Touring Europe, One Wine at a Time

Eurocentric oeniphilia

— by Shelley Boettcher

The cool thing about wine isn’t just that it tastes good. It also gives you an opportunity to learn more about the world, even if you never leave your own city.

Take wines from Europe, for instance.

Most European wine-producing countries have indigenous grapes, grapes that have been grown within the country for generations, in some cases a couple thousand years or more.

Italy claims to have more indigenous grapes than any other country in the world — at least 350 according to the Italian government but some say more than 500. The most common is Sangiovese, the main grape in Italy’s famous Chianti Classic region, although it’s planted in other parts of the country, too.

France, on the other hand, is famous for many grapes, but, like much of Europe, you can’t just plant a Zinfandel vine in the middle, of, say, Champagne. There are strict rules about what can be grown and where. Chardonnay, for example, is the main white grape in Champagne and Burgundy, while Cabernet Sauvignon is primarily associated with Bordeaux.

So many grapes, so little time. Here are two wines each from France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Think of it as a European wine tour, without the need for a passport or euros. Just add a corkscrew, wine glasses and some friends for sharing.

Familia Torres 2012 Mas La Plana

(Penedes, Spain)

For generations, the Torres family has been one of the world’s most famous wine families, and Mas La Plana is one of the top wines coming out of Spain.

Interestingly, it was also one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon wines to be produced in Spain, from vines planted in 1964.

The 2012 lives up to the hype, with rich spice, cedary, plummy notes, silky tannins and an incredibly long finish. About $63.

Gerard Bertrand 2014 Terroir Corbieres

(Corbieres, Languedoc, France)

A classic Cotes du Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, this wine is actually made in France’s Languedoc region, not the Rhone, hence the fine price.

This dark-red full-bodied blend has notes of ripe raspberries, mocha and vanilla, and a medium-long finish. Pair with grilled Mediterranean-style vegetables — eggplant, red peppers, onions — and a steak.

Incidentally, there really is a Gerard Bertrand at this family-owned winery; he’s been in the vineyards since his father bought the land when young Gerard was only 10 years old. Horses are used to plough some of these vineyards because they’re so rocky, and all the grapes are hand-picked. About $19.

Veuve Clicquot Carte Jaune/Yellow Label Brut

(Champagne, France)

I can honestly admit that I love all Champagnes, yet not all Champagnes are the same. Year after year, however, the Veuve Clicquot Carte Jaune (Yellow Label, in English) is a reliably classic example of why Champagne is one of the world’s most famous wine styles.

About 50-55 per cent Pinot Noir, 28-33 per cent Chardonnay and 15 to 20 per cent Pinot Meunier, it is fresh, with notes of peach, citrus and toast.

Incidentally, Veuve Clicquot has been making the Carte Jaune — the Champagne house’s signature style — since 1772. About $55.

Bodegas Ateca, Honoro Vera 2016 Garnacha

(Calatayud, Spain)

One of the most widely planted grapes in the world, Garnacha likely originated in Spain, but it’s also very popular in France, where it’s known as Grenache.

Whether you call it Garnacha or Grenache, one thing is certain: this grape makes delicious wines. The grapes for this example come from gnarly old vines grown in poor, rocky soils 3,000 feet above sea level. From the renowned Juan Gil and Gil Family Estates, it’s juicy, smooth, medium-bodied and easy to drink. About $20.

Valdo Marca Oro Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

(Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy)

Prosecco can only be made in Italy, but, like anything, there are varying degrees of quality. Look for the letters DOCG on the label if you want some of the best. The letters mean Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, and they stand for Italian wine’s highest quality designation.

And they’re on the Marca Oro label. With a history dating back to 1926, Valdo was sold to the Bolla Family in the 1950s, and they still own it. Marca Oro has been Italy’s top-selling Prosecco for the past 15 years, and you’ll know why when you taste these fresh, fragrant bubbles. Delicate and creamy, with hints of flowers and citrus. And the grapes? Glera, by law. Serve chilled. About $20.

Barone Ricasoli, Brolio-Bettino 2013 Chianti Classico

(Tuscany, Italy)

For a wine to be legally called Chianti Classico, it has to be made within the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, and it has to be made mostly from Sangiovese grapes. Look for the little black rooster on the label; it’s the sign that you’re getting the real deal.

The late Bettino Ricasoli is credited with inventing the modern formula for Chianti wine (in 1872 — not exactly last year), and this example is a tribute to him. A fascinating Renaissance-style personality, he also founded La Nazione, now Italy’s oldest newspaper, and he was a major player in Italy’s unification, including two stints as the country’s prime minister.

But I digress. His winery still stands today, making vino such as this brilliant Chianti Classico. Elegant and age-worthy, it has layers of flavours and aromas: dried Mediterranean herbs, redcurrant, licorice, leather, and dark ripe fruits. Pair with charcuterie or maybe a good steak. About $35.

Lantides Winery 2015 Ergo

(Nemea, Greece)

This family-owned winery was started in 1993 by one Panicos Lantides, who studied winemaking and viticulture in France before returning to his homeland. Now the second generation of the Lantides family is running the winery, which makes a range of wines focused on indigenous Greek varieties such as this one. Agiorgitiko is the most widely planted red grape in Greece, and this example is delicious — spicy, plummy aromas and flavours, mild acidity and a medium finish.

Pair with a meaty lasagna made with tomato sauce, eggplant parmigiana or slow-roasted lamb with rosemary. About $25.

Lantides 5 Senses 2015 Agiorgitiko

(Nemea, Greece)

It’s time to compare two wines made from the same grape! From Lantides, the same winery that makes the other Greek wine listed here, 5 Senses is made from the same grape variety — Agiorgitiko — but it’s lighter and more fruit-forward in style than the Ergo. The 5 Senses will appeal to many white wine fans because it has soft tannins and acidity, but it’s very drinkable, with bright fruit flavours. Pair with chicken souvlaki, Greek potatoes, tzatziki and pita. Try it side by side with the Ergo, to get an idea of the versatility and quality to be found in the Greek wine industry. About $18.

Shelley Boettcher is a Calgary-based food, wine and travel writer. Follow her on Twitter @shelley_wine, on Instagram @shelleyboettcher or check out her website at