Here at Verve Wine, we believe that discovering great wine is half of the fun (followed by drinking it, of course). Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that many of our favorite finds have one thing in common: they come from rugged, off-the-beaten path regions. As much as we love the classics, these hidden gems are what continue to widen our eyes and keep our palates salivating for more. This week, we’re letting you in on five ‘rugged regions’ that continue to capture our attention. Get your glasses ready.
Although formerly regarded as the unofficial capital for mass-produced swill and animal-heavy wine labels, Australia is seeing a renaissance like never before. Responsible growers and meticulous winemakers have transformed the continent into a hotbed for delicious wine. Today, Australia is the sixth largest wine-producing country in the world and is home to a massive diversity of microclimates, growing regions (65 to be exact), and winemaking styles.
Take our friends Richard Betts and Carla Rza Betts, for example. Sucette, their old vine varietal Grenache, blows our minds every time we drink it. Fruit comes from massive head-trained, own-rooted, and dry-farmed vines rooted in sandy soils, which is then partially whole-cluster fermented in open top fermenters. The wine is high-toned, aromatic, and loaded with flavors of cranberries, cherries, cedar, and white pepper. Barossa is home to some of the world’s oldest ungrafted vines in the world, thanks to its isolation and sandy soils, which has caused it to be spared from deadly phylloxera outbreaks.
📸 : Micro Wines
Another exciting project to check out is Micro Wines, founded by our friend Jonathan Ross MS. After moving to Melbourne and getting acquainted with the vineyard sites of the Land Down Under, Jonathan created this micro-négoce just a few years later. His biodynamically-farmed Cinsault comes from Barossa’s ‘Vine Vale’ and is loaded with flavors of crunchy red fruits, hibiscus flowers, and rose hips. For something with a bit more oomph, snag a bottle of his juicy, semi-carbonically macerated Shiraz – better yet, grab one of each and do a side-by-side. If you can’t get enough of Beaujolais or chillable Loire Valley reds, these bottles are for you.
If top-notch Pinot and Chardonnay is what you’re after, look no further than By Farr. Father-son duo Gary and Nick Farr’s single-vineyard Pinots and Chardonnays are some of our favorite New World expressions of these grapes. Their latest releases, Irrewarra, are the perfect examples of Old World inspiration meets New World fruit. Stemmy Pinot and acid-driven Chardonnay? Count us in.
Sicily’s rugged terrain is characterized by jagged cliffsides, salty seascapes, and rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. The island’s sun-drenched days and coastal breezes (which create optimal ventilation) allow for much of the island’s grape growing to be done organically.
In Vittoria, we can’t get enough of what Arianna Occhipinti is doing. Her single-vineyard Frappatos are giving more popular Old World varieties a run for their money. These earth-driven, seriously drinkable wines are loaded with ashy flavors of red fruit, flower petals, tobacco, and smoke. For a solid intro into the wines of the Terre Siciliane, pop one of her SP68 or IGT bottles. For a deeper dive into the vineyard differences amongst her mineral-laden vineyard sites, look no further than her new line of ‘Contrada’ cuvées.
Etna, the island’s very first DOC, is another region we keep returning to. Here, the area’s eponymous volcano continues to regularly billow smoke, and the area’s dark and mineral-rich soils are perfect for fostering healthy grapes. Some of our favorite producers at the moment are Benanti, I Vigneri, and Girolamo Russo, the latter of whom has become one of the island’s rising stars. (Disclaimer: His Etna Rosato promises to give rosé skeptics a run for their money – this savory juice is honestly a game-changer.)
In the world of Spanish viticulture, it doesn’t get more rugged than the Canary Islands. This smoky, sea-influenced region is made up of a group of islands located just 70 miles off of the West Coast of Morocco. Here, craggy cliff sides and salty coastlines create out-of-this-world backdrops for growing grapes. Call it moon-like, call it magic, call it whatever you want, though one thing’s for sure: this place is as off the beaten path as it gets.
