Spring is around the corner and it’s the perfect time for a fresh perspective!
Last week I held a tasting featuring some excellent wines made from grapes that are pretty obscure. I was happily surprised that the crowd overwhelmingly loved the wines too, and I want to share with all the folks that couldn’t make it.
It’s not that I don’t love the ‘noble’ varieties: Cabernet is king, and Pinot Noir is an alluring temptress. The quality and stylistic variation of Chardonnay these days is positively fascinating! I do love something new, however, and when I find a wine that’s unique AND super tasty, the deal is sealed.
Many of these intriguing wines I’m finding are made in tiny batches by the next generation of winemakers that don’t get bogged down by large estate ownership and the expense that goes along with it. Instead, they can run things out of rented warehouse space and mine the state for little forgotten patches of unique vines. Some of these plots can be traced back to our first generation of immigrants who brought vine material with them from the old country. Grapes with mysterious names, like Vermentino, Friulano, Cortese, Arneis, Trousseau, Tannat, Alicante Bouschet, Valdiguie, and Aglianico. These are grapes that are considered indigenous to their often isolated spots in Europe, and never took to the world stage in a big way. Here are a few of the standouts to try:
2014 Ryme, Vermentino, ‘His’, Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros, $26.99
Ryan and Meghan Glaab craft beautifully minimalist wines from rare Italian grape varieties grown in hidden pockets around northern California. Their Vermentino is made in a ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ version. The ‘Hers’ is all about lightness and elegance. The ‘His’ shows a lot of texture and finesse, and as it’s fermented on the skins, is an ‘orange wine’, picking up color and texture. The nose is alluring with mixed spring florals, fresh garden herbs, and on the palate shows delicious apply cider notes, fleshy peach, and brown spice. Some ‘orange wines’ taste weird. This one is delightful. Pair with roasted Bresse chicken and herbs.
2015 Idlewild, ‘The Bee’, White Blend, North Coast, CA, $19.99
This is a breath of fresh air! Sam Bilbro knocks it out of the park again with this Spring-like blend. 30% Muscat Canelli, 30% Friulano, 30% Arneis, and 10% Cortese, the nose is full of wildflowers and spice. Pretty tangerine, green papaya, lemon-honey, and minerals delight on the palate and finish with a crisp, linear beam of fresh acidity. Beautiful texture and all in perfect harmony. This is truly a treat, and only 450 cases produced, so don’t miss out!
2015 Wind Gap, Trousseau Gris, Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard, Russian River, Sonoma, CA
This intriguing wine comes from the last remaining vineyard planted to this obscure white grape, originally hailing from the Jura region in France. This is all crisp, clean flowery citrus, subtle herbs, white peach, melon, and nice texture from the gentle fermentation in concrete egg-shaped vats. Mouth coating and satisfying, it retains a freshness that carries through the finish. Only 1500 cases produced by this expert team at Wind Gap.
2013 D’Elissagaray, Basque Blend, CA, $27.99
Winemaker Deborah Elissagaray and her husband, Greg Stokes, of Ursa Vineyards conceived of this gem after traveling back to her family’s roots in the French Pyrenees. A blend of 40% Tannat, 20% Fer Servadou, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Alicante Bouschet, this wine is dark and intriguing: juicy blueberry, blackberry, and red plum combine with a sturdy backbone filled with woodsy aromas and a bit of tar. Dried rose and gravel hints round out this full-bodied profile. This wine takes you right to the sunny southwest of France! Delicious with aged hard cheeses, lamb stew and pintxos of course!
2015 Tendu, Red Blend, CA, $18.99 (1L)
Expert winegrower Steve Matthiasson up in Napa has been crafting this fun ‘Beaujolais style’ blend for three years now. Meant to be a fun, fresh, and affordable quaffer for concert in the park, barbecue, or front porch, this lovely sipper should be enjoyed with a slight chill. A blend of Aglianico, Montepulciano, and Barbera from an old vine site out in Yolo County, there is plenty of vibrant red fruit, a lovely savory note on the mid-palate, and a lip-smacking finish with zippy acidity and a finish that begs for another sip. Good thing this gem comes in a liter!
2014 Idlewild, Valdiguie, Enzenauer Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
One of my absolute favorite producers in California! Sam Bilbro has captured the beauty and freshness of this rare grape that hails from southwest France: juicy damson plum, Ranier cherry, orchard blossom and a hint of chervil and tarragon with a juicy, bright, and lip-smacking texture. This wine is best served slightly chilled with a warm summer day and a picnic in the park. Warning: addictive! Bring two.