Quirky Wines

White Wines to Seek Out in 2017 – Part 2

Welcome to part two of White Wines to Seek out in 2017, a series intended to inspire a little adventure in your wine drinking life.  If you haven’t already, check out part one for additional suggestions.  Here we go…

Vinho Verde

imagesFrom Portugal, a place I am dying to visit one day, Vinho Verde translates to green wine; green in this case means young, as many of the wines are released just 3 to 6 months after the harvest.  Vinho Verde is both the name of the wine and the name of the region, the largest in Portugal and one where white wine is dominant.  The wines are often a blend of grapes, none of them very well-known other than Alvarinho (called Albariño in Spain) . These wines are vibrant, refreshing, low alcohol, often spritzy, and incredibly affordable.  The value proposition is hard to beat (It is very easy to find a bottle of Vinho Verde under $10!), but I am also recommending this wine because it is one of the friendliest matches for foods that can be difficult to pair with wine such as asparagus, Indian and Mexican cuisines, vinaigrette, and so on.  If you like to cook (or eat) Vinho Verde is an indispensable food companion.  Or, just crack it on a hot day by the pool.  That’s fun, too.

Try Quinta da Aveleda, a classic in the light, spritzy style that lends Vinho Verde such charm.  It should run you less than $10 and is widely available.

Orange Wine

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Warning:  I’m going into serious wine geek territory with this one.

I’m including this suggestion as much for myself as for you because Orange Wine is my blind spot; a category that I tend to avoid.  So what is Orange Wine, exactly?  In short, it is a white wine made like a red.  In typical white wine production, after the grapes are crushed the grape skins are immediately discarded leaving the juice to ferment alone.  In the case of Orange Wines, the skins are left in contact with the juice resulting in a darker color and also more weight, texture, and tannin. In reality, the color of these wines is not strictly orange, it ranges from golden to rosy to amber to copper depending on the grape variety and the length of skin contact. I’ve tasted many examples, and I’ll be honest I don’t really get them.  Some are like sour beer meets funky cider, others have flavors like smoked apricots and sandalwood. They can be quite pungent. They all have some degree of tannin that expresses itself as a dry sensation down the sides of the tongue.  To me they’ve always been more confusing than pleasurable.  However, in an effort to broaden my horizons, I resolve to turn up the volume on my curiosity when I come into contact with Orange Wines this year, to approach them with an adventurous, rather than critical, spirit.  And, I’m also going to seek out more opportunities to taste them with food, as that’s when the people I know who genuinely enjoy these wines think they really shine.

Georgia (the country, not the state) is the historic home of Orange Wines, having made them for centuries.  I recommend seeking out a Georgian bottle or two – look for a producer called Pheasant’s Tears – to get a sense of what traditional Orange Wines are like.  After that if you are still game, look to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Spain, California, or New York for additional examples.

Muscadet

img5OK, this is the one I don’t want to tell you about because I want to keep to myself, but that I have to tell you about because it deserves to be known and you deserve to discover it. I know that you probably looked at the word Muscadet in the header and your brain jumped to Muscat or Moscato and then it jumped to sweet.  Muscadet is not sweet.  Ever.  It has nothing to do with Muscat/o.  It is the name of a region on the western edge of the Loire Valley in France. The grape variety is something few have heard of called Melon de Bourgogne.  I’m convinced that the confusion over the region’s name and lack of recognizable grape variety have kept this wine under the radar, and because of that you can find excellent bottles around $15.  Muscadet can accurately be described as crisp and fresh but that’s not all there is to it.  It’s also has a creamy/silky texture you’d typically ascribe to full-bodied wines like Chardonnay.  That’s why I love it so.  It’s a seamless marriage of opposites.  It’s everything in one modestly priced package.  If you like oysters, this is the definitive oyster wine.  If you don’t, it pairs beautifully with a wide range of foods from sushi to cheese to veggie pasta to pork barbecue.  Muscadet is versatility in a bottle.

