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Old Europe’s New Wines

Three under-the-radar wine regions are making news with quality wines at affordable prices

Fine Cooking Issue 95
Photos: Scott Phillips
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The vineyards of Bordeaux and Tuscany may have the prestige that comes from tradition and a track record for making world-class wines, but a handful of other regions once known for churning out cheap, mediocre wines have emerged in recent years as the new guard of European winemaking. France’s Languedoc, Spain’s Murcia, and Sicily are now producing stylish, modern wines of excellent quality.

Their success is due in part to unique (often indigenous) grapes that translate into appealing and sometimes unusual wines. But most important, these regions have benefited from a new generation of passionate and skilled winemakers focused on crafting distinctive, high-quality wines that also manage to be affordable, unburdened as they are by prestige and pedigree.

Discover these wines for yourself with this buying guide, which will help you navigate the names, grapes, and vintages.

Murcia

Though not yet a household name, Murcia is destined to join Rioja as one of Spain’s outstanding wine regions. Vineyards in Murcia, a region in southeast Spain, are planted in warm, arid valleys on mineral-rich limestone soils, which give the wines a pronounced chalky minerality. Reds from the Murcia’s appellations of Jumilla, Yecla, and Bullas are supple and modern, with an emphasis on plummy fruit, stony minerality, and delightfully balanced tannins. Also worth noting are the region’s vibrant rosés with their distinctive spice and herbal qualities.

Buying Guide

Reds

Murcia reds are made predominantly from the Monastrell grape (Mourvèdre in France) and tend to be rich and savory, with flavors of dark cherry, plum, and freshly ground black pepper. They range in style from light and fruity to full bodied, spicy, and concentrated.

  • Spicy and full bodied
    2005 Domaine Fincas Omblancas Denuño Monastrell, Jumilla, $20
  • Bright and fruity
    2006 Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell, Jumilla, $12

Rosés

Rosés from the Monastrell grape are some of most exotic and spicy pinks, with notes of tart cranberry and sour cherry, pepper, and dried herbs.

  • 2007 Casa de la Ermita Monastrell Rosado, Jumilla, $14

Languedoc

The Languedoc, in the southwest of France, is a vast region that for decades has turned out a lake of forgettable plonk. But in the last few years, things have changed dramatically. Local winemakers are now producing an impressive variety of outstanding wines, from spicy, earthy, full-bodied reds to crisp, steely whites and vibrant rosés.

Buying Guide

Reds

Languedoc reds are either single-variety bottlings of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah or different blends of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. They range in style from light Beaujolais-like wines to full-bodied, earthy, tannic reds with distinct notes of black fruit, pepper, and wood.

  • Rich and full bodied
    2005 Domaine de l’Hortus Coteaux du Languedoc, Pic Saint Loup, Grande Cuvée, $24
    (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre blend)
  • Light and fruity
    2006 Château d’Oupia, Minervois, $14
    (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache blend)

Rosés

Languedoc rosés, also made with Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre, are quintessential Mediterranean pinks, with tart red cherry and raspberry fruit and hints of orange, herbs, and mineral.

  • 2007 Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue, Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé, $12

Whites

Languedoc whites are usually blends of local grapes, such as Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, and Clairette. But they can also be single varietal wines from favorite grapes like Chardonnay. Styles range from light, crisp unoaked wines to rich, full-bodied whites with plenty of new oak.

  • Rich and full bodied
    2007 Novellum Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc, $10
  • Light and crisp
    2006 Mas Carlot Clairette de Bellegarde, $14

Sicily

Tuscany may be one of Italy’s most historic and prestigious wine regions, but wine has been made on the southern Italian island of Sicily for just as long. Until recently, however, Sicily was largely known for two wines: the often-maligned sweet, fortifi ed Marsala and the inexpensive mass-produced wines of the huge Corvo cooperative. But that’s changed in the last few years with the rise of small boutique wineries that are making the most of the island’s mineral-rich soils, hot Mediterranean climate, and some of Europe’s most brilliant indigenous grape varieties.

Buying Guide

Reds

Nero d’Avola has long been a mainstay of Sicilian reds, but only recently has it begun to claim its place as one of Italy’s most important grapes. It’s either bottled as a 100% varietal or blended with other grapes like Frappato. Both offer flavors of ripe plum and cherry with notes of dried herbs and earth.

  • Floral and fruity
    2006 Donnafugata Sedàra, $15
    (100% Nero d’Avola)
  • Spicy and aromatic
    2005 Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria, $22
    (70% Nero d’Avola, 30% Frappato)

Whites

Grillo and Catarratto grapes have been used to make fortified Marsala for more than two centuries, but now they produce modern, vibrant dry whites with youthful citrus and crisp acidity. Bright tropical fruits with citrus and mineral notes set the Inzolia grape apart.

  • Crisp and citrusy
    2007 Arancio Grillo, IGT, Sicily, $9
  • Lush and floral
    2007 Fazio Catarratto, IGT, $15
  • Mineral and zesty
    2007 Valle dell’Acate Inzolia, IGT, Sicily, $12

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