In his preparations and quest toward becoming a Master Sommelier (he’s hoping to take the exam next spring), Advanced Sommelier Andrey Ivanov embarked on a month-long exploration of Europe’s wine regions. Get to know him in our My Stuff Q&A and then check out this special photo essay on the wineries and restaurants he scoped out in France, Spain and Italy.
Our goal on this research trip was to experience the wines and cuisines of regions both renowned and off the beaten path. We wanted to learn about these things in their proper context, alongside the winemakers and the locals. We also tried to visit regions whose wines are underrepresented in our market. Our trip began in Northwestern Spain in the beautiful region of Galicia, continued east into Rioja and Navarra, then turned north into the Basque Country.
Currently, one of my favorite places to source wine is Northern Spain. Here, the purity of fruit combined with a great acidic structure lend the wines to have a freshness and brightness not always encountered in other warmer parts of the country. The grapes may be unfamiliar, but trust me they are worth trying. With whites, look for Albariño, Godello, Garnacha Blanca, Hondarribi Zuri, Viura, and Verdejo on the label. With reds the main varietals are Mencia and Tempranillo. Small appellations (delimited wine regions) dot the map, and each one produces a style of wine different from the others. The food is absolutely amazing. Whether you are a fan of seafood, meat, veggies, even pasta, Spain has you covered. When you are visiting Spain you are in fact visiting five or six different cultures, each with a distinct language and culture. Galicia is the home of the Gallego culture, Rioja falls into the Castellano realm, and the Basque Country is a land all of its own. The Basque language has no similarities with any other language of the region, and spills into France as well. All three regions provided a great opportunity to eat and drink well and to be able to share it with our guests upon return.
Ah, France! The mecca of classic wine and culinary culture and the middle stop on our journey lived up to its reputation. We did not plan on an extended stay, but we were in the country long enough to experience the high standard that is French dining. We contrasted the remote and rural landscape of Irouléguy with the cosmopolitan historic nature of Bordeaux and got the best of both worlds. With only a few days to spare, we had to choose our destinations carefully. We chose Bordeaux because of its proximity as well as our good friends Emilie Riebel-Dombey and Pierre-Arnaud Hourquebie who were our fantastic tour guides. In the end, it was a great opportunity to taste the classics and to share in the French experience.
ITALY - PART I
It was incredibly tough to contain all of Italy in one section, so breaking it up based on Northwest and Northeast seemed best. Northwest Italy was my favorite part of the trip. It was majestic, regal, everything we expected from our studies. The region of Piedmont is home to some of the most renowned wines in the world, Barolo, Barbaresco, Gavi, the Roero… all are at the foreground of Italian winemaking. The food was fantastic as well, our dining experiences in Lucca and Treiso were some of the best of the trip. Like most parts of northern Italy, Piedmont has a neighboring country’s influence within its culture. In this case, there are definite elements of France in both the language and the cuisine of the region. In Valtellina, the influence is more Germanic, but there the wine is much lighter and crisper than its counterpart in Piedmont. Both grow Nebbiolo, but the contrast in styles is quite remarkable.
ITALY - PART II
The region that we spent the most time exploring was Northeast Italy. Between the sheer cliffs of the Alto-Adige, the rolling hills of the Collio, and the beaches of Trieste and the Carso there is something for everyone in these areas. The influence here is Germanic in the north and Slavic in the east. The cuisine and culture changes quickly and aptly as soon as one crosses from Alto-Adige into Friuli. We experienced the incredible cuisine of La Subida di Cacciatore in Cormons, my favorite meal of the trip, and also had fantastic meals in Bolzano and Carisolo. In each locale, the regionality of the cuisine was expressed and transmitted with precision and mastery. The wines of these regions could not have been any more different, but they were all extremely well made and all attract a different following. Whether you are a casual white wine fan, or love full bodied reds, or even dessert wines, Northeast Italy specializes in each style. No matter the consumer, most will find a perfect wine in the area.