Perhaps more than any other product that is consumed by humans, a case could be made that wine truly is a beverage of a place.
“Of a place.” What is meant by that simple three-word phrase?
As wine people, we tend to “collect” appellations, names, places and geographical features from different areas where wine is produced. All of the geographical factors — soils, annual rainfall, average air temperature, etc. — combined with the individual “stamp” of the winemaker, contribute to the final product found in the bottle.
And through history, particularly in Europe, there has been a “merger” between place names and wine names.
In France, for instance, wines typically are referred to by their place of origin. We don’t drink French Pinot Noir or Chardonnay; we drink red Burgundy or white Burgundy. We don’t drink French Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot; we drink Bordeaux. We don’t drink French sparkling wine; we drink Champagne.
Or think about the most famous wine of Italy. Chianti is both a place name and a wine.
But even in places where the wine name and the region do not converge, every wine crafted there is a wine of that place. And through the generations, grape growers and winemakers have learned to match specific varieties with specific microclimates.
We know that certain varieties fare best in warmer climates (think: Zinfandel in California’s warm Central Valley), while others show best in cooler climes (think: Chardonnay along the Sonoma Coast).
When traveling and trying to immerse ourselves in another culture, food serves as a key contributor to our quest. “When in Rome…” as the old saying goes.
We can enjoy a fully immersive experience if we also seek out the wines of the area — the wines of “that place.” In almost every case, you’ll find that the wines and the food of a given region are extremely complementary, making for some truly memorable meals.
So no matter where you may find yourself — from Burgundy in France to Bennett Valley in Sonoma County, or from Chianti in Italy to Calistoga in Napa Valley — seek out the wines grown and crafted in that area.
Drinking “wines of a place” will provide you with a greater sense of what that place and what the people of that place are all about.