While tried-and-true wines are by far the most easily accessible, some of the most interesting values are from relatively unknown regions and grapes. Wines from off the beaten path have much less name recognition than those from well-known areas such as Napa and Bordeaux, or varietals like Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignon. The producers can’t charge a premium merely for the letters on the label, and as a result the wines are often much easier on the pocketbook.
Being easier on the wallet, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate lesser quality. Many wine grapes and growing regions are obscure for a very good reason – they’re just not that excellent. Fortunately, I’ve recently received some far-flung samples that are worthy of mention, produced in sufficient quantities to allow a decent level of distribution.
As I’ve often discussed in this column, sparkling wines are an underutilized subspecies, especially when food is part of the occasion. Bubbles ease the passage of spicy or oddly textured foods down the gullet and scrub the mouth clean after each tasty swallow.
The next time you plan on setting out small nibbles for a crowd, seek out the Trapiche Extra Brut, a non-vintage bubbly from Mendoza Argentina. The wine shows aromas of apples and pineapples, with a toasted bread note that reminds me of good, non-vintage Champagne. In the mouth, the unusual sparkling blend of Semillon and Malbec create a full, crisp wine with plenty of personality.
Still whites (as opposed to bubbly) also offer a lot of variety that seems to pass under the noses of most consumers. Sure, old standbys like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are tasty, but there are so many other wonderful whites from lesser-known locales. Alsatian whites are delicious, food friendly, and can offer great value. One that recently crossed my path was the Hugel Gewurztraminer “Hugel,” bursting with iris and pink cherry blossoms on the nose and a racy lemon-lime element on the pithy finish.
Another fun, mostly obscure wine style with which to get reacquainted is dry rosé. Like sparklers, rosés are terrifically food friendly. A great rosé combines the bright acidity of typical whites with the savory qualities inherent in most reds, and the best result is a medium-weight, silky texture that pairs well with just about anything.
Try the Alexander Valley Vineyards dry Rosé of Sangiovese out of Healdsburg, California. This low-alcohol beauty boasts a nose redolent of summer fruits like strawberry and peach, and finishes both dry and slightly steely. It can easily handle a variety of dishes, from hearty autumn stew to a roast of spring lamb.
As for reds, here is where you’ll find the most variety overall, especially in reference to lesser-known varietals from offbeat regions. Keep an eye out for the Feudi Dei Sanseverino I.G.T. from the Italian region of Calabria, which I most recently explored during Vino 2010 in New York. This wine overflows with black pepper, cinnamon, black