Evan Goldstein on the Expats of the Wine Community

Photo: Wine Review (Korea)

Evan Goldstein, MS, and President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions Inc., is one of the nation's most prolific food and wine industry veterans. His food and wine career started at age 19 in Paris, and in 1984 he joined his mother, chef and author Joyce Goldstein, in opening Square One, where as sommelier his wine lists received a myriad of awards. In 1987, he became the eighth American and youngest ever at the time to pass the Master Sommelier examination. Since 1990, Evan has created education programs, wine training and service hospitality schools with Seagram Chateau & Estates Wines Company, Diageo, Allied Domecq, and most recently, as the Vice President of Global Wine & Brand Education at Beam Wine Estates. In addition, Evan continues to train and examine candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers as a Founding Board member.

Evan is the author of Five Star Service: Your Guide to Hospitality Excellence and Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food (University of California Press). His sequel wine and food book for the University of California Press, Daring Pairings, is planned for release in Spring 2010.


The American Heritage dictionary defines an expatriate as "one who has taken up residence in a foreign country." Most all of us have a few expats in our lives and would likely agree that we are better off and more interesting people for knowing these individuals of diverse backgrounds. They enrich us, bringing with them their culture, values, social attributes, and indeed enhance the surroundings in which they choose to live.

There are many foods that we take for granted today that are, in fact, expats. The origins of such modern staples as chocolate and tomatoes from Mexico, oranges and lemons from China, potatoes from Peru, or eggplant from India indeed demonstrate what a small world it really is.

In the big picture, the impact of grapes emigrating is less dramatic on our day-to-day lives when compared to foods moving through ambitious migrations, such as the Silk Road and other Asian spice routes, or the back-and-forth movement of new ingredients on ships returning from the New World in the times of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco da Gama. That said, grapes have made their way around the world from the times of the Romans and the Etruscans—and in many cases, modern viticulture and the end-consumer are the proud beneficiaries of these emigrations from native lands.

A number of these immigrants have found inviting homes, great happiness, and even some have found greater success than they had with their indigenous origins. Others have thrived a bit less, while a few have proven themselves to be malleable and adaptable to many surroundings and are as happy traveling as they are being domestic. Let's explore a few.

Better on the road than at home!

It's hard to imagine that some grapes needed to simply move to flourish, but there are a few varietals that have clearly made better wines in foreign lands than they have at home. On the white side of wines, it's hard to imagine gewürztraminer as coming from anywhere but France's Alsace or perhaps, given the name, Germany. Such dense and rich wines redolent of lychee, pear, and sweet citrus set off by aromatics of freesia, rose petal, and narcissus is about as varietally correct as it gets. And similar wines can be found in as disparate locations as Gisborne, New Zealand, and the Anderson and Edna Valleys of California.

Yet this flavorful and forward grape actually was born in northeastern Italy, in a little town called Tramin. And while it makes tasty wines in that corner of the world, they pale in comparison. Such intriguing disparity can also be found arguably with viognier (at least as interesting in places like America and Australia as it is in its native France).

With red grapes, we can find several grapes that have taken better to foreign lands. It would be hard to dispute the amazing success of malbec in Argentina. Amazingly multifaceted versions emanate today from Mendoza (concentrated ripe black fruit, zesty acidity with balanced but ample tannins), San Juan (equally ripe fruit, more plush tannins and a rounder smoother texture), and beyond: Patagonia, and the northern extremes of Salta's Colomé. While your preference may be subjective, many of those interpretations are more complex and pleasing than French counterparts in Cahors and the Loire Valley.

This could also be said about carmenère (better in Chile than Bordeaux), tannat (more often better in Uruguay than Southwest France), and zinfandel (clearly more interesting in California than in its now-proven home of Croatia).

