For the lucky among us, there really is no place like home. So, why do we love to travel? I don’t need to go half way around the world to fully appreciate my own place. But even after three decades in this job, I’m still endless fascinated by travel. And so are many of my friends in the wine trade.
Stephanie Johnson, our editor for Italian wines, had never been to Carso, the northeastern sliver of Italy, before two years ago, but she’d been tempted, first by a Vodopivec Vitovska—“It was totally different from any white wine I’d tried; and I had to look up the variety—I’d never heard of it.” Then she tasted Sandi Skerk’s 2014 Ograde, which included vitovska with malvasia, sauvignon and pinot grigio. “It’s the fi rst Carso wine that blew my mind,” she recalls. “I immediately bought a case.” She’s now been to the region twice. “I can’t say that the Carso is like any other place I know—though I’ve never been there in the winter and, if I had, it might very well remind me of the windswept plains of the Midwest,” which happens to be where she grew up.
Jane Sigal’s only connection to Portugal was the tile print on the kitchen wallpaper in the house where she grew up. During a decade living in Paris, writing on food and wine, Portugal’s Algarve was the cheap beach vacation that she never took. Now back in the States, she recalls how her impressions began to change. “Friends started returning from Porto and Lisbon raving about the country, the food, the wine, the history, the architecture. The zeitgeist shifted from ‘Portugal is a cheap place to go’ to ‘visit Portugal before it loses its distinctive character.’” When she arrived in Alentejo last spring, Sigal found chefs transforming the local traditions by upping the ante on the quality of the ingredients, often harvesting them from the wild. While she has foraged with French chefs for esoteric herbs—wild yarrow, wood sorrel—and expensive ingredients, like truffles, she was surprised at how Alentejano chefs consider picking herbs and tubers as an ordinary part of the job. “After seeing the wild edibles on menus all over Alentejo, I could see that foraging was part of an ongoing tradition, not an haute cuisine adventure.”
Not far to the south, in the southwestern corner of Spain, Patricio Tapia was researching a different sort of change. He’s been traveling to Jerez since the 1990s, pulled back as much by the wines as by the care with which the local seafood is caught and presented. Hailing from Santiago, Chile, he says, “Raw seafood is in my DNA.” Three years ago, while researching an article on Sherry en rama, he was tasting with Armando Guerra at Taberna der Guerrita in Sanlúcar when he came across a white wine from Jerez made without the traditional fortification. And he saw similar new wines when he met Ramiro Ibáñez from Cota 45, the Blanco brothers, and Alejandro Narváez from Forlong. As it turned out, these “new” wines represented a return to old traditions. They resonated with him, especially in the context of traditional tapas, whether little fried fish, sardiñas or slow-braised tuna collar.
Explorers once came from the Old World in search of gold, discovering foods in the Americas they had never known, from tomatoes to corn. Centuries later, we’re headed back, in search of something familiar and discovering things we’d never known.
photo by Tiago Caravana