Another Wine Experience: Little Known or Under Publicized Grape Varieties
It was my turn again to name a theme for the almost monthly get together of our wine dinner group, “Jim’s Disciples”. I thought to push the envelope a bit by asking everyone to bring a wine that used a grape variety they hadn’t heard of before, and which represented at least 70% of the wine in the bottle. There were no other restrictions or guidelines. Unfortunately, only about half my tasting notes survived the evening, and so I can only relate a portion of what occurred.
I also chose a BYO Italian restaurant that I’d been to for lunch, but never dinner, and hoped that the menu offerings would suit everyone’s palate and complement the wines selected. By chance, we had three whites and these were opened first along with the mélange of appetizers which included mussels marinara bianco, fried calamari, clams oreganata, and a traditional antipasto. My mouth waters just remembering the meal.
There was no need for a blind tasting since for most of us staring at the label would have revealed no insights as to what to expect. The first white wine was from Dobrovo, Slovenia. The 2003 “Ribolla” produced from Movia Estates ($ ?) was made from 100% ribolla grapes. I characterized the wine as “off-tasting, very light – no fruit”, and others commented “thin”, “watery”, “very flat”. I think it was universally disliked at the table, perhaps underscoring why we hadn’t heard much about Ribolla-based wines. In contrast, the next two wines were quite worthwhile and epitomized why one should try something new on occasion.
The 2004 Naia’s “Naides” ($24) bottling from Spain was made from 100% verdejo grapes. It was the predominant white wine favorite at the table, and I felt it was dry and grassy like a sauvignon blanc, but not overly acidic and with a slight fruitiness. Others described it as citrusy but “smooth” with good balance and complexity. Also receiving favorable reviews was the 2005 “Tocai Friulano” by L. Felluga ($25) from Friuli, Italy. This wine was made from 100% friuli grapes. My notes indicate I thought the wine to have a fruity nose, and was mouth-filling, resembling an Alsatian pinot gris. Other commentary heard was “nice nose”, “fruity”, “crisp”, and “dry”.
As the various pastas and main courses arrived at the table, the red wines began to circulate. First on my list of tastings was a 2001 Tilenus’ “Pagos de Posada” ($32) from Spain, made from 100% mencia grapes. It was a soft wine, with gentle tannins, well-balanced, gentle fruit impressions and even a touch of spice. It was neither an overwhelming wine, nor outstanding, but nevertheless quite pleasant. I would buy it again were it not for the somewhat excessive price for what one is getting. The impressions around the table were also very positive, and tasting notes described the wine as “very good”, “smooth”, “good nose”, “peppery”, and “good balance”. Upon trying recently to repurchase this wine, I’ve now found that a 2003 vintage (same pricing) has taken the place of the 2001 that was tasted.
An offering from the Takler winery in Szekszard, Hungary provided our next red wine, a 2003 “Noir Gold Reserve” ($?) made from 100% kefrankos grapes. Opinions regarding this wine were mixed. I thought it had a closed nose, but offered a full mouthful of dark fruited wine with soft tannins. It was merlot-like. The tasting notes of others read “very nice, sophisticated”, and “not much fruit/tannic”. Perhaps one’s impressions depended upon how long after pouring or bottle opening the wine was sampled.
Another wine from Spain appeared next. The 2002 “Prieto Picudo” from Dehesa de Rubiales vineyards ($?), in Castilla y Leon was made from 100% prieto picudo grapes. I had written that it had a really nice nose, tasted soft but with a strange flavor that was effused with vanilla. Someone else at the table wrote “excellent, smooth, complex/ vanilla flavors!!!”, so I wasn’t mistaken about the vanilla. I don’t know how to summarize or compare this wine except to say it was unusual and it was interesting enough to justify recommending you try it for yourself. I have recently tried to buy more of this wine and only a 2003 vintage was available, on sale however for $14 so I’m going to try some.
And here my notes were lost. Some of you might like to try this theme for your own wine tasting explorations, I know I’m going to give it another try at some point.
And if you’ve tried a wine made from unusual or under-recognized grapes, feel free to share your comments below.
For those of you who might be wondering what sort of wine goes well with ….(fill in the blank), may I direct you to a wine writer of some reknown, whose columns and books (“Red, White, and Drunk All Over”) I recommend highly, Ms. Natalie MacLean. You can check out her free wine-food matching tool at her homepage, Nat Decants: www.nataliemaclean.com/matcher.