My all-time favorite producer is Domaine de la Pépière, which makes a number of different bottlings. The entry-level is around $17.  If you can’t find it in your area, choose a bottle that is from the Sevre et Maine sub-region, which is where the best quality wines come from and is always clearly stated on the label.  Important to note:  do not drink Muscadet straight out of the fridge cold.  Temperature matters.  Take it out about 20 minutes before you pour yourself a glass or risk missing out on the true nature of this wine.

I hope you’ll try one or two of these and let me know what you think in the comments. Happy drinking!

 

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White Wines to Seek Out in 2017 – Part 1

fnfu6rw5_400x400Do you always order a glass of Pinot Grigio when you’re out to dinner with friends?  Do you consistently buy the same brand of Sauvignon Blanc at your local wine or grocery store because you know you like it?  If you answered yes to either of those questions, congratulations!  You are a human, a well-documented creature of habit.  For those who would like to get out of their wine rut and have a little fun exploring new varieties, here are a few wines that I suggest you seek out in 2017.

Oregon Chardonnay

You’ve probably tried Oregon Pinot Noir, which has been a darling of the red wine world for a couple of years now.  Given the amount of attention it receives and the fact that it is the most widely planted grape in Oregon, you might not realize that you have other options in the state that is home to Mt. Hood, Nike HQ, and a the world’s largest cheese factory, but in fact many other grapes are grown in Oregon and most of them are white.  I’m recommending Chardonnay for two reasons:  1) It is a grape everyone is familiar with and the one that will be the easiest to find in markets that are far from the Northwest; and 2) I feel like I’ve been tasting an Oregon Chardonnay renaissance lately.  As if winemakers finally stopped focusing all of their attention on the red darling and gave a little love to this variety, with excellent results.

The 2014 Roserock Chardonnay was easily one of my favorite surprises of the countless wines I tasted last year.  Roserock is a new label from Domaine Drouhin, which has been making wine in Willamette Valley for three decades.  If you drink California Chardonnays, you’ll find the ones from Oregon to be brighter, fresher takes on the variety and this wine is no exception.  For a bottle priced in the low $30s (not inexpensive, but in far more reasonable than the ocean of Chardonnay from California and France on offer at $50+), I enjoyed a lot of complex flavors and aromas:  Meyer lemon, pineapple, white flowers, saline – in addition to a lovely, silky texture and a long finish.  Roserock is new and 2014 was the first release.  If you have trouble finding it, try its sibling the Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay instead (around $30).

Pink Bubbles

If you have Champagne taste on a microbrew budget, you’re in luck because there are plenty of high-quality, reasonably priced sparkling wines made around the world these days.  Since still rosé has exploded in popularity over the last few years, I’m hoping a little of the fairy dust from that trend will rub off on sparkling rosé in 2017.  Why?  Because you’re missing out if you’re only drinking bubbles on special occasions.  And, pink bubbles are just more fun.

My pick in this category is a wine from the Penedès region of Spain, not too far from Barcelona, called Raventós i Blanc “di Nit” Rosé Conca del Riu Anoia (just ask for Raventós Rosé to simplify things).  This is a blend of three white grapes, Macabeu, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, and a small amount of one red called Monastrell from which the wine derives its pink color.  I can say from experience that I’ve shared this bottle at multiple dinners with different groups of friends and it has been a hit with all of them.  It’s a sophisticated sparkler that makes a lively aperitif or dinner companion, and it’s certified organic – and delicious (around $20).

White Bordeaux

White Bordeaux has issues.  For one, it’s overshadowed in reputation, volume, asking price, and prestige by the more famous reds of Bordeaux, and secondly because it hasn’t figured out how to sell itself.  Labels on its bottles are often nondescript and they don’t typically advertise the name of the grape variety(ies), leading many wine buyers to pass by without a second glance.  Bad for them but great for you because wines with such issues can be great values, which is exactly why white Bordeaux is on this list.  If you decide to take a chance on it, what exactly are you getting yourself into?  Sauvignon Blanc primarily, sometimes blended with a little bit of a grape called Semillon for additional weight and viscosity.  If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, California, or Sancerre, I encourage you to seek out a white Bordeaux or two this year and see what you think.

