In Need of Recognition

Wine zones that crave—and deserve—it
In Need of Recognition
Matt Kramer asks which wine region is your secret gem? (Jon Moe)
Dec 19, 2017

Praise is overrated. Really, it's recognition that matters. What's the difference? Simply put, praise comes from above. It's something bestowed, whether sincerely or condescendingly.

Recognition is bedrock. Unlike praise, which can be, and often is, given or withheld on a whim, recognition is something that neither rests nor depends upon someone's transitory judgment or estimation. Instead it's something undeniable. Unlike praise, recognition is immutable to opinion.

Unsaid but intrinsic to the very root of "recognition" is that it requires first being seen and known. This came home to me in a powerful way when I was living in Portugal. No one can dispute that until very recently Portuguese wines were largely unseen, untasted and unknown to most of the world's wine fanciers—and are still being discovered.

Yet while living there I came upon wine after wine that was at minimum worthy of attention, with the best among them being world-beaters. Yet who knew? Not me, for sure, not back then. And I knew that I was hardly alone.

Now, we can engage in finger-pointing about who's to blame for such a situation. Ultimately it's the producers' responsibility. If you don't bang your own drum, then you can hardly expect others to do it for you.

That said, various wine zones around the world have earned recognition and have at least achieved it from a local audience. Think of the astonishing obscurity to outsiders, well into the 1990s, of the indisputably great yet largely unrecognized-outside-of-their-region wines of Barolo, and especially Barbaresco, until the drum major likes of Angelo Gaja came parading into town after town.

Granted, not everyone can do that. Even Napa Valley, which toots its own horn with a virtuosity Wynton Marsalis might envy, has never replaced its native promotional genius, Robert Mondavi. Still, it's the producers' collective responsibility to make recognition happen by showing up, never mind whether they have among them an evangelical prophet comparable to a Gaja or a Mondavi.

The wine zones to follow are, in one person's opinion, deserving of our recognition. Their wines have earned it with an intrinsic quality spanning both vintages and producers. What's lacking is … well, you know what's missing. Nevertheless, recognition is rightly theirs, as their wines have repeatedly and consistently earned it. For example:

Margaret River, Australia. It's tempting for an American wine critic to suggest, only half-jokingly, that all of Australia's best wine regions—Clare Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Heathcote, Hunter Valley, Tasmania, even Barossa Valley—are unrecognized. Of course, Aussie wine lovers know all about them. But the rest of the world, especially America? Not at all. Not really.

The nomination of Margaret River, in far western Australia, a three-hour drive south of Perth, is a bit arbitrary. Any of the above-named could qualify equally as well. Unlike, with, say, Barossa Valley, Margaret River's first wines only appeared in the late 1960s. But what wines! Indisputably, some of the world's—not just Australia's—finest Chardonnays and Cabernet blends now emerge with impressive frequency from Margaret River. Recognized worldwide? I don't think so. Far from it.

Campania, Italy. Let's be frank here: Campania (the region with Naples as its biggest city) has long labored in and under a shadow because it's in southern Italy.

We all know the associations southern Italy evokes, so I won't bother enumerating them. If Campania's wines were somehow in elegant, refined, fashion-centric northern Italy, the world's many admirers of Italian wines would be worshipping Campanian wines. But they aren't doing so. Not usually. Talk about a recognition deficit.

Yet it must be recognized that Campania's best reds (the indigenous Aglianico grape) and best whites (the indigenous Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano, as well as the less frequently seen Pallagrello Bianco) often are superb, even occasionally glorious. It's been a long, hard labor of love for Campania's best producers. The wine world's recognition, not just a pat-on-the-head praise, of their modern achievement is, in my opinion, sorely lacking.

Loire Valley, France. I know, I know, I've trumpeted the vast and varied Loire Valley time and again. But taste the wines. And look at the (low) prices. And then tell me that they aren't woefully, even shamefully, unrecognized.

So I won't say anything more than this: If there's a larger trove of wines, red and white, of greater originality and accomplishment selling for lower prices anywhere in the world than from the Loire Valley, I don't know about it.

Galicia, Spain. If you asked, as a parlor game, "What color is Spain?", I'll bet you the near-unanimous answer would be "brown." This is understandable; much of Spain is pretty dry, and often, well, some shade of brown.

But Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, directly north of Portugal, is green year-round. It's relentlessly moist, even downright rainy. Wine lovers everywhere know that a cool and moderate climate translates to a tenderness and delicacy in wines.

That is precisely what Galicia's various red and white wines deliver. Among the whites you have Spain's finest Albariños, most grown in the Rías Baixas district hard by the Atlantic Ocean (which, if only by the power of suggestion, means the wines are invariably described as "briny"). Less widely planted but no less good are Godello and Loureira, among other whites.

The star of the show for reds is the Mencía grape—often interplanted with other indigenous reds such as Brancellao, Mouratón and Merenzao (aka Trousseau)—grown in the vertiginous Ribeira Sacra district. If Spain has a "Burgundy," it's Ribeira Sacra, replete with Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries.

Recognition? Ask around. How many of even your wine-hip friends know about Galicia?

Yet other places are likely contenders, but their wines, however exceptional, are still too new to claim the longevity of accomplishment required to justify “recognition” (even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requires 25 years after an artist's first recording for eligibility).

To name but two locales I would include in this not-yet-there-but-soon-will-be category pretty much all of New Zealand, as well as Canada's extraordinary Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County wine zones in Ontario.

Nominations for recognition-deprived wine zones, anyone? After all, the above-mentioned are just a few of the world's wine zones that deserve and very likely (if only privately so) crave true recognition, rather than just the ever-faster-forgotten praise of a single wine or vintage.


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