A Profile of Five, Slightly Obscure — But Uncommonly Delicious — Varietals That Are Sure to Make Any Celebration Sparkle.
The extraordinary variety of wine styles and grape varieties on the market today make this easily one of the most exciting times in history to be a wine lover.
Any celebration is a golden opportunity to be open to trying a new wine and to pair it with many of the seasonal flavors and senses. Here are a handful of recommendations from off the beaten path that are sure to make your party sparkle like never before.
I: 2011 Margerum Santa Ynez Chenin Blanc.
While the Chenin Blanc grape is widely planted in the Loire valley in France, where it is grown in the appellations of Saumur, Savennieres, and Vouvray, it is not as common in the New World (except in South Africa where it is very popular).
It is versatile grape with high acidity. That means it can be used to make everything from dry wines to sparklers to dessert wines. The Margerum Chenin Blanc is quite a dry wine; it is wonderfully lean with high acidity and a gripping finish. Nice flavors of quince and apples. It pairs well with salads, fish and chicken. Sweeter versions of Chenin Blanc can often balance the spicy heat of some Asian and Hispanic dishes.
II. 2011 Chehalem Gruner Veltliner
Gruner Veltliner is a super-popular grape in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but is a bit obscure in the United States. Thankfully, the folks at Chehalem Winery in Oregon know how wonderful this wine can be and how marvelously food-friendly it is.
The winemaker draws attention to the spices and herbs on the nose with a bright flash of lemon verbena. The palate is linear and focused with the perfect amount of texture to support food, but it's also delicious by itself. Finally, there is a tart, lively acidity and a silky finish - true hallmarks of a fine Gruner Veltliner.
III. 2010 Robert Biale Vineyards Sangiovese, Nonna's Vineyard
Sangiovese is a red wine grape and is planted ubiquitously in Central Italy where it is the main component of Chianti, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Brunello.
Happily, the team at Biale Vineyards in Napa has produced a California version of this full-bodied, food-friendly wine. It has a dark red ruby color with lots of baked fruit flavors as well as sandalwood, ginger, clove and allspice. Generous on the mid-palate with a plump, long finish ("escalating" as the winemaker puts it), this is a perfect wine with pizza, pasta Bolognese or lasagna! Buon appetito!
IV. 2009 Gramercy Cellars Indigo Montoya Tempranillo
Best known for being the dominant grape in the Rioja region of Spain where it is said that the grape has been grown since the time of Phoenician settlements, Tempranillo feels very much at home in Walla Walla, Washington where Gramercy Cellars grows this varietal.
It is a medium-to-full-bodied wine that displays a balance of red and black fruits. On the nose enjoy the aromas of plum, tobacco, vanilla and herb. On the palate, the hallmarks for this grape include raspberry, strawberry, and Bing cherry. Try this one with something spicy like queso y chorizo, seafood paella or simple ham croquettes.
V. 2009 Sineann CJ Zinfandel Port
This port-style wine is made from very ripe Zinfandel grapes and "pot-distilled eau-de-vie." The Zinfandel provides vibrant black cherry fruit and "fine-grained" tannins. And the eau-de-vie adds an exotic orange zest. Unlike real Ports this wine has a smooth, voluptuous finish.
Try with a wedge of Stilton cheese and a water cracker on a chilly night next to a crackling fire!
Let it Breathe!
When trying a new wine, initially you may find it is not to your style or taste. My recommendation is after opening the bottle, give the wine time to breathe. After 5-10 minutes, try it again and see if it is more agreeable. After that, if it isn't really working for you, it may be the time to reach for a back-up.
Have a happy and delicious celebration!