People who know me have often asked why I can claim so many previous occupations. I tell them either that I get bored easily, or that I can’t decide what I want to do when I grow up. I guess both of these are true which has led to me to be an obstetrician/gynecologist for 20 years, own an equestrian training/breeding facility, be a bartender and kayak guide in the Caribbean, and eventually end up in the next logical thing…retail wine and wine education.
My restlessness extends to other aspects of my life, including the wines I drink. I can only drink so much Merlot and Cabernet without wanting to venture into the vast world of different grapes that become incredible wines. So let’s look at some fun wines to impress your dinner guests with. Italy, with over 1000 grapes that have been, or are being, made into wine, is a great place to start.
San Giovanni Il Groppello. Groppello is the major grape grown in the Lago Garda area between Veneto and Lombardy. When you open the squat little bottle aromas of dark cherries and spice leap from within. The wine is medium bodied and silky with moderate tannins supporting minerally dark fruit flavors. It is a delicious alternative to Pinot Noir for $22.99.
Emilio Bulfon in Friuli has dedicated his life to resurrecting obscure grapes that often were thought to be extinct. His Forgiarin is an excellent example. The wine is medium to full in body with fruity aromas with hints of underbrush. On the palate warm, smooth flavors of red fruit are supported by light supple tannins. A bit understated but plenty of flavor to enjoy and wonderful with pork or fowl. $19.99.
Castelfeder Rieder Lagrein. Lagrein is a grape native to Alto Adige, in the far north of Italy where more Germen is spoken than Italian. This wine has aromatics of black and red cherries with a hint of violets. Medium to full in body, it is intense but soft textured, chewy but not heavy. Your palate will experience earthy plums and dark cherries with a pronounced mineral edge and a wonderful savoriness. My favorite wine with beef stew. $19.99.
We could stay in Italy for the rest of this article and talk about Piculit Neri, Teroldego, or Nerello Mascalese but we should head elsewhere. Before we do, we should touch on a white wine, and Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 would be my choice. This young rock star winemaker from Sicily is crafting wines from indigenous varietals such as Frapatto, Grillo and Nero D’Avola. But this white, made from Albanella and Zibibbo is off the charts. Bright and fresh, with bold zesty flavors of citrus, white peach, and tropical fruit with a rosemary-ginger kick at the back end. Pricey at $29.99, but fabulous!
France has its share of grapes you never heard of, too. For a great bargain in white wine, try Saint Mont “Les Bastions”. From the Basque country of Southwest France, this fresh, vibrant, delightful wine is a blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. There are floral and citrus-grapefruit aromas with grapefruit and herbs on the palate. With a bracing acidity it is a great little wine on its own or with food for $10.99.
Jura is a little known region of France which is currently a darling of high end restaurants and sommeliers. Jacques Puffeney’s Arbois is a wonderful wine made from the Trousseau Noir grape. Known as the “Pope of Jura” he brings the best out of this grape. The nose is of wild berries, game, and pine. There are mineral infused flavors of red cherries and berries with grainy tannins. There is a wonderful rustic quality that makes this a unique wine. It is not cheap, at $42.99, but worth the experience.
Domain de Labarthe Gaillac is from the region of Gaillac in Sothwestern France and is a blend of Fer-Servado, Braucol and Duras. Flavors and aromas of dried herbs, red fruit, pencil lead and minerals in this earthy, rustic wine end with a spiced, tart smoky finish. Unusual and delicious at $20.99.
No discussion on unusual grape varietals would be complete without an entry from Greece. Domain Skouras makes a wonderful red from the Aghiorghitiko (honest) grape. Since the grape is so hard to pronounce it has been renamed Saint George for English speaking wine lovers. Big lush flavors of dark fruit in this complex earthy wine make for a delightful pairing with lamb or braised meats. At $14.99 it’s a great way to forget that Greece has to claim Retsina as coming from there.
These are just a few of the unknown, unusual and wonderful varietals out there to explore. There are many more and they are worth every effort to find. Think how smart you’ll sound when you matter of factly say “Here’s a delightful little Garganega I picked up recently…”