Happy travelers

Some grapes have shown to be extraordinarily malleable and capable of producing amazing wines in a multitude of locales and countries. These grapes are among the most noble and complex (despite their origins), and that popularity is demonstrated on restaurant wine lists and store retail shelves daily. For white grapes, the most evident example would be chardonnay, whose success originates in France's Champagne and Burgundy, but has not been limited to those two areas. Amazing and thought-provoking chardonnays are found in Australia (especially in regions such as Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills), California (Sonoma's Russian River Valley and the Central Coast's Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez counties being exemplary), and Chile's Casablanca.

I find that while in a more-limited production context, both riesling, with its origins in Germany, and sauvignon blanc, which finds its native roots in France's Loire Valley and Bordeaux, have also proven themselves away from home. Indeed, riesling today can be found in small quantity (but very high quality) in places as divergent as Australia's Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand's Central Otago, or New York State's Finger Lake district. World-class sauvignon blanc is readily available to us in New Zealand's Marlborough, Chile's Central Valley, and Israel's Golan Heights.

With reds, there are so many. The clear and obvious front-runner would be cabernet sauvignon. While originally from France's Bordeaux-Medoc peninsula, where its deep cassis-scented wines are set off by notes of cedar, cigar box, and tobacco, very credible bottlings of cabernet come from locations as far flung as California's Napa Valley, Australia's Barossa Valley and Limestone Coast, Argentina's Uco Valley in Mendoza, and Washington State's greater Columbia Valley region. And while each appellation maintains signatures that are expressive of their local terroir, all are capable of producing complex and layered wines.

This same diversity of style with successful results worldwide can be found with syrah—native to France, but equally delectable from California (Paso Robles, South Central Coast), Argentina's San Juan and Mendoza, South Africa's Coastal region and, of course, throughout much of Australia with stunning examples emanating from the Barossa and Yarra Valleys, the Adelaide Hills, and Mudgee to name a few.

And while it may still be a frustrating grape in many places, pinot noir's ability to make great wines in places as far ranging as New Zealand's Martinborough, Central Otago, and Marlborough, to Oregon's Willamette Valley, to California's Russian River Valley, to Argentina's Patagonia land it on this list which also includes the very globally-flexible grapes merlot and grenache.

Should have stayed home

Finally, there are a handful of grapes that have moved with aspirational thoughts, but have never really proven the same level of success on the road as they have in their 'native lands.' These so-called 'native strangers' are complicated in that they should be able to happily acquire new foundations abroad but, for the occasional rare exception, have had minimal success. Intriguingly, the varietals seem to come (mostly) from a small number of countries. In whites, Italy's native grapes of arneis (Piedmont) and cortese (the grape of Gavi) make wonderful wines locally, but efforts outside their native land have provided challenges.

In Spain, verdejo (of Rueda fame) and albariño (from Galicia's Rias Baixas) have had initial trouble transcending borders, though the wines are improving, especially in California. Finally, and though it's still early, grüner veltliner outside of Austria seems, at this point, only a dream. Okay, maybe not to Rudy Von Strasser, but to most!

Several great red grapes have had equal problem with their vinous visas. Two of my favorite all-time grapes from Italy, Piedmont's nebbiolo (responsible for those breathtaking Barolos and Barbarescos which are among the world's greatest reds) and Tuscany's sangiovese (the grape of Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico, among others) have yet to find a spot outside of their homelands where they thrive as well.

Spain's most famous red grape, tempranillo, has had a battle not only getting out of Spain, but finding more than limited local success once it does. Throughout Spain itself, one needn't go far to find terrific bottles from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Navarra to name just a few regions that excel with this remarkable varietal. Just not much anywhere else.

Other grapes that you don't find much of out of their homes include France's gamay (of Beaujolais fame) and Portugal's touriga nacional (the complex red grape that provides the foundation for the Duoro Valley's great ports and dry red table wines).

So next time you pull the cork out of a bottle, think about its genealogy. Like most of us, a little research on the family tree may provide some interesting insights, and maybe a surprise or two as well.