Because they are something of wine wallflowers, there are lots of excellent white Bordeaux options under $20, under $15, and even some very good bottles under $10. Look for the Sauvignon Blanc-driven Chateau Reynon (around $15) with its crisp, green apple-y character or, if you prefer a richer style, the 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend Chateau Chantegrive Graves (around $18), which shows stone fruit and honeysuckle. Because this is not a popular category, you may have trouble finding a lot of options in your city.  My advice:  give something in the $10 – $20 range that is recommended by your local wine shop a shot for your first go-round.

I’ve got additional, more adventurous wines to for you to seek out in 2017 in part two of this post coming soon.  If you have trouble finding any of the wines I’ve suggested in your area, please post in the comments or email me and I’ll be happy to help you with alternatives.  Cheers to new discoveries!

 

On Timorasso and Belonging

Saturday, May 14, 2014 – The last full day of the 8th Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium found me glumly sipping my way through the day’s first tasting, entitled “Discovering the New Italy.”  Why glumly?  A little back story:  Just two weeks prior to making my way to Florence, I had rather abruptly quit my job and had therefore arrived at a conference for wine professionals devoid of credentials, business cards, or a profession.  For the previous three and a half days I had answered the incessant “What do you do?” question by saying I was, “between positions,” “in the market for a new opportunity,” or “taking time off.”  All euphemisms for unemployed.

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Me on May 14, 2014

So there I was at a tasting in an exhibition hall in Florence among hundreds of successful, employed wine industry people feeling decidedly like I did not belong.

There were roughly 45 wines featured at the tasting.  I had been systematically making my way through the whites figuring I would circle back later to any reds that looked interesting.  It was just before 10 am and the hall was filling quickly.  I spied a table to my right that wasn’t too crowded where a gentleman was pouring two white wines.  I consulted my program, it read:  Derthona Costa Del Vento, Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmont, Italy – Vintages 2008 and 2011 – 100% Timorasso.  Other than Piedmont, Italy I had no idea what any of it meant.

I stepped up to the table and held out my glass.  The gentleman, who spoke only Italian, poured a splash of wine from the 2011 bottle.  I looked down at my program and found that the wine’s technical notes were also in Italian.  With no information in English and no idea what to expect, I sipped.  My palate lit up immediately.  It felt like there were fireworks in my brain it was so good.  The only coherent thought I could form was, What is this?  My less-than-eloquent notes from that first sip are as follows:  At once lush and linear, minerality and fruit, seriously delicious!!!

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2011 Vigneti Massa Derthona Timorasso

As it turns out I had just met Timorasso, one of about 500 or so grape varieties that is indigenous to Italy. (Fun fact:  Italy has more indigenous grape varieties by far than any other country, and the vast majority of them aren’t grown anywhere else.)  Its home is Piedmont, where the red grapes Nebbiolo and Barbera rule the day.  By any typical measure of a wine’s success – production volume, critical acclaim, number of vines planted, name recognition – Timorasso isn’t successful.  At all.

And yet, here was a wine so captivating, so distinctive, so unlike any other I had ever had that I was transfixed.  Could I describe it in that moment?  No, not at all.  Could I draw comparisons to something more well-known?  Not really.  Did I love it?  Yes.  Timorasso didn’t fit into any of the usual boxes.  It defied my attempts to place it among the usual suspects, Italian or otherwise.

And therein lies Timorasso’s one great success (and the reason why you should seek it out).  It is truly in its own quirky, idiosyncratic, and seriously delicious league.  Perfectly at home in obscurity, waiting patiently to teach us a new definition of what it is to belong.

Inspirations for this Post: 

A terrific article in Wine Enthusiast, “Why You Should be Drinking Timorasso” by Kerin O’Keefe, featuring Walter Massa, who is responsible for the wines I tasted and for cultivating Timorasso in Piedmont even when others thought it was a crazy idea.

International Masters of Wine 8th Symposium held in Florence, Italy.  The next one is slated for Rioja in June 2018.