Eric is a freelance food and travel writer who regularly contributes to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Confidential Magazine, Ultra Travel Magazine and The Points Guy. He is also the founder of Cluster Crush, an insider’s guide to the world of wine from grape to glass. His most recent travels have taken him to Australia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Chile among other exciting destinations.
Wine tastes best where it’s made. Central to the idea of winemaking is the concept of terroir: that sublime sense of place derived from climate, soil, elevation, and myriad other factors influencing how grapes mature and end up tasting. But it's about much more than just the wine—there's no better way to experience a wine region than exploring the vineyards, finding the terroir, and unearthing discoveries of your own.
On a late June morning in the Rioja town of Haro, you rise before dawn, dress in white, and pile into the back of a tractor alongside other revelers. Everyone carries squirt guns...only instead of water, they’re filled with red wine. On the outskirts of town, people tumble out and run to a meadow to join in the annual batalla del vino
(wine battle). By the time you’re done soaking (and drinking with) your fellow guerrillas, you look like a living Jackson Pollock painting.
It’s a tipsy hike through the vineyards back to town, where you’ve just enough time for a shower and siesta before meeting up with new amigos at the timbered bar at Beethoven, just off Plaza de la Paz. After a few bottles of crisp, white Viura and plates of smoky, salty acorn-fed Pata Negra Jamón Ibérico, you’re all giggling over photos of the erotic corkscrew collection you saw at Bodegas Vivanco’s wine museum. Equally memorable: that glass of Colección Vivanco 4 Varietales you tasted—redolent with ripe, dark berry flavors, thanks not only to tempranillo and garnacha, but also Rioja’s other two red varieties, graciano and mazuelo.
grape also grows in Chile, where it is known as carménère
. It’s worth the trip, because it tastes different there, too, with distinctive red-berry flavors and a leathery finish owing to the interplaying climactic influences of the Pacific and the Andes. Try some of Chile’s best-known iterations at Montes
in the Colchagua Valley, a feng shui-inspired winery whose centerpiece is a semi-circular barrel room where the aging wines are serenaded by Gregorian chants to bring them into resonant harmony. Or stop by Viu Manent for a cooking class with Chef Pilar Rodríguez
, where you’ll prepare traditional roast pork ribs in adobo to pair with a fresh single-vineyard syrah made from grapes growing right outside the window. On a post-prandial walk through those vineyards, you might even glimpse a zorrito,
the indigenous gray fox who stalks the vineyards for prey. Perhaps he, too, is searching for that oft-elusive taste of terroir.