Wines for The Adventuresome
|We like discovering new
wines...interesting and unusual wines made from grape varieties that are
a bit "off the beaten path."
Most stores selling wine stick to wines for which there's already a
demand, so they don't have to "show & sell."
Most places, further, don't even make an effort to guide consumers to
good, soulful wines. It's easier, frankly, to simply post a
numerical score and let folks fend for themselves.
One chain of stores even has its own wine guru who bestows 90 point
scores on wines.
What a sick way to buy or sell wine!
Given that most critics use "Cabernet Sauvignon" as a
yardstick, how can they possibly taste and appreciate a wine made of
Charbono, Tocai Friulano or Zweigelt?
Well, if you can break away from the mainstream, I promise that you'll
find some really interesting wines and, frequently, good values, too.
FAVARO 2017 ERBALUCE DI CALUSO
- Piemonte offers a handful of really nice, but obscure grape varieties.
In addition to Pelaverga, Ruché, Timorasso, Arneis and Nascetta,
It's a grape variety found mostly around the Caluso region, about a half
hour by car north and a touch east of Turin. Favaro's vineyards and
winery are near Piverone, another half hour north and east of Caluso near
Benito Favaro and his son Camillo put this place on the map and for some
wine-drinkers, Favaro is Erbaluce.
Camillo is a student of wine...and quite a scholarly one, at that.
He's written a book on Lambrusco and has published a couple of volumes of
a nice tome on France's Burgundy region. He points out that
virtually all the literature about Burgundy is typically written in French
or English, so he and a friend have written the first book in Italian on
the wines of Burgundy.
He makes some delightful wines, red and white, but it's Erbaluce that's
the flagship for Favaro.
Camillo is amused by people claiming to be wine experts who ask him
"What grape is your Erbaluce made from?"
But that points out, again, the relative obscurity of the Erbaluce grape.
We've suggested he inform those "experts" that the wine is 50%
Erba and the other half is made of Luce.
He likes this idea.
We've enjoyed a number of bottles of Favaro's Erbaluce with different
foods. One of our favorite pairings was with Fried Chicken, as the
slight bitter almond character of the wine matched the spices and salty
qualities of the chicken (we were at San Francisco's Front Porch
restaurant, by the way).
Sharing a bottle with a wine friend who comes to San Francisco to judge at
the SF International Wine Competition, our pal said "You know, I
spend a lot of time traveling around the wine world each year and yet I
seem to learn more in three days here with you tasting unusual and obscure
That's a lovely compliment, of course, but it helps when the wines are
We look for a bitter pear skin quality in this Erbaluce. It's dry,
crisp and has a slightly coarse texture that certainly won't please those
who prefer off-dry or low acid white wine.
HARRINGTON 2018 NEGRETTE $22.99
HARRINGTON 2018 "BONA FIDE" Red Blend Graciano & Mourvèdre
The Negrette grape finds its home in the south of France near
Toulouse. Wines of the "Fronton" appellation are typically made
of Negrette and possibly blended with Cabernet, Malbec, Fer Servadou,
We recall a number of Napa wineries made wine of this grape, labeling it as
"Pinot St. George." Christian Brothers winery made
one. Inglenook also bottled a wine of this grape. But as Napa
has become more Cabernet-centric, the grape died out in favor of Cabernet
Sauvignon. Or should we call those wines Cabernet $auvignon?
Harrington found a tiny patch of Negrette in San Benito County at the Calleri
Vineyard. They have all of three acres of Negrette. Harrington's
young 2018 vintage is a delight. We like the red fruit fragrances and
there's maybe a nuance suggesting violets or some sweet floral character.
It's a medium-bodied red wine and Harrington's is below today's standard of 14%
alcohol, another plus for us.
Spain's Graciano grape has found a few sites in
California. You'd find it in the Rioja region where it's blended,
typically, with Tempranillo. Here in California there are presently 60
acres planted with 20 of those being in Sacramento. There are now maybe 15
acres planted in San Luis Obispo. In San Benito County there are 2 acres
of Graciano. Bryan blended the Graciano with 16% Mourvèdre. The
blend, then, is a Rioja-Meets-The-Rhone sort of red. Medium-bodied and
with some red fruit and a touch of spice.
It's also a rarity for a Californian red...only 13.3% alcohol!
From the 2016 vintage, this is showing well right now and you can easily pair
with with a roasted chicken or grilled red meats.
Abacela story is remarkable and it centers on two hardy souls who enjoyed
the budget-priced wines they could afford from Spain.
