Fine Living: Undiscovered Wine Regions

When you think about the world’s best wine regions, some obvious names come to mind, such as Alsace-Lorraine, the Loire Valley and Tuscany. And there’s no doubt about the quality of the elixirs from these wine regions, but to continually seek out these regions does no justice to some of the lesser-known wine producers out there. Did you know, for example, that Romania is one of the largest wine-producing regions in the world?

There’s more to wine than what the best have to offer, and it’s worth the time investment to consider the five lesser-known gems listed here. They might elude you during a casual wine run, but they’re well worth the extra effort.

1- Romania
Wine region: Murfatlar

You might not have known it, but in 2005 Romania was the 12th-largest wine-producer by volume and the Murfatlar region, located on the Black Sea, is the country’s finest.

Wine-making in Romania, as is the case in many Eastern European countries, dates back centuries. Quite a number of local grape varieties, such as Zghihara de Husi, Cramposia de Dragasani and Galbena de Odobesti, dominated Romania’s wine region until the 18th century, when they were replaced by more common Western European grapes. Today, these Western grapes form the backbone of Romania’s wine production.

One of Romania’s chief advantages in wine production is its climate, which is perfect for growing grapes: It’s fairly mild, with good sun exposure, rainfall and excellent soil.

Best varietals:
If you’re on the lookout for Romanian wines from the Murfatlar wine region, seek out Murfatlar Vineyard's Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. All are excellent.

Romania’s Transylvania wine region is also a major wine exporter. For obvious reasons, sales of these wines -- especially the Vampire Vineyards stock -- tend to soar in October. The winery’s wines came to be appreciated as more serious bottles in Europe and North America after 1995. Be on the lookout for the Vampire Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

2- Israel
Wine region: Galilee

Despite the relatively small volume of wine that Israel produces annually (it was the 52nd-largest wine-producing country in 2005), it produces some very good wines.

The Galilee area, located in the North District of Israel, is Israel’s best wine-producing region, characterized by high altitudes, cool breezes and very good, well-drained soil.

Galilee’s main wine-producing subregion and main wine producer is the Golan Heights Winery, which has become the benchmark for Israel’s wine industry. Golan is the only winery in the world to have won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo for three years in a row, and it is credited with having revolutionized the Israeli wine-making industry through the introduction of modern techniques and equipment.

Best varietals:
Golan Heights Winery features three top labels: Yarden, Gamla and Golan. The Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 comes especially highly recommended. It’s full-bodied, and has a good balance of tannins and fruits with notes of plum, wild berry and currant.

3- Cyprus
Wine region: Commandaria

Cyprus isn’t among the largest wine producers in the world (it ranked 37th in wine production by volume in 2005), but wine from the Commandaria region has been considered to be among the world’s best since the 12th century.

During his crusades, King Richard the Lionheart of England was said to have tasted the Commandaria wine and called it “the wine of kings and the King of wines.”

In fact, production of this Cypriot wine is said to date back to the time of the ancient Greeks and its ancestor wines can be traced back to 800 B.C. It is the world’s oldest-named wine still in production today.

Long Island isn’t just known for iced tea anymore…

Today’s Commandaria wine is made with two types of grapes, Xynisteri and Mavro, which are indigenous to Cyprus. These grapes remain on the vine until they are overripe, which gives the sugar a chance to reach high levels. Afterward, the grapes are left in the sun, where their flavor concentrates and the juice is extracted. The result is a highly complex, rich wine that is similar in some respects to an ice wine or a dessert wine.

By law, Commandaria must be produced in specific Cyprus regions and it holds a “protected designation of origin” that is recognized by the European Union, the U.S. and Canada.

Best varietals:
Seek out the Commandaria winery for the best Commandaria wines in Cyprus.

4- India
Wine region: Nashik

The idea of a wine capital in India doesn’t exactly conjure up images of traditional production methods or quality vintages, but don’t be too quick to dismiss India’s Nashik region. Nashik takes full advantage of a relatively short growing season to produce some fine undiscovered wines.

India's largest wine-producing region is located in the Maharashtra state, 120 miles east of Mumbai. The region is also very scenic, featuring temples, lakes and waterfalls. The state government has recently begun aggressively promoting wine development in the region, so expect to hear more about Nashik in the near future.

Best varietals:
Expect to find some top-quality Shiraz, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blancs coming out of Nashik.

The Sula winery was the first in the region and remains one of the best. It produces a magical Chenin Blanc with a hint of residual sugar that pairs well with hot Indian curries. Sula’s Sauvignon Blanc is also impressive with a bright acidity and nice citrus flavors.

5- New York
Wine region: Long Island

New Yorkers have known for years that their backyard is home to one of the best undiscovered wine regions in the world, and that secret is slowly starting to leak out.

Long Island’s East End is characterized by a maritime climate that is fairly moderate by American Northeast standards. The grapes, therefore, generally tend to survive better there than they do in other parts of the state.

The results of this region are Long Island wines that are taking away top reviews, especially for the red Bordeaux varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Best varietals:
The Hamptons’ Wolffer Estate Selection Merlot 2002 is known as one of the best. It’s a medium- to full-bodied wine, with a dark claret color and subtle aromas of tobacco, cedar, blackberry, and vanilla and notes of lush fruit such as dates and plums.

Underground wines

These five little-known wine-producing regions prove that the best wines need not come from France and Italy. Regions like Long Island and Galilee are putting out bottles that are standing tall with the best that the old guard has to offer and, in some cases, they’ve actually surpassed the expectations of the best producers.

The lesson here is that it pays to keep your eyes open and to be informed about some excellent but lesser-known wine producing regions out there. Your palate will thank you.



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