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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  $22.99

Piemonte offers a handful of really nice, but obscure grape varieties.

In addition to Pelaverga, Ruché, Timorasso,  Arneis and Nascetta, there's Erbaluce.

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 Lake Viverone.

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 wines."
That's a lovely compliment, of course, but it helps when the wines are good.

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  $22.99

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, etc.  

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

The 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 1990s.

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 diverse.  

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 terroir.  

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.

They 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" TEMPRANILLO  $21.99
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 example.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 varieties.  

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 I   $41.99

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 world.  

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.
 
  
Mrs. Espil.



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!

 

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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 wine.
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

 



 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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