Earl & Hilda Jones (that's their real names, not something from the
Witness Protection Program) lived in the Gulf Coast and were perplexed
that the grape responsible for the wines they loved so much from Spain,
Tempranillo, was not much of a presence anywhere in American wine
regions. This, of course, was back in the late 1980s and early
Mr. & Mrs. Jones began studying climate way back when and it helped
that their son Gregory is a climatologist and researcher who's now working
at Southern Oregon University. Dr. Jones was on the road
to working in the culinary world before his parents' interest in
grapevines got him headed in a different direction.
They chose an un-tested region and began planting Tempranillo in
Oregon's Umpqua Valley, a place that was just starting to simmer with
winegrowing activity.. In fact, the word "abacela"
translates from some old Iberian language indicate the planting of a
grapevine. And plant they did, indeed!
Today they have 10 clones of Tempranillo scattered around 27 acres of
vineyards. And the vineyard sites are geologically quite
The Jones family makes several Tempranillo wines. We currently have
their "Fiesta" bottling, a sort of entry-level wine which is
actually quite good. We were a bit surprised to find this wine hits
so many of the notes we appreciate in good Spanish wines.
It comes from their Faultline Vineyard and this is a remarkably diverse
site. Diverse in terms of elevation and slope, as well as
Anyway, the 2012 Fiesta is quite good...it's along the lines of
a good Crianza wine from Rioja, but perhaps a tad fuller in body, so comparing
it to a wine from Ribera del Duero is not much of a stretch, although it's not
one of those high alcohol, heavily extracted sort of wines.
The wine saw 79% French oak and 21% American barrels with 18% of the wood being
new. We like the hint of oak in this wine...it's there just so you can
sense it, but not so much that it's all you smell or taste.
The wine is nicely gentle on the palate and it's even smoother paired with
paella, lamb or well-seasoned roasted chicken.
make a terrific Reserve bottling, too. In the past 16 vintages, only 6
were deemed worthy of this designation.
We tasted the 2012 and thought they did a damned good job...
The wine is deeper and more intense than the Fiesta bottling. It's matured
in a high percentage of new French oak and we like the woodsy impression present
on the nose and palate. We expect the wood will integrate with the black
fruit notes of this wine. It's got a moderate level of tannin and pairing
it with grilled lamb will make the wine taste smoother.
It's a splurge at fifty bucks, but the wine is a winner. The made
something like 6 barrels of this...123 cases.
The beautiful label was designed by Hanna Jones when she was a
kid. She's still young, actually, but she's an interior
designer these days.
Currently in stock: 2012 ABACELA "Fiesta"
2012 ABACELA "Reserva" TEMPRANILLO $49.99
BOUZA 2017 TANNAT Reserva $21.99
- The Bouza family took over an old winery located maybe 20-30 minutes'
drive from Montevideo in Uruguay. They make quite a range of wines,
both white and red.
Uruguay, though, is noted for its work with the Tannat grape, a variety
whose home is in France's southwest. The wines of Madiran can be
styled along the lines of those from nearby Bordeaux, though not made
primarily of Cabernet or Merlot.
We have often found the Tannats from Bouza to be quite good.
Currently we have their 2017 vintage Reserva bottling. It's a
medium-full bodied red with some dark fruit character and a sweet, woodsy
character. The tannin level is modest, making this quite drinkable
in its youth.
You'd serve this in place of a domestic Cabernet or Merlot, for
- DOMAINE BERTHOMIEU
2010 MADIRAN $19.99
- From South-western France, we have a couple of exceptional wines from
Didier Barre's Domaine Berthomieu.
These are made from interesting and, to Californians, unusual grape
His Madiran is called "Cuvée Charles de Batz," a blend of 90%
Tannat and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like big, deep Cabernets,
put a bottle of this on the dinner table!
VON WINNING 2016 SAUVIGNON BLANC
- You're probably wondering why we'd include a Sauvignon Blanc on a page
featuring "adventuresome" wines. After all, Sauvignon
Blanc is a mainstream grape variety.
But few people expect to find grand Sauvignon Blanc in Germany!
There are some really good German Sauvignons, though, but there's only one
Von Winning I. (They make a Von Winning II, by the way.
There's also a Von Winning Sauvignon 500 that is quite a bit more costly
and quite good.)
When it's first released the wine displays intense Sauvignon fruit and
there's a fair bit of oak. The wine is easily compared to the top
bottlings of white wine from Bordeaux's Pessac-Léognan region. With
a bit of time in the bottle, it takes on a more floral aspect. We
inquired as to whether or not they blend in a bit of Riesling, as German
wineries need have 85% of the particular grape variety on the label be in
the bottle, so there is room for some blending leeway. Of course
they claimed it's entirely Sauvignon Blanc.
