Some places you go, you drink like a local out of principle. Bourbon in Kentucky. Caipirinhas in Rio. A Guinness (or three) in Dublin. But the locals may have their own, more interesting ideas about what they drink. It could be a fad—remember "critter wines," when an animal on the label was a guarantee of success—or simply a longstanding preference that only history can try to explain. Here are a few unexpected preferences from around the world.
Northern Italians Love ... Champagne
The winemakers in this northern region of Italy are known for their Barolos, Barberas, and Barbarescos—robust, full-bodied wines with pronounced tannins. But outside their own vineyards, you’re just as likely to find a bottle of Champagne when you stop by. Wine importer David Weitzenhoffer of A.I. Selections says that it was the Piedmontese winemakers who introduced him to the Champagnes that eventually filled his portfolio. He suggests that historical connections to France may be the reason for the region’s regard for French bubbles as opposed to domestic Prosecco or Franciacorta. Or maybe game recognize game.
Try it at home: Legras & Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, NV, $56, vintryfinewines.com
Swedes Love ... Amarone
Pretty much every country loves big, powerful red wines, but no one seems to love Italian Amarone, specifically, as much as the Swedes. Instead of just picking the grapes and fermenting them, Amarone producers dry the grapes on straw mats to concentrate the flavors and sugars; the process takes what would otherwise be a light style, Valpolicella, into a drink that’s headier than other big reds, such as Priorat or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At 16 percent alcohol, Amarone wines are strong, richly flavored, and sometimes a bit sweet, all of which appeals to the typical Swedish wine drinker, according to Frida Hansson, head sommelier at Babette in Stockholm.
Try it at home: Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella 2010, $60, totalwine.com
Frenchmen Love ... Tawny Port
As if the French didn’t have enough of their own wine to drink, they manage to be the world’s best market for Port wines as well, consuming almost twice as much as the No. 2 country, the Netherlands. Tawny and white Ports are popular throughout France as a chilled aperitif, says Andre Compeyre, wine director at the Regency Bar & Grill in New York, who was twice named France’s top authority on the Portuguese wine. French fortified wines, such as Maury and Banyuls, are usually drunk at the end of the meal.
Try it at home: Taylor Fladgate 10-Year Tawny Port, $27, winehouse.com
Spaniards Love ... Gin
Originally developed by the Dutch and the English, "un gin tonic" is one of the most popular drinks in Spain, where locals and bartenders endlessly riff on one of the simplest of cocktails. “At virtually every bar there’s an array of beautiful gin and tonics served in large vessels with unique assortments of botanicals, herbs, citrus, and fruit,” says John Stanton, head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. He says the drinks, served in balloon-shaped glasses, rely on precisely matching each gin with a complementary tonic and evolve over time as they sit in the glass. Lower in alcohol than Spanish brandy (or a martini), they’re well-suited to the warm Spanish climate.
Try it at home: Sable’s Spanish Gin and Tonic recipes
Argentinians Love ... Fernet Branca
Fernet and Coke is pretty much the first alcoholic drink of every Argentine youth, according to Laura Catena, managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza. The bitter, aromatic spirit came over with a huge wave of Italian immigration around the turn of the 20th century. Catena says her great-grandfather and grandfather both drank the herbal liqueur after dinner, on ice, without the coke. It is gaining ground among bartenders in the U.S., nowhere more so than in San Francisco, which accounts for 35 percent of all the Fernet Branca consumed in the U.S.
Try it at home: Fernet Branca, $24, klwines.com
Japanese Love ... Chilean Wine
While Chilean wine has slipped in popularity the U.S. and U.K., its two biggest markets, the country’s red wines are booming in the country that sits at No. 3, Japan—in 2014, exports to that country were up almost 18 percent. The reasons are prosaic but telling: Chile and Japan’s trade is up in general. Winemaker Felipe Tosso, of Viña Ventisquero, says Chile exports not just wine but copper, fruit, and fish. Turns out the Japan-Chile Economic Partnership Agreement, passed in 2007, may have been a turning point for wine. Apparently if Chilean fish is good enough for sushi, their wines are good enough to accompany it.
Try it at home: Ventisquero "Vertice" 2009, $30, solanocellars.com