Rare/remarkable wine in Europe
October 11, 2013 2:05 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is a red wine connoisseur currently located in the Southern U.S. I am located in Europe and am searching for a great Christmas gift. I don't know much about wine, except the kinds I like and not spending more than $10/bottle on one for myself. Are there any great, rare, or otherwise exceptional wines to which I may have access, that he would not? (Or, at least, that would have some significance coming from here) I am happy to travel basically wherever within Europe as long as it makes a good story.

I would like to spend not more than $300 on the bottle including shipment back to the U.S. (which may be another question altogether but if you do have experience I'd be glad to hear it) but, I'd spend a bit more for a great bottle or case.

One example of what I'm looking for might be Royal Tekaji from Hungary, but I'm not sure how rare and amazing it actually is vs how much is marketing. Appreciate input from any winos/connoisseurs.
posted by ista to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
I believe an individual shipping alcohol into the US is against the law. Not to say it isn't done, or that you'd be caught, but I'm pretty sure that it's technically not legal. It's not even legal to ship from within the US to other states as far as I know, unless you have a license. If you do decide to ship, be sure to take temperature into account -- you don't want it to get frozen in the back of a truck, or sit in a 100 degree shipping container for a week.

All that said, I personally think the coolest thing you could do along these lines is find some little obscure winemaker whose wines don't even get exported out of Europe, let alone to the US. If you're in or near a major winemaking region, ask around at wine shops and similar places.
posted by primethyme at 2:10 PM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: A good Tokaji is pretty remarkable - but its maybe a little idiosyncratic to buy for someone as a gift - especially someone who likes red wine.

What he can find in his southern US city will vary dramatically on which southern US city he is in.

There is really nothing that is $300 bucks for a current vintage outside of some select premier cru burgundies and first growth bordeaux - all of which will actually be available in the US, and probably won't have better availability in Europe. For the name brand stuff things are pretty globalized.

But the most important thing is - what does he drink. If you don't know that - don't buy him wine. I am a collector - but I have very specific tastes. I have some really really lovely friends who have given me bottles as gifts that are "great wines" and quite expensive - but they aren't wines I personally like to drink. Honestly sometimes I just regift them and evade follow-up questions about it.

What would be a cool gift is a 20 euro bottle from some totally obscure producer in a region where you could tell me about the trip. I'd be way more excited about that then an old bottle of a super tuscan or something like that.

So basically my thesis statement is "if you don't know what they drink, don't buy them expensive wine"

you are much better off hand carrying the wine back to the states than trying to ship it. Its technically not illegal to ship wine for personal consumtion, but the paper work is a PITA and I think you have to use special carriers/warehouses. It doesn't make sense for a case, never mind a bottle.

There are some specialist shippers in the more touristic wine regions - but their pricing is insane.
posted by JPD at 2:15 PM on October 11, 2013

There are a few states that restrict delivery of alcohol but I don't think shipping is restricted. The tariff on a couple bottles is unlikely to be an issue and I know that a few bottles in a suitcase is totally a non issue, but no unprocessed grapes. Or any raw fruit.

I second the idea of the closest wine region and finding a couple of the smallest wineries that don't really export. That would be cool.
posted by sammyo at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2013

also if you tell us where in 'yurp you are we might be able to suggest some particularly interesting and up and coming wine regions for you to visit.
posted by JPD at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the input. I'm in NL which I believe is not a great climate... I will be traveling a lot though (and am happy to find excuses to hop on a train) so nothing is really out of the question. I like primethyme's sentiment that the story is as important as the wine itself, so suggestions of cool places to go GET great / unheard of wines would be more than welcome.
posted by ista at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2013

Well Germany is relatively close to the NL has some really amazing wines - but they are mostly whites. Some beautiful wineries as well in the Mosel and Nahe. Plus you can find older vintages in the better wine stores. Also many of the best dry rieslings are not imported to the US as there isn't really a market for them at the price point they garner in Germany. There are some very good German reds - but its more hit or miss than the whites.

Swiss wines can be really cool and are really hard to find in the US. But again mostly known for their whites.

Its sort of a broad question to answer if you are willing to travel. What wine do you like to drink?
posted by JPD at 2:33 PM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: I have no idea what your friend likes, but I do agree that most of the famous, top-dog European wines will be available in the US. On the other hand, there are many regional obscurities that aren't regularly imported. So, imagining that your friend shares my tastes in wine, and keeping in mind that this could be an adventure for you as well ...

-old reds from Chinon or Bourgueil ('90,'89,'85,'76,'47). Loire winemakers seem to have bigger reservers of preposterously old wines than anyone else, and the reds from a good vintage will last a long time. They're remarkably cheap for what they are, the Loire valley is beautiful, and many producers sell ex-cellar.

-Germany has been producing more and more good red wines, and most of them don't make it out of Germany. They're not cheap, but well within your budget. Here's a link to get you started.

-Italy is crawling with obscure wines. Twenty years ago I had a bottle of Ruché and I have never seen one since.

