Travel the world of wine, remotely

By Casey Warrener

It might be a while until flying to favourite international destinations is possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of their top wines at home.

If your mental wanders have taken you to sun-dappled Italy, coastal California, or mountainous South Africa, you’re not alone. You might not be able to touch down at these places for a vineyard tour right now, but you can get to know their key varieties at home.

You can have as much fun with the theming as you’d like, adding food specialities and ambience alongside the wine. Or instead, choose to sit quietly, close your eyes, and sip – one of the powerful appeals of wine is its ability to transport us.

It’s important to support local, and there are recommendations for doing so below. But with events like wildfires and lockdowns hurting the international industry, it could use your help, too. And in 2020, accessing overseas wine is even easier to do, with many importers now selling directly to you.

A vineyard in Argentina, with the snowy Andes in the background Argentina and malbec

Technically, malbec originates in France, but Argentina has adopted the variety and brought it international acclaim. In this part of South America, malbec is grown in sunny vineyards that are among the highest in the world, surrounded by the dramatic, snow-capped mountains of the Andes. The resulting wines are supple and flavourful and will suit lovers of bold reds. Short of immersing yourself in the natural wonder of this altitudinous part of the world, connect to it through wine. For the full experience, pour a glass alongside flame-grilled steaks.

In the know: There are many affordable, delicious Argentinian malbecs to try, but one producer that tasting team member Ned Goodwin MW recommends is Paul Hobbs of Vina Cobos. James Halliday also shares his homegrown picks.

Looking down through the vines to a village, the river and mountains in Austria Austria and blaufrankisch

Think of Austria, and it probably conjures images of rolling alpine scenery, cool blue rivers, and pretty villages. For the most part, this country’s wine regions deliver exactly that, with tidy vines set on sloping sites amid stunning, verdant scenes. Blaufrankisch is Austria’s hero indigenous variety, a medium-bodied red with bright acidity, juicy cherry fruit flavour, and complex spice, with enough oomph for shiraz drinkers and delicacy to win pinot noir fans. It’s incredibly food-friendly, too, and can be paired with regional classics like schnitzel and roast pork, or richer fish dishes like salmon.

Beyond borders: Top producers that you will find with relative ease in Australia include Moric and Pittnauer. Locally made examples are few and far between, but one winery that champions the variety, alongside Austrian white gruner veltliner, is Hahndorf Hill.

Dense red clouds over a vineyard in the Napa Valley California and cabernet sauvignon

The relaxed vibe of sunny California is in stark contrast to the glamour of its best-known wine region, the Napa Valley. If you were looking for a luxurious wine country getaway, it’s a great one, complete with high-end hotels, famous restaurants, and grand, chateau-style wineries. Here, luscious cabernet sauvignon dominates the landscape, taking its inspiration from the classic Bordeaux style. Matching it to a burger with melty cheddar cheese or steak and chips would both be comforting options, but it’s certainly a style you could savour alone.

Wine for good: California is experiencing some of the worst wildfires in its history right now, with its regions also navigating harvest and Covid-19. Support California wine by seeking out names like Colgin, Conn Creek and Hyde de Villaine. In Australia, Bruce Dukes, the winemaker behind former Best Value Winery Domaine Naturaliste, has a background working for filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s Napa Valley winery Inglenook, which has influenced his own specialisation in cabernet.

A vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa, with mountains in the background South Africa and chenin blanc

South Africa has a wine-growing history stretching back to the 16th century and is home to regions that are varied and gorgeous. From the fluffy clouds and Jurassic-like mountains of the Cape to the lush greenery of the Elgin Valley, there are plenty of beautiful backdrops to a wine tasting. Many reds are made in South Africa’s warm climate wine regions, both blends and single-varietal styles, but if there’s one variety it’s best known for, it’s without a doubt chenin blanc. While chenin hails from the Loire Valley of France, South Africa has the lion’s share of world plantings. This bright, aromatic white comes in styles from dry and crisp to flavourful and fruity – in South Africa, it is often made similarly to chardonnay. Drink it alongside a dinner of pork chops or roast chicken.

A helping hand: The South African wine industry has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19 due to lockdown-related alcohol bans. If you can, buy direct from the source, with producers to look out for including Badenhorst and Radford Dale. Locally, South African import Remi Guise of tripe.Iscariot makes some of the best chenin blanc around.

A cypress-lined drive in Tuscany, Italy Italy and sangiovese

Italy is a muse for countless creators and a favourite destination. It’s no wonder, either, given its picture-perfect countryside, gorgeous light, charming architecture and way of life. It’s also the largest producer of wine in the world, with an enormous diversity of styles. By the numbers, sangiovese is the leader. Still, there are many other savoury, textural reds that it would be remiss not to name, such as the country’s ageworthy nebbiolo and plush nero d’Avola. They’re all worth a look, and Italian whites have plenty to offer as well. Take your pick and plan a pizza party.

An embarrassment of riches: There are so many great Italian wines to choose from, it’s impossible to name just a few – get to know the leading regions and look to your favourite wine shop for guidance. Italian varieties are on the rise in Australia, so you have plenty of options here, too. Start with these suggestions from Ned Goodwin MW.

Sign of the tourist route in Champagne with vineyards and a village in the background. France and Champagne

The influence of France on wine-producing countries around the world is plain to see, not the least in our own backyard. Of its many celebrated wines, however, few have achieved the reach of Champagne. This style is synonymous with celebration and one of the most popular on the planet. We turn to Champagne in good times and bad – in 2020, the pop of a couple of corks could be considered essential. Burgundy comes a close second in its power to excite wine lovers, but Champagne rises above for its accessibility as well as authority. Drink your fizz with salty snacks like French fries and gooey cheeses for the ultimate feel-good experience.

Old and new: Challenging conditions mean the Champagne harvest is being drastically reduced this year. But with the output forecast to be around 200 million bottles, you should be able to get your hands on your favourite style. For something different, try grower Champagnes like Andre Clouet and Agrapart, with these smaller producers emphasising site and season. At home, Tasmania is producing world-class traditional-method sparkling more than worthy of a spot in your wine fridge.

Casey Warrener is deputy editor of the Halliday magazine and digital editor of winecompanion.com.au