The Five Most Ass-Kicking Wine Regions: 2012 Edition

By Joe Roberts

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The Five Most Ass-Kicking Wine Regions: 2012 Edition:

Traveling the world on other people’s dimes visiting beautiful vineyards and tasting wine doesn’t sound like a bad life. And it isn’t, once you subtract near-endless hours of butt-numbing, cattle-class plane travel and Great Lakes quantities of bad wines that have to be imbibed before getting to the good stuff.

But those stunning vineyard views and drinking the good stuff do, in the end, make it all worthwhile. Most importantly, they give you a perspective on who in the wine world is really getting it right, right now; who is producing wine that is kicking ass, taking names and forcing you to gladly pay a dollar to mow its lawn and tell it how awesome it is.

In that spirit, we present a list of the world’s wine areas that are producing wines that are so good, and deliver so much cachet and value, that they’re stomping more wine ass than a WWE cage match. Here is the 2012 Edition of the Five Most Ass-Kicking Wine Regions!

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Champagne makes the list because it will probably always make the list. Bad vintages? No problemo — house styles are blends of multiple vintages anyway. Cachet factor and overall quality? Off the charts. Other sparkling regions like Spain’s Cava might challenge it in the value department, but nobody delivers the combination of apples, flowers and croissant-in-a-glass yeastiness like Champagne. Just the name gets wine geeks drooling, loosens neckties and moistens panties just a little bit. And the most exciting thing going on in Champagne now? It’s not the expensive big-boy producers but the Grower Champagne scene, where boutique producers are keeping some of their own fruit and making limited-production offerings of great bubbly, inspiring the creation of grower-only shops like FatCork.com. You can bet against Champagne if you want, but it’s a fool’s bet.

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The wine area made famous by Sideways does, in fact, make fucking Merlot. And Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and just about any other fine wine grape variety you can imagine. The ass-kicking thing is that S.B. can do it all well. There is very little climatic variation in S.B., so vintages are fairly predictable in the region, and this beautiful area has the right combo of coolness and sunshine to allow it to produce grapes that balance crisp acidity with fruity ripeness. It’s a best-of-both-worlds kind of scenario that produces well-balanced grapes, which means that the winemakers have to do less in the winery, which ultimately means fewer opportunities to fuck up what Mama Nature’s bounty has provided. It doesn’t have the cachet of Napa Valley, but that just means prices for the best stuff in Santa Barbara are still within fiscal reach of us 99 percenters.

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Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Verduzzo…even if you don’t know what they are, the grape names just sound romantic. But Friuli is worth getting to know apart from the sexy-sounding Italian accent, because it’s making some of the best and most reasonably priced white wines in the world right now. Along with those grapes with the Italian accents, international varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are being grown there and blending in with great success with the locals. Even Pinot Grigio — the flabby, overripe melon–filled banal bane of white wine lovers everywhere — takes on a magical air in Friuli, producing wines with aromas of crisp apples and flavors of tropical fruit and offering so much refreshment you’ll think it was all bathed in mineral water.

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Wait a minute, isn’t Australia where they make all that viscous, sweet, fruit-bomb Shiraz crap? Yes, it is, but while southeastern Australia was blending fruit from a huge continental area into soda pop plonk, Barossa quietly chugged along making Shiraz from some of the oldest continually producing vines on the planet and now offers great quality, from simple and tasty lower-priced wines all the way up to the most expensive, exclusive, amazing and sought-after Shiraz wines in the world. You can still find bargains here, and they’ve rebelled against the ocean of Aussie Shiraz plonk by producing some of their best wines in decades across nearly every price point you an imagine. Result: vinous ass-kickery. Act fast before the rest of the wine world catches on and prices go up again…

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Sonoma wine appellation boundaries probably have more to do with politics than with geography and climate, but generally speaking the further you get out to the coast and the closer you get to a wine made from a single vineyard in the Sonoma Coast area, the happier you will be if you love the fruitiness and sexiness of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but have had it with the flabby, high-alcohol versions. You’ll pay more for the best stuff, as is true almost anyplace in the wine world, but what you’ll find are the best examples of Pinot Noir that you can get for the money almost anywhere on the globe. The most ass-kicking part: there’s been a hand-off of sorts between the vintners who first put the area on the quality wine map to their younger protégés, who are enthusiastic, talented and starting to crank out wines that are at once bombshell-in-lingerie sultry and queen-in-an-evening-dress sophisticated. And that’s a combo that’s hard for any red-blooded wine maven to turn down.

About the Author:

Want to learn more about maximizing your wine pleasure? Visit Joe Roberts’ award-winning website *1WineDude.com*, where you can find him regularly roasting wine’s sacred cow (and pairing it with robust, obscure red). Joe is a certified wine geek and has been called “an original” by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, “provocative” by the Seattle Times and “a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings” by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, Mutineer Magazine, Publix, Palate Press, Mint.com and Wines.com.


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