(I could go on, but my compile is done ...)
posted by mr vino at 3:26 PM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: Most red wine connoisseurs still drink and enjoy white and sparkling wines. And most people who like wine like trying new wines, even if they end up not being favorites. I spent some time in the business and have had wine from around the world, but I've never had any wine from the Netherlands. According to Wikipedia there are 180 commercial vineyards in the Netherlands. Because the overall production is so small, I would be surprised if much of it makes its way to the US.

You can buy him an expensive bottle of Bordeaux, and I'm sure he would enjoy and appreciate it, but that is also something that he would have access to in the US. If you send him a selection of Dutch wines, that would likely be something new for him and it would have the added bonus of the personal connection to you and where you live.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:52 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Royal Tokaji wines, even Essencia, are well-distributed in the U.S.

Ditto ActingTheGoat on the Nederlander wine. I collect wines, and often receive bottles that I don't care for, but I would be excited to try a wine from a new country. Even if it's no good, at least I can say I tried it. While some collectors drink more or less omnivorously, the typical pattern is to specialize, and so without some more information, I would advise against trying to get him something.

The other option is Belgian beer. Cantillon is a famous brewery, but their stuff is almost impossible to find in the U.S. at any price.
posted by wnissen at 4:43 PM on October 11, 2013

So-called 'orange' wines (white wine, but with macerated grapeskins) were something of a recent wine trend but remain quite obscure overall in America - I wouldn't be shocked if your friend, even if a wine enthusiast, has never tried one or maybe even seen one. You'll find them produced in Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. The later two countries might be exotic enough to make quite an interesting story on their own.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:04 PM on October 11, 2013

If you happen to be in a wine region, visit some wineries. Ask about library wines. It's always nice to try to find one that matches his taste... but I would personally find anything with some age on it from a quality winery interesting.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:08 PM on October 11, 2013

Granted I'm not a connoisseur of $300 bottles, but in my experience the real difference between European wines in Europe and what you can get in the US is that a lot of great wines simply aren't exported to the US, or at least not the really good stuff.

So you can get, for example, like maybe 2 or 3 mediocre brands of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) in most parts of the US, but I bet there are entire regions in Spain where there are hundreds of different vineyards producing cava.

For Italy, aside from maybe the really famous Tuscan and Piedmontese reds, most of the stuff exported to the US is uninspiring. There are entire wine regions in Italy which produce amazing wines, but which most Americans have never heard of, and even a good wine shop will only have one or two wines from there.

And in the case of less famously-wine-producing countries, often either nothing even makes it to the US, or what does make it is one signature style, and usually only really mediocre takes on that style. I've had fantastic wines from Austria and Slovenia, but you basically can't get them in the US at all.
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 PM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: I have two suggestons: old one, or weird wine. If your friend is serious about wine he has access to new releases of any fancy Burgundy, Bordeaux, etc that is in Europe. Not worth trying to ship.

However it's nearly impossible to buy a 50 year old red wine in the US, and when you find some it is outrageously expensive. Last time I was in Amsterdam I went to a wine shop there that had some crazy Burgundy from the early 1950s in the basement of the shop. The fill wasn't great, the color was a bit pale, the labels were damaged, the wine may have been too old. But it was 80€ a bottle. If that wine existed in the US at all it would be 3-5x the price. So we gladly bought several and 2 out of 3 turned out to be amazing and unique. I would be thrilled with a gift like that. (Vague memory is the store's name was "Wine Antiquities", or the Dutch equivalent, somewhere in the middle of town, and the basement floor was definitely below water level. If you MeMail me I may be able to find the shop's card, but it will take me about 10 days.)

The other option is to buy something strange. For instance the Vin Jaune from Jura is nearly unknown in the US and is interesting, tasting more like a sherry than a wine. There are excellent red wines from Austria, Swiss, even Luxemburg that are also very hard to find in the US. A good Tokaji is also a nice idea although it's not so unknown to Americans anymore. Look for an Eszencia or 6 Puttonyos if you want a special Tokaji.

There are no wines worth your time in the Netherlands, but if your friend likes spirits some very fine Genever would also be an interesting and unique gift. There was a great fancy genever store in the tourist warren near the train station (to the west, maybe near the Damrak) that would offer good gifts.
posted by Nelson at 12:10 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the links and suggestions so far. Sounds like maybe putting together a case of "souvenir" wines might be the way to go (and more fun for me!) Love the specific region/winery/shop experiences you all have.

After doing some research, shipping itself might put me over the $300 so hand-carry is the way to go. If others are curious, FedEx has a pretty good guide to shipping wine internationally that is geared towards small businesses but has some customs info.
posted by ista at 1:49 AM on October 12, 2013

FWIW, I think Nelson is thinking of either Wynand Fockink (which is about half a block behind the National Monument) or H. P. de Vreng en Zonen (which is on Nieuwendijk behind the Victoria Hotel). Both specialize in jenevers.
posted by neushoorn at 2:45 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If one of my Euro friends put together a case of delicious small producer wines from around Europe, or even a single country, I would be so thrilled.

When we were in Spain last year visiting several regions I made sure to bring back bottles that were not available in the US specifically so I could share with some other wine loving friends. This was especially fun in place like the Priorat where the whole region is not terribly well known.

Carry on is totally the way to go and in many cases the customs officials will not bother filling out the forms on what amounts to just a few bucks in duty.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2013

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