More Adventuresome Wines
- Sure, Heitz
is world famous for its phenomenal single-vineyard Napa Cabernets costing
$50-$120 a bottle. But they still make their delightfully exotic,
enchanting Napa Valley red wine called Grignolino.
In Italy's Piemonte the Grignolino grape has fallen out of favor in the
Langhe region. Many producers used to make wine from that grape, but
they make a lot more money producing darker colored wines from Dolcetto and
Barbera, so those are more prominent these days.
Grignolino still is easily found close to Asti, especially in the Monferrato
The wine is typically light in color, fairly acidic and tart, so it's a
great partner early in a multi-course meal where it's paired with
salumi. It's acidity cuts the fat in Prosciutto and salami.
But there are some other red grapes in the region and Brachetto is often
found being made by some of the wineries who dabble in Barbera and
Grignolino. You might find dry wine made from Brachetto, but more
readily available are sweet, fruity, fizzy Brachetto wines.
The floral and brown spice notes in Heitz Grignolino would suggest that
theirs is probably not precisely Grignolino, but Brachetto.
I've shared this wine with a number of Piemontese winemakers and they agree
this is probably Brachetto.
Now, dial back the calendar to the 1960s. Joe Heitz bought a little
wine cellar in St. Helena from a guy named Leon Brendel who produced but one
wine. And, in fact, it was known as Brendel's "Only
Brendel's vineyard surrounded the little winery he had, just south of Louis
Heitz became famous for his magnificent wines, Cabernet Sauvignon being the specialty
of the house. But Joe Heitz' kids still make Grignolino...or wine
that's called Grignolino.
It's a delightful dry red, much smoother than Cabernet and lighter bodied,
- We can relay a mildly amusing story about a fellow who was searching for
He ambled in to the shop and said "I'm from Benicia, California.
I once had a curious red wine from Napa. It's not Gewurztraminer, but
it's sort of like Gewurztraminer. I had it a decade ago and ever
since, I've been looking for it. I go into every liquor store I see
and ask about this and nobody knows what I'm talking about and they don't
have this wine. They've never heard of it. Do you have any idea
what I'm looking for?"
We said "Probably the wine you've been looking for is this one right
over here." And we showed him a stack of cases of Heitz
The poor fellow nearly wet his pants.
"Oh my gawd! That's the wine! That's exactly the
wine! I can't believe it!! You have it. I've been looking for
this for ten years!"
We asked how many bottles he wanted, thinking maybe he'd buy a
"I'll take one bottle." the guy responded.
We were shocked by this. "One bottle! Let me gets this
straight...you live 50 miles from here. You've been looking for this
wine for 10 years and haven't found it. You've been torturing liquor
store clerks who have no clue about the product you're requesting. You
finally find it and you're going to buy ALL OF ONE BOTTLE?"
"Okay...you're right," he responded. "I'll take
Now his associate, another rocket scientist apparently, decided he should
buy some wine, too.
"What might you have that would be good for a hot tub?"
We suggested a terrific Riesling with a price-tag of $7.99 on it.
The fellow shrieked when he saw the price. "$7.99!!! No,
that's too much!"
Without missing a beat and in our best deadpan we replied, "Oh sorry
sir. I thought you wanted a nice wine to drink while you were soaking
in a hot tub. I didn't realize you wanted something to fill the hot
Currently in stock: Heitz Napa Grignolino (list $22) SALE
Coteaux des Travers
COTEAUX DES TRAVERS
Charavin owns this magnificent estate in the village of Rasteau in the
Southern Rhône. We visited the place in April of 2010 and tasted
the usual dazzling line-up of wines, both white and red.
The 2014 Rasteau is a delicious little red wine. It's
predominantly Grenache, with a modest amount of Syrah and about 10%
of Mourvèdre. The vines are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50
Currently in stock: 2014 COTEAUX DES TRAVERS
Rasteau Rouge $17.99
is a famous Australian winery, dating back to the 1860s.
They're in Central Victoria, about 70 miles north of Melbourne and the
vineyards are planted largely with grape varieties more commonly found in
France's Rhone Valley.
Most people wouldn't build their brand around the Marsanne grape, but at
Tahbilk it's a bit of a specialty, along with Shiraz. In fact,
they've been growing Marsanne since the 1860s and Tahbilk has, we're told,
the world's largest vineyard plantings of that grape.
We had the opportunity to taste some older vintages of Tahbilk Marsanne
and these were extraordinarily good and remarkably complex. Still
family owned and operated, they used to be called "Chateau
Tahbilk." The word "tabilk" is that of some
indigenous people and refers to many waterholes. That's not
watering holes as we have in San Francisco, by the way.
They changed the spelling of "tabilk" to "Tahbilk" so
European customers would be able to pronounce it correctly.
The entry level Marsanne bottling is a winner and puts to shame most of
the local vintner's work with white Rhone varieties, never mind the
price. This is a very famous wine...every Aussie connoisseur knows
Tahbilk's Marsanne and yet it remains a reasonably-priced bottle.
Winemaker Neil Larson told us he likes to ferment the juice at relatively
low temperatures and bottle the wine in its youth to capture the bright
fruit characters of the Marsanne grape. No oak, no malolactic and no
lees stirring of this wine...and yet we found a faintly toasty or smoky
aspect to it.
In the meantime, the 2011 has just arrived and it's most attractively
priced. It reminds us a bit of orange/honey and a touch of pineapple
They offer, periodically, a "Museum" bottling...we have their
2009 and this ages handsomely! It's a bit smoky and deeper thanks to
its extended maturation (in bottle) period. And the price is quite
reasonable, so pairing this side-by-side at dinner is quite interesting.
Currently in stock: 2011 TAHBILK Central Victoria
2009 TAHBILK "Museum" MARSANNE $20.99
HARRINGTON 2014 LAGREIN $29.99
HARRINGTON 2013 NEBBIOLO $29.99
We've been fans of Bryan Harrington's wines for many years. He
produced some wonderful Pinot Noirs and, finding the market for those wines
to be a bit challenging, he went even more off the deep end by producing
wines from relatively obscure Italian grape varieties.
He still makes some good Pinot Noir, but we found a couple of his
Italianesque reds to be of interest.
Harrington's 2014 Lagrein has a number of the hallmarks of Alto Adige-grown
versions, though perhaps it's a shade more tannic or coarse than some of the
young bottlings we've tasted in Italy.
It comes from a Paso Robles-area vineyard and it's made with Pinot Noir
sensibilities. He avoids picking during the hot daylight hours, going
for either a night harvest or picking in the early morning.
The juice is then cold-soaked, as is currently fashionable for Pinot
Noir. Indigenous yeast fermentation...hand punch-downs (the grape
skins tend to rise to the top of the tank and need to be submerged back into
the fermenting juice to give color and character to the wine)...it's matured
in small oak, but you won't find much in the way of wood here.
We suggest opening your bottle of Harrington's Lagrein a couple of hours
before serving it and splashing it around in a decanter is also a good
idea. Match it with sausages & polenta...try it with grilled
duck...or a bit of lamb (something fatty to match the tannin).
- We also have a youthful Nebbiolo...grapes come from two vineyard
sites in Paso Robles.
Both vineyards have a chalky soil, somewhat akin to the vineyards in
La Morra and Barolo. The wine even reminds us, to some degree,
of the wines from Piemonte.
Yes, it's young, so giving this an hour in a decanter is suggested.
Bryan doesn't make but 5 or 6 barrels of this, so the production is
typically around 120 cases.
MORE ADVENTURESOME WINES