For some reason, I have often felt that wines seem to taste ‘extra special’ and are accompanied by enhanced enjoyment in their land of origin. This may just be a subjective impression, but I offer some examples discovered during travel to scientific meetings or field trips:
During trips to Germany we have enjoyed several wine tours to the Rhine region organized by fellow geochemists. The wines of Nahe and Mosel are a particular example of how the terroir brings out the special qualities of Riesling. Never pass up the chance to try the spectacular range of reislings made by Hermann Dönnhoff. The many different faces of these wines, which extend from the flinty dry to the incomparable elixir that is icewine, are simply astonishing.
The wines of Tenerife (Canary Islands) are also quite remarkable, high quality drops and very unusual for their mode of viticulture. See this website for more information. Definitely worth trying are the wines from Lanzarote.
Sicily is renowned for its red wines made from Nero D’Avola. They are generally inexpensive; try those from the region around Siracusa. I cannot help myself when I see Etna Rosso on a wine list.
If you ever visit Australia, be sure to try those varieties that are unusual in Europe or North America and yet reliable features of the local wine growing areas down under. Australian wines can be of exceptional quality and there are often relatively inexpensive relatives of the top shelf ones that few can afford.
A good source of information on Australian wines can be found here: http://www.winecompanion.com.au/
Several of my long-time friends and colleagues found life after chemistry (or geology) in viticulture and in making stunning wines. They made their careers in the young and vibrant wine province in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. The region is known for its ‘cool climate’ wines with the most successful varieties being riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and pinot noir.
Andrew McEwin, a colleague from my days at Geoscience Australia, is now the proprietor of Kyeema Wines, Murrumbateman NSW, Australia and has won numerous awards for his fine reds.
Roger Harris recently retired as winemaker at Brindabella Hills Winery. The spectacular vineyard and winery are on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River and just spitting distance from ‘downtown’ Canberra. Their Canberra region Riesling, Chardonnay and the Shiraz can be outstanding and have won numerous awards for small, so-called ‘boutique vineyards’. I strongly recommend a visit if you are ever in Canberra.
Ken Helm, one of the pioneers of viniculture in the Canberra region and his wife Judith are proprietors of Helm Wines (https://www.helmwines.com.au) in Murrumbateman, NSW. Their tasting room is a heritage-listed schoolhouse from 1888. There you can find excellent and distinctive Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon wines as well as have a good yarn with the owners.
Some of our other favorites from Australia come from Tulloch Wines in the Hunter Valley, just two hours drive north of Sydney. Try their Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Private Bin Dry Red (Hunter Shiraz).
The Barossa and Clare regions of South Australia are renowned for aromatic, steely dry Rieslings. Try Henschke Julius, Pewsey Vale, Yalumba and Leo Buring wines from Eden Valley, Grosset, and Jim Barry wines from Clare.
The Coonawarra region of South Australia produces affordable, yet fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon wines. There are many great wines to be found here but some reliable old favorites are from Wynns Coonawarra Estate (especially black label, a bargain at twice the price), Katnook Estate and Majella.
All Saints, Morris and Campbells of Rutherglen produce some spectacular and unusual fortified wines, especially those from muscat and tokay.
If you ever see Tahbilk Marsanne on a wine list, try it!
Another stand out is the ‘Hermit Crab’, a blend of Viognier and Marsanne from d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale. This is a very complex, Rhone-style white wine carrying a little oak that is widely available in the US. It is also exceptional value for <$12.
Where else in the world can you find such a wonderful and diverse array of wines and wine styles in such close quarters? As a postdoc at Stanford in the early seventies our ‘go to’ drop was cabernet sauvignon from Gemello’s, a small family winery on El Camino Real in Mountain View. They are no longer in business, and the vineyards of the Santa Clara Valley are a shadow of what they once were, but these were our inexpensive introduction to the fine cabernet wines of California.
From time to time we would splash out on more expensive wines such as those from Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa. Fifty years later much has changed but you can still find fine wines at affordable cost by hunting around. Liparita cabernets from Oakville in Napa is an example. We also like the wines from Chateau Montelena for a special occasion.
When John Hayes retired from WHOI and moved to Berkeley he had the time to explore locally and develop a fondness for some of the smaller producers just north of the Bay. John introduced us to the wines of Scherrer in Sonoma (https://scherrerwinery.com ) who are renowned for Zinfandel wines from Alexander Valley. We made several visits to their property during 2015-2016 when I was again fortunate to spend a year as visiting professor at Stanford. All their products are stand-out but especially the Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines from the region.
Discovering Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
The Scherrer Pinot Noir was one eye-opener. Another was a gift from a colleague, Lily Momper, after she had made a short visit to our laboratory. That wine was a 2012 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir from the Geoganne Vineyard. We have subsequently explored all the individual vineyard Pinot Noir wines from Merry Edwards. These are not inexpensive wines but I find them irresistible. Recently purchased by French Champagne house Roederer, we hope that the wines do not change as a result.
Last, but not least, it’s worth trying the Pinot and Chardonnay wines from MacRostie in Healdsburg. These are very fine, delcate wines and all come with Stelvin caps so you will never encounter a ‘corked’ bottle.