As we begin a new year, many of us are beginning a dark journey into a challenging diet regimen while others are vowing to organize a closet or – look out – the garage. It is the follof resolutions we repeat year after year because we are goaded into making promises to ourselves that are routinely ignored in a few weeks. Remember that one about being open to eating broccoli? Right.
January is resolution month; February is procrastination month. Cut to the chase and focus on wine.
We all can get into resolving to find a unique wine, right? Who couldn’t succeed at that? It’s fun, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and – best of all – you don’t have to sacrifice anything, except maybe the same old chardonnay you’ve been drinking for the last five years.
There are tons of delicious wines on the market that don’t employ common grapes like merlot, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet sauvignon. Many of these special wines – often blends – come from European wine growing regions whose indigenous grapes haven’t achieved world acclaim. Yet made in optimal climate zones, these special grapes produce interesting wines begging to be tried.
Here are a dozen unique wines – one for every month of 2019. Don’t procrastinate.
Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Suditrol Alto Adige 2012 ($18). We are attracted to more and more of these obscure grape varieties from Northeast Italy. Lagrein and schiava are indigenous to Alto Adige and have two likeable qualities. They are
lighter in style more akin to pinot noir than cabernet sauvignon. Some cherry and floral elements dominate in a medium bodied package. Very agreeable and food-friendly.
Alois Lageder Lagrein Alto Adige DOC 2016 ($25). Lagrein is a cross between teroldego and syrah. Lots of dark fruit and garrigue flavor with hints of black pepper and firm tannins.
Alois Lageder Forra Manzoni Bianco 2016 ($30). Equally unique, this aromatic white wine is made from manzoni bianco grapes, a variety created in 1930 that is a cross between riesling and pinot bianco. It has balanced acidity and citrus and mineral notes with pear-like aromas. Surprisingly full bodied.
Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon 2017 ($25). It’s been a long time since we’ve tasted a good semillon. Usually a companion grape to sauvignon blanc, semillon thrives in Australia’s Hunter Valley. This version has classic citrus and grapefruit flavors and low acidity to make it a great sipper.
Gaia Estate Agiorgitiko Red Dry Wine 2014 ($40). Dark in color and packed with dense black fruit character, this is an impressive wine from Nemea region of Greece. Very ageworthy and powerful with significant tannin and structure.
Quinta do Vesuvio Pombal do Vesuvio DOC Duoro 2015 ($30). This Portuguese wine blends the indigenous grapes of touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta amarela to come up with a smooth but complex red wine. Floral, anise aromas with ripe dark berry flavors and a dash of mineral.
Cantina Mesa Primo Scuro ($16). We just liked the uniqueness of the cannonau grape variety in this delicious and approachable red wine. It would be a great match to subs, meat balls and cheese.
Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2017 ($18). This well-priced and delicious barbera from the producer’s La Serra estate has generous raspberry and blackberry notes with an elegant finish that makes it easily enjoyable now.
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2017 ($90/375ml). Okay, it isn’t cheap. But anyone who has had icewine from the Niagara Peninsula knows they’re in for a treat. After pressing the grapes when they have reached a frigid 14 degrees, what concentrated liquid is left in the grapes is fermented for 26 days or so. The product is intense, sweet and delicious. This riesling icewine has citrus and white peach notes.
Bodegas Paniza Carinena 2016 ($13). This is a well-priced and enticing carinena blended with grenache. Very effusive and alluring with ripe strawberries and berries dominating this smooth and rich package.
Ca Maiol Giome Rosso 2016 ($16). From the Lugana region of Italy, this unusual wine is a blend of the groppello (a native grape of Lake Garda), marzemino, barbera and sangiovese. Medium body and quaffable. Match with grilled burgers, lamb shank or meat-based pasta.
Tooth & Nail Santa Barbara County Fragrant Snare 2017 ($26). We’re not big on white blends, which mysteriously are few and far between and far too sweet. But this unique blend of chardonnay, viognier, albarino and a dash of muscat strikes the right balance. Generous aromatics (thanks to the viognier) with white peach, melon and lime flavors.
PINOT NOIR PICKS
Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2015 ($44). This estate, founded by Brice Cutrer Jones of Sonoma-Cutrer fame, concentrates solely on pinot noir, so it’s not surprising that the wines are excellent. There is nothing like pinot noir when it is made in the right hands and in good vintages. This single-vineyard, dry-farmed pinot noir from the Russian River Valley has layers upon layers of aromas and fruit – cinnamon, black pepper and cranberry aromas followed by black cherry, tea, dampened earth, and truffle flavors. Well balanced and correctly priced. The 2015 Emeritus Pinot Hill Pinot Noir ($67) is also a complex, richly textured wine with good depth and concentration. This is a producer to keep an eye on.
Ponzi Vineyards Classico Pinot Noir 2015 ($42). Using cuvees from 7 to 8 estate vineyards, winemaker Luisa Ponzi continues to knock out a wonderful Willamette Valley pinot noir with ripe, forward raspberry and cherry fruit with a hint of coffee.
Meyer-Fonne Altenbourg Pinot Noir 2015 ($45). We’ve tasted enough pinot noirs from Alsace to essentially say the region’s producers should give up making red wine. Ninety percent of this French region’s production is delicious white wine. But we’ll make an exception for this decent, albeit medium body, pinot noir imported by Kermit Lynch. Strawberry and mineral notes are packaged in a seamless, silky package.