A once-weak and still-struggling economy has produced a silver lining: The rediscovery of ways to make do with less. This is especially true when it comes to the wine industry, as the widespread belt-tightening hasn’t necessarily led to a “watering down” of the quality of wine.
It’s actually been quite the opposite, with Millennials’ open-mindedness about wine, and the response by importers, distributors and restaurateurs has fueled interest in the obscure, the overlooked and the forgotten – factors that don’t artificially inflate prices. Turns out, there has been an explosion of rediscovery: areas that have produced wine since ancient times are thriving again.
Although overshadowed by connoisseurs’ and marketers’ penchant for promoting wine’s safe harbors (read: Burgundy, Napa, etc.), a “renaissance” is taking place in the Mediterranean region. Of course, the winemakers there have been doing the same thing for many centuries. Sustainable? Been there, done that… and still doing it. Biodynamic? Uh… of course!!
Venturing eastward from Portugal to the Middle East, one can picture a vast archipelago of wineries. These sun-splashed tracts are turning out the best recipe for value-oriented wine drinkers: ancient precepts fused with modern sensibilities.
“All across the Old World, wines are being produced that are more suitable for international markets,” says Arthur Hon of Sepia in the West Loop. “People are really enjoying the wines being offered [from these places.]”
It’s safe to say that people will probably continue to enjoy these wines as long as they don’t have to contend with a producer’s temptation to raise the price due to a surge in demand. Malbec is incredibly popular, but prices have generally remained reasonable – partly due to robust grape yields.
The feeling here is that one of the Mediterranean regions or varietals is positioned to thrive in this value-driven marketplace. Below is a half case of wines from areas where olive trees and grape vines grow side by side. For now, they remain sleepers… but for how long?
Gazela Vinho Verde: A Portuguese white varietal that’s been incredibly popular at Nacional 27, Vinho Verde works really well with ceviche. But it’s also a wonderful wine to crack open on a hot day and enjoy with a cool, crunchy salad or by itself for its crisp, refreshing acidity. $10.
Cusumano IGT Benuara: A Sicilian beauty that’s a blend of the native and lush Nero d’Avola and the more top-of-mind Syrah. The finished product is a memorable combination of floral aroma and juicy black fruit on the palate – with the Syrah adding a spicy note. There is much structure, but it’s not austere or overbearing; the oak comes across with subtlety at the very end. $13.
I Clivi Friulano: A northern-Italian white made mostly from the Tocai Friulano grape that’s fairly straightforward, fruit-driven and mean to be consumed right away. But there’s some nice complexity to the wine: rich tropical fruit, and a nice, long finish with a bit of almond. Great for a salad topped with shrimp and citrus vinaigrette. $13.
Tormaresca Neprica: This intensely flavored wine (a blend of mostly Negroamaro and Primitivo) from Puglia is intense and fruit-forward. Ripe cherry is the most pronounced fruit flavor, but there’s also a bit of black plum. Though this is a trite pairing, it’s so true: Serve it with hearty pasta Bolognese, or any meat dishes accented with Pancetta or rustic herbs. $11.
Skouras Nemea: A soft and supple Greek red, its aroma is of rose petals, with pronounced black cherry and currant flavors. The darker fruit here would be suit well-seasoned chicken – cooked indirectly, beer-can style. The dark meat would be an especially good match, so drumsticks dredged in rosemary, garlic and olive oil – slowly grilled – is also an option. $15.
Massaya Classic: Continuing eastward – specifically to Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – this wine is driven by the Cinsault grape. Despite the exile to the edge of the Fertile Crescent, the grape brings its characteristic spice and muscle. Tight and almost chewy when first opened, the Massaya is meant for the decanter. Waiting a mere half hour makes it truly “jewel of the Mediterranean.” $11.