Four interesting travel destinations for wine lovers

The eighth season of Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope has given me the opportunity to discover some destinations I’ve never visited and new sides to places I’ve known, writes the author. This season’s fifteen new PBS episodes (grand total 106 now) span the globe from Asia to Europe and have offered me the chance to sample some novel tastes. Since I am always in search of genuine and authentic cultural experiences, in the course of my travels I’ve tried many things – from fish sperm and fried crickets to kava and taro whiskey. The truth is it doesn’t really matter what you experience, it’s who you experience it with that counts.

Millet Wine in Taiwan

In my Taiwan – Iron Pathways to Adventure episode I drank millet wine with my Tsou home-stay hosts in the Alishan National Scenic Area of Taiwan. The Tsou people are one of fourteen indigenous tribes that are descendants of the islands’ original inhabitants. While it is estimated that their ancestors lived on the island 8,000 years before the Han Chinese began to arrive in the seventeen century, today they constitute only 2% of the Taiwanese population. The tangy fermented millet wine, made from glutinous millet, brewer’s yeast and water, is an important Tsou cultural ingredient. It is brewed for weddings, funerals, rituals and harvest festivals and accompanies a feast of wild boar, sweet potato and fragrant bamboo rice. I had the pleasure of sipping mine while sitting and singing with my hosts around the outdoor fire where our meat and root vegetables are grilling with the Alishan mountain range as our backdrop.

Soju in South Korea

It’s been reported that South Koreans average 13.7 shots of liquor per week, which as you might expect tops the list of countries. Americans are lightweights at only 3.3 during the same time frame. The seductive siren that lures the populace astray is Soju, a fermented rice spirit. Ranging in strength from 25 to 40 per cent alcohol it goes down easily, if you favor sake-like beverages, yet packs a wallop. During our Uncovering South Korea episode I exchange gun bae (cheers!) with a fellow diner at Gwangiang Market, which has been serving South Koreans for more than 100 years. It’s available in any of the market’s more than 200 food stalls and goes well with a traditional mung bean pancake, nokdu bindaetteok. Gun bae translates literally as “dry glass”, as in “bottoms up,” which fortunately for me, my companions didn’t insist I do.

Gamza Wine in Bulgaria

Grape growing and wine production has been going on in Bulgaria since the days of the Dionysus-worshiping Thracians, who predated the Romans in the area. While the country’s five wine regions produce varietals you know and love such as Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s the local entrees like Mavrud, Pamid and Gamza that are the most fun to taste. Degustatsijana vino (wine tastings) with snacks of local cheeses, nuts and other goodies are available at most of the wineries that span the country. During this season’s Eastern Europe’s Treasures production, I enjoy a sampling of Gamza, a deep purple, slightly spicy wine and some mighty tasty méthode champenoise bubbly in a honest-to-goodness Bat Cave. The Magura Winery is located in the village of Rabisha, very near the Rocks of Belogradchik, 35-square-miles of limestone rock formations towering up to 650 feet, and the 15-million-year-old Magura Cave, littered with prehistoric paintings. Both are in line to become UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the cave’s Bat Gallery, where a constant 54 degrees, darkness and humidity create an incubator for aging Magura’s reds and fermenting its sparkling, is where the tastings are held. If you wish more powerful convincing that Bulgarian wine worth a try, Sir Winston Churchill used to buy it by the casks.

“Secret” Wine in California’s Livermore Valley

Just 33 miles east of San Francisco, the Amador, Livermore and San Ramon Valleys make up the Tri-Valley Region of California, which is wryly described locally as “a community of laser heads, cowboys and winos.” Originally settled by the Spanish mission fathers in the 18th century, grapes were first planted in 1840. The Livermore Valley boasts one of the country’s oldest wine regions and today there are more than 50 wineries which produce from 300 to 750,000 cases of wine a year and range from corporate giants such as Concannon and Wente to intimate producers like Three Steves and Nothingham.

Established in 1883, Concannon Vineyard, with four generations of familial involvement, and Wente Vineyards, the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery, are the valley’s founding wineries. During prohibition, they both stayed afloat by selling sweet wine for sacramental use by the Catholic Church. Yet, although the area’s been producing vintages since the 19th century, this wine county is still a California secret.

For an episode in Season 8, I visit the area in search of Adventures in California’s Tri-Valley, which I find aplenty. It still takes men to harvest a crop and make manifest the libation and I participate in the pickin’, the sortin’, the drinkin’ and the celebratin’. After all, the proof of the grapes is not in the eating, but in the tasting which happens each year at the Annual Harvest Wine Celebration, conceived in 1983 to honor Wente and Concannon’s 100th anniversary. On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend over 40 wineries celebrate the crush season. Each winery hosts activities including tastings, arts, crafts and music. If you’re heading to the Golden State this fall, don’t miss it!

Where Will Your Palate Take You?

Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope is a travel show in love with travel and cultures. In my experience, food and drink are two of the tools people use to rejoice in their identity, traditions and customs. Let’s not forget, in the Christian tradition, God was made man and the first miracle was turning water into wine. Happy traveling!

(Source: SNOOTH)



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