Bordeaux. Nebbiolo. Ribera. They're wine's elite, but increased demands from emerging markets have put them out of the range of day drinkers. Investors have even begun trading futures on wines, and a black market of knockoffs has emerged. Your best bet? Look away from the expensive labels.
But don't trust us: “Bottles from estates in Napa or Burgundy are simply too expensive,” says Dustin Wilson. The wine director at Eleven Madison Park and star of the documentary Somm, Wilson has one of world's most discerning palates and is fixated not on old world varietals but the new crop of bootstrap wineries making their way to the less explored regions of the world. From the backwaters of France to the beaches of Santa Barbara, the young bottlers are combating the houses of Margaux and Lafite and giving the aristocratic labels a run for their money.
“These people have trained at the world’s foremost estates, and are bringing all that knowledge to unexplored regions,” says Wilson. Their products can be enjoyed by less experienced palates and don't require the same, stringent aging process. (A French grape that’s been replanted in California, for example, will generate a fuller-bodied, more alcoholic wine than it would in its native terroir.)
To celebrate the new world of wine, Wilson selected five bottles from his favorite young upstarts.
1. Clos Signador, France
Some of you may know Corsica as the birthplace of Napoleon. But to an educated somm, this tiny island between Italy and France is the trendiest wine region since ancient Rome. Their Nielluccio varietal is robust and tannic. Try a bottle if you like Brunellos, but aren’t willing to sacrifice your savings account.
Dustin’s take: “Think of this as the Corsican version of Sangiovese [a tannic, acidic red wine]. Enjoy it with a dense, red meat -- like lamb or game.”
2. Graham Tatomer, USA
In 2003, California native Graham Tatomer traveled to Austria, where he would study the famed Grüner Veltliner grape. This dry, white wine is almost never produced outside Austrian borders, but Tatomer’s Santa Barbara winery has put it on the American map. He makes Rieslings, too, but is at the top of his game with Grüner Veltliners. (Try saying that seven times fast).
Dustin’s take: “I love both of Tatomer’s varietals, but his Grüner Veltliner is an exotic alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc. Order it with a dish that’s light and bright, such as shellfish or vegetables.”
3. Jamsheed, Australia
This Australian winery is named for the Persian king who – rumor has it -- invented wine. Trained by some of the best producers in California and Oregon, Jamsheed is singularly focused on Syrahs. Syrah is known to be Cabernet Sauvignon’s darker brother, with hints of fruit and an oaky finish. And while Jamsheed’s version may already be celebrated across the Australian continent, it’s only just starting to make waves stateside.
Dustin’s take: “Any of Jamsheed’s Syrahs are delicious. They’re peppery, smoky, savory and salty -- perfect for red meat or stew that’s braised and earthy.”
4. Maxime Magnon, France
Originally from Burgundy, this 30-something winemaker was born with the rights to a famed domaine of his own. Magnon decided instead to chomp down on a piece of the lesser-known Roussillon region, where he produces some of the world’s most interesting Corbieres. Long viewed as the uncomplicated wine of the plebian masses, Corbieres reds have recently risen to power. Their wines are easygoing, fruity and juicy – and they’ve snapping up every prize in the book.
Dustin’s take: “These reds are juicy, spicy and peppery. Super delicious. Pair them with meat -- anything from chicken to steak.”
5. Lieu Dit, USA
Inspired by the great wines of France, Lieu Dit was created when two California friends started importing grapes from the Loire Valley region. Their Santa Barbara winery specializes in several grape varietals, including Chenin Blanc (a high-acidity white wine) and Cabernet Franc (a light, almost feminine cabernet).
Dustin’s take: “Their Melon de Bourgogne is like a domestic Muscadet… a white wine that is light, zesty and just delicious. You must try it with oysters or shellfish.”