When giving someone wine for a gift, you should try to consider their taste. Drinking something you enjoy is most important! If you don’t know what they like, a safe bet is to buy a big name brand which is generally crowd pleasing. California Cabernets and recognizable Champagnes are the go to and it can show people how much you spent. But boy are they boring.
Wine is made in every corner of the world (every state produces wine!). Certain regions have gained reputations for producing a certain style of wine - so you probably won’t ever see a big, full bodied Cabernet being produced in Burgundy. But, on the other hand, in some places those boundaries are starting to break down - so you will find a light, pretty Trousseau growing in Napa Valley. Some of these unexpected wines from unexpected places offer great value. Plus, if you go off the beaten path, there’s always a story to be told - and that’s part of the fun.
One of the most popular wines in the shop this season is a wine from Corsica. Corsica is a little island off the coast of Tuscany. Corsica is part of France, but has gone back and forth between French and Italian rule throughout history. Unsurprisingly, they grow similar grapes to the ones in Tuscany - namely, Sangiovese (Although in Corsica it’s called “Nielluccio”). This is the same grape that’s used in Chianti. Thomas Santamaria makes wine in Patrimonio, on the peninsula that juts out from the north of Corsica. The town is famous for winemaking, and Thomas is the sixth generation Santamaria to make wine. His 2020 ‘La Boutanche’ ($23) comes in a liter bottle but it probably won’t be enough.
The second wine I ever fell in love with was from Sicily. My grandpa was from Sicily and I always wanted to go. But when I learned about people growing grapes on the active volcano - Mt. Etna - I was all in. There’s a retired race car driver, Andrea Franchetti, who moved there in the early 2000’s, when vineyards were still sparse. Thanks to him and others who have filled the north side of Mt. Etna with vineyards, the wine world has also taken a liking to the indigenous grape - Nerello Mascalese. Nerello Mascalese is similar to Nebbiolo, the grape for Barolo and Barbaresco. It has lots of acidity, lots of tannin, and tons of pretty red fruit aromas. In addition to the mineral qualities you usually find in white wines, there’s often something smoky about the Nerello’s from Mt. Etna. Andrea’s 2018 Passopisciaro ($22) is a red wine that can open people’s eyes to the quality you can find if you’re willing to go outside the box.
Spain has vastly different wine growing regions throughout the country. Some of the most extreme examples come from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and from Galicia in the northeast corner of Spain, just above Portugal. Here, in “Green” Spain the climate is a little cooler from the influence of the Atlantic ocean. This, compounded with the fact that most of the vineyards here are planted on the mountains at high elevations, makes for a very different grape growing area compared to most of Spain which is all sunshine. The red grape that thrives here is Mencia. It has similarities to an Oregon Pinot Noir - medium in body, low in tannin, with a mix of red and dark fruit flavors. But Mencia usually has a black pepper note to it as well. Laura Lorenzo is a one woman show in Galicia who makes some of the best Mencia based wines in the area. She makes a range of wines, but her 2019 ‘Azos da Vila’ ($30) might be the best. These grapes come from a field blend close to her house, meaning there are other local grape varieties included which all get fermented together. It makes for a more interesting wine that can still win everyone over.
From the Czech Republic to Maine, there are quality wines made almost everywhere. We love to share their stories but we also think the wines tell a story on their own. You don’t have to pay a premium for the place or for the brand name on that bottle - because it certainly is not a mark of quality. So if you usually get your favorite uncle a bottle of Chianti - try some Corsican Nielluccio!