The wine is stellar, though and remarkably stylish. We've served a
number of bottles and knowledgeable wine aficionados never guess it's a
wine from Germany.
There's citrusy Sauvignon and a lavish level of oak (ever had Smith
Haut-Lafitte?). The wine is dry and has a good level of acidity,
too. You'll find it fairly full-bodied.
SOALHEIRO 2018 ALVARINHO $24.99
- Almost every year we bring this wine to a dinner held for the judges at
the San Francisco International Wine Competition. And each year we
see the judges who have a sniff and a taste of this reach for the
smart-phone to take a snapshot of the bottle.
For the 2018 Judge's Dinner we brought a rare format, a 3 liter
bottle! We were able to share it with more of the judges (there are
50, or so people here from all over the world).
We had discovered this wine on a trip to Portugal more than a decade
ago. We were dining in an old-time seafood restaurant on the
Atlantic Coast and had ordered a very modest bottle of Vinho Verde as the
restaurant had been suggested by a guy whose family makes a lot of
popularly-priced wines. We paid 8 Euros for a bottle of his
wine. Having drained that bottle with the first courses, we asked
the waiter if he might suggest something seriously good and
well-priced. He brought us a bottle of Soalheiro Alvarinho.
They make a few higher-priced bottlings and we do like the "Primeiras
Vinhas" Alvarinho. It's made of older vineyards.
But the "regular" bottling of Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain) is
fantastically good. There's a mildly citrusy element to the wine and
we love the stony aspect we encounter on the palate. It's simply
damned good. Soalheiro's is one of those special wines that makes
you take notice.
- DOMAINE ILARRIA 2011 IROULEGUY $17.99
- The vineyard
land in this south-west appellation struck me as rather rugged, perched on
steep hills and worked by rugged individuals. I suppose it's little
wonder, then, that the wines of the Irouleguy area are some of the most
"sturdy" in France and they're a galaxy apart from today's modern,
internationally-styled wines so prevalent thanks to point-counting
You're in the Pyrénées and Basque Country when visiting producers of
Irouleguy. The language is different, the people are wonderfully
different and the wines, thank goodness, are different.
Domaine Ilarria is owned by Peio Espil, one of the top vintners in the
region, not that there are hundreds. In fact, most of the wine of the
appellation is made by the local growers' cooperative. Most of the
production from the region stays at home...only 10% is exported. But
then, when you think about it, not many foreigners probably have a palate to
appreciate this sort of wine. They make a rosé, for example, which is
screamingly dry and tart.
Here's a wine based on the Tannat grape that's "tempered" with
Cabernet Franc (yikes!), so it pairs well with red meats, duck, etc.
The word "austere" comes to mind as a good descriptor. I
like the 2009 from Ilarria. It's big, moderately herbal and I found
the Cabernet Franc to give much of the aroma in this wine. If you're a
fan of Madiran and Cahors wines from the Southwest, you might consider
trying a bottle of Irouleguy.
American wine geeks visiting the Ilarria cellar.
Peio Espil in explains cultivating Tannat and Cabernet vines in Basque
Country. The vines, just 6 miles from the Spanish border, are
cultivated organically because Espil says the indigenous yeast on the
grapes is 'stronger' or more capable of a complete fermentation.
Yields are rather small in an effort to maximize quality.
A current vintage of Ilarria...
Here's an antique bottle of Irouleguy...a 1928!
BODEGA COLOME 2018 TORRONTES $13.99
- This old, pioneering Argentinean winery was purchased by Donald Hess
(The Hess Collection in Napa)...
We view the Colomé Torrontes as the benchmark example of this
grape. The folks at this winery credit the high elevation and
intense ultraviolet light with helping to produce this remarkable
Their theory is that the intensity of the UV rays causes the grapes to
develop a thicker and darker colored skin
I don't know if that's why this wine is so magnificently
aromatic and flavorful or if it's the particular clone of
Torrontes. But whatever it is, this wine is remarkable.
The fragrance is detectable the moment you open the bottle...there are
fragrances of exotic fruits and a bouquet of intensely perfumed
flowers. Despite all these "sweet" elements, the wine is
actually quite dry.
- If you're looking for an amazing aperitif wine, consider this.
It also pairs well with that Avocado/Mango 'salad' you're pairing with
pan-roasted Sea Scallops...
CAMPILLO 2018 RIOJA BLANCO $16.99