Grigio but fine, balanced Pinot Gris that’s excellent with food. An outdoor seat at the restaurant at Mission Hill is about as spectacular as you can get, with rows of vineyards sweeping down to the lake and dusty mountains off in the background. I've yet to find a winery in California with a view as nice as those in the hills above Okanagan Lake.
3. South Africa. I’m not a huge fan of the leathery reds they make (barnyard notes might be more accurate) but perhaps that’s because I grew up drinking fruity, new world wines. I’ve quite
enjoyed the whites I’ve had from SA, however, and they make a great range of Sauvignon Blancs and crisp Chardonnays. Sitting on a patio overlooking the harbour in Cape Town and gazing up at Table Mountain looks to be about as romantic a wine experience as you could have.
4. Hawaii. Want something truly exotic? Tedeschi Winery on Maui makes surprisingly decent white and red wines, as well as pineapple wine that’s best left to give to Uncle Fred for his 80th birthday celebration. The quaint and pretty winery/tasting room is located high up the slopes of Mt. Haleakala in lovely countryside (see photo at right), with rolling hills, cattle, eucalyptus trees and stunning views out over the island of Maui.
5. France. Of course. But you already knew that. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are legendary. Ditto for the Loire, with great, crisp whites. Increasingly good products from Languedoc, and always consistent rose’ from Provence. Oh, don’t forget the versatile Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc and Riesling
from up near the German border. Bordeaux is the king internationally, so much so that China is now the largest importer of Bordeaux wines in the world. The city of Bordeaux doesn't get a lot of exposure but it's got lovely, old buildings and stately squares and a terribly fun old quarter with cafes that spill out into tiny, pedestrian-only lanes. Awesome food and, of course, good wine lists. The area around St. Emilion is a personal fave. It's a beautiful town (see photo below left) filled with gorgeous, creamy buildings and built on top of enormous caves. There's an historic, underground church and plenty of tasting rooms and lovely, small hotels. Good macaroons, too, if you have a sweet tooth. I haven't been to Burgundy in years but I love small towns like Vezelay and Avalon. There's even a Montreal if you want to have fun with some photos. I haven't spent much time in the Loire but I love a good, crisp Sancerre white - a favourite if I remember correctly of former Star reporter Ernest Hemingway. The wines of Provence aren't as notable, but there are fabulous wines and great tasting opportunities down around the lovely town of Aix-en-Provence, which is only a short drive from the Cote d'Azur. In Aix itself, be sure to tour the former home of Cezanne, who did much of his painting in the home and in the area. It's quite a beautiful spot and there are tons of great cafes and terrific shopping opportunities in the old streets of town.
I've never been to South America but Chilean wines are exceptional. A few of the Cabernet Sauvignons at the low end have too much of a green pepper taste for my liking, but most of it is excellent and well-priced. Argentina does wonders with Malbec, also grown in the Cahors region of France, and a good Malbec goes great with a steak. They make some pretty good stuff in Uruguay and even parts of Brazil ... Further north you can get some tasty fruit from Mexico, mostly Baja California ... Back on the continent, Germany and Switzerland make very good whites and even some reasonably hefty reds . The vineyards along the Rhine and Mosel rivers are stunningly beautiful, as are the ones that cascade down the steep hills on the north side of Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman if you choose) in Switzerland… Looking for something different that’s great with food? Try a Gruner Veltliner white from Austria … Spain makes fab reds and terrific white wines. Rioja is king but you also can find good value from the Penedes and excellent sparkling wines for a quarter the price of French champagne … Israel makes some excellent red wine, as does Lebanon … Italy’s a no-brainer. My personal fave for value is Nero d’Avola, with full body that’s more to my North American taste than most Italian wines … Greece makes some lovely, crisp whites that are perfect for a seaside patio … Folks tell me Chinese wines are improving but the stuff I tried when I was last there wasn’t so great … Headed to the States? New York has great wineries in the Finger Lakes. More surprising is the quality of wine in Virginia and even Texas. Oregon and Washington you might know about, with similar grapes to B.C., but also in the up-and-coming market are places like Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado ... I've had some decent whites made on the Ile d'Orleans outside Quebec City, too ... Okay, it's not wine but Japan has won dozens of awards for its Scotch whisky. Something about the water, I guess, and the typical Japanese attention to detail. It's quite tasty.