In theory, the islands’ tropical conditions should make it impossible for viticulture to flourish here. However, cooling sea breezes and high altitudes (we’re talking 3,000+ feet at times) make it surprisingly possible. Mineral-rich soils and salt-laden air add another another dimension to the island’s one-of-a-kind wines. Our go-to picks at the moment are Envinate and Patricia Perdomo. These producers farm responsibly, focus on indigenous varieties (Listan Blanco, Listan Negro, Tintilla, and beyond), and use a light hand in the cellar.
Patricia’s juicy field blend is one the newer Spanish reds on our shelves and we can’t stop drinking it. Notes of cherries, smoke, and volcanic rock dominate the wine’s co-fermented palate. On the opposite end of the tasting spectrum, Envinate’s partially skin-fermented ‘Benje’ Blanco is textured, balanced, and illustrates exactly what we look for in ‘orange’ wine. For natural juice like no other, these bottles are just the ticket.
Unlike the sea-influenced regions of the Canaries and Sicily, Austria’s Wachau region is rugged in a completely different way. Here, terraced vines grow on staggering hillsides along the Danube River, where they benefit from sun-drenched days and south-facing slopes. Although peppery Gruner Veltliner is the region’s claim to fame, the area’s crisp and steely Rieslings are also making a name for themselves. (For comparison’s sake, Wachau Rieslings tend to be riper and richer than their Mosel-based counterparts.)
Two of our longstanding producer go-tos are Prager and Weingut Alzinger. Prager mostly focuses on Smaragd level Rieslings and Gruners that have something to offer every budget and palate preference – when we say this is a crowdpleasing producer, we mean it. For a deeper dive into single-vineyard Austrian wines that really focus on the soils from which they come, Alzinger’s acid-driven cuvées are where it’s at. These zesty and refreshing wines are ideal for serving with a variety of foods on the table. When we know that fried meats, sushi, or Asian takeout is on the menu, these are exactly what we’re popping.
It’s no surprise that the Jura has absolutely exploded in popularity over the last few years. This mythical region is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes, brilliant producers, and radical winemaking in all of France. This trifecta creates the optimal conditions for delicious wine - and the proof is in the juice.
Although small, the Jura is rugged, rich, and undeniably fierce. This tiny mountainous region lies nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, and its vineyards are highly influenced by the ebbing peaks and valleys of the Jura Mountains. Here, Jurassic limestone and marlstone dominate the region's vineyards and are said to have developed between 145 and 200 million years ago. Similar to Burgundy, the Jura experiences warm, dry summers and chilly winters, though the extremes of these seasons are more prominently felt in the peaks of the zone’s high-elevation areas. (South-facing, sunny slopes are key to achieving fully ripened fruit in these places).
Although there are plenty of producers to be discovered, we find ourselves consistently returning to Domaine du Pélican. This project is the brainchild of Guillaume d’Angerville, one of our favorite Burgundian vignerons. His Savagnin Ouillé (non-oxidative) shows the fresh, fruit-driven side of white wines from this region, while his ‘Trois Cépages’ and varietal Poulsard and Trousseau cuvées are the perfect examples of easy-drinking yet serious juice. For an unforgettable side-by-side tasting, snag one his Jurassien Pinots and pop it alongside one of his Burgundian cuvées.
For natural wine lovers looking for the best of the best, Ganevat is where it’s at. Jean-Francois and Anne are OG pioneers of this radical style of winemaking and their bottles always promise to spark some interesting discussion. Some of our recent favorite finds have been JF and Anne’s VdF bottles produced with Burgundian fruit (‘La Jaja du Fred’ Pinot and ‘Les Grandes Teppes’ VV Chardonnay are two of our current obsessions). For a survey of France’s many unique terroirs, snag a bottle of ‘Kopin.’ This fun, refreshing juice is produced from a blend of Burgundian Chardonnay, Jurassien Savagnin, and Alsatian Riesling – though make no mistake, the signature Ganevat touch is all over this juice.