This March, we're taking you on a tour of the Old World, with a focus on how traditional European dishes are influencing modern cuisine.
Whether you're looking for a good value or simply looking to get ahead of the curve, Europe's up-and-coming wine regions deserve your full attention. Scattered across the map from Croatia to Moldova, countries all over Europe that might not necessarily come to mind as wine hubs are producing interesting wine that you'll want to explore. Likewise, unknown regions in classic wine-producing countries like France, Spain and Italy are hitting the scene.
Here are 12 budding regions to pay attention to.
"While still emerging in U.S. markets, Croatia has been making some of the world's best wine for centuries and is the birthplace of Zinfandel. Most of the wine from the coastal regions (which is most of the wine-growing land) show ocean aspects in nose and palate, from a light salinity to a deep brininess, and even into anchovy paste." —Jack Chester of Brooklyn's Free Range Wine
"I definitely think Croatia, specifically the island of Hvar, is such a cool up-and-coming region, not only for its deep history in Zinfandel, which is having a comeback right now, but also for its indigenous grape Plavac Mali. It has all the great dark-fruit qualities of Zinfandel, but with a very pretty floral and mineral backbone." —Kelly Coughlin, general manager and beverage director of the forthcoming dual concept Smyth & The Loyalist from chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields
Lesser-Known Regions in Spain: Ribeira Sacra, Bierzo and Valdeorras in Galicia
"I have been really excited about Ribeira Sacra, Bierzo and Valdeorras in Galicia lately. The credit goes to wines of Mencia and Godello. Both of these wines really add some diversity to the flavor profiles that I can offer my guests. Mencia offers some delicate light to midbodied wines that stand in contrast to the more powerful wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. I am often asked for what red will go well with our food, and Mencia's acidity and earthiness really complement a wide variety of our dishes, especially with the prevalence of seafood and vegetables. Dominio do Bibei has two fabulous cuvées, Lalama and Lacima, that I love to drink and recommend." —Stephen McGinnis, wine director of James Beard Award winner Tory Miller's Spanish restaurant, Estrellón, and fine dining Midwestern restaurant L'Etoile
The Languedoc Region of France
"What makes the wines from Languedoc exciting is how many producers have been practicing biodynamic and organic farming, and also the indigenous varietals you can't find anywhere else. I also love seeing how other varietals (such as Syrah and Cabernet) that are more popular in other regions express themselves in the perhaps less-groomed land of the Languedoc." —Marianna Caldwell, sommelier at L.A.'s Baltaire
Savoie in France
"One of my favorite undiscovered wine regions is the Savoie in France, where you can find local grapes and distinctive wines, such as the granitic mineral freshness of Jacquère, the bright spicy character of Mondeuse and the unknown depths of the rare Persan. In addition to a collection of indigenous grapes that are rarely seen anywhere else, the dramatic scenery of growing grapes in the Alps takes the breath away . . . " —James Rollston, beverage director of Manresa
Valle d'Aosta in Northwestern Italy
"Some of the vineyards here are at such high elevation that the phylloxera epidemic never reached them, leaving vineyards with original vinifera rootstock. The native grape varietals are also just as interesting. The whites (Prie Blanc) create stunning mineral-driven whites, whereas the reds (Petit Rouge) have this wonderful volcanic minerality and slight smokiness. " —Scott McKinney, sommelier of Randolfi's in St. Louis
Franciacorta Region in Lombardy, Italy
"This region is making the most serious sparkling wine of any area that does not carry a Champagne zip code. Well-made sparkling from Franciacorta delivers great power and aromatics, and a really beautiful high tension mouthfeel. These wines sourced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco, and produced in the Champagne method, are often laid to age longer than in Champagne and develop phenomenal characteristics because of it. While I think many somms have come to love the region, it is still fairly unknown for most wine drinkers." —Greg Van Wagner, wine director of Aspen, Colorado's Jimmy's and Jimmy's Bodega
The wine blog Vine Pair says that Santorini has been making a splash outside of the Mediterranean in recent years. Assyrtiko is the Santorini's famous white wine, making up about 70 percent of the island's output. One of the most interesting things about Santorini's wine is the way the grapevines grow. Instead of the rows found in most vineyards, the vines here grow in bundles nestled closely to the ground, which protects them from the potentially damaging sea breeze. "It is this sea air, along with the soil that is rich in volcanic ash, that imparts the refreshing acidity for which the wine has become so well known," Vine Pair explains.
Naoussa in the North of Greece
Here "you can find a great red varietal called Xinomavro. The grape has the intense structure of a great Barolo or Barbaresco, but it also costs a third as much. It may be difficult to pronounce ("Zee-no-mah-vro"), but if you love Nebbiolo, it's easy to love. I was fortunate enough to tour the vineyards of Thymiopoulos, who makes more accessible young vines, as well as a more ageable cuvée called Uranos. Seeing these wines develop over a few years makes me very excited about how long of a life they have ahead of them." —Steve Morgan, wine director of Formento's in Chicago
"I think Crete is the next Greek wine region to have the spotlight. There are more and more quality wine examples that I am seeing in the past two years." — Arthur Hon, award-winning sommelier of Chicago's Sepia
"Though winemaking in Moldova dates back more than 5,000 years, Moldovan wine—and Moldova in general—has flown almost completely under the radar," according to CNN. The small, Eastern European country is producing some interesting Cabernets, Gamays and Pinot Noirs that the rest of the world is prime to discover. It may come as a surprise, but CNN notes that Moldova is "the most vineyard-dense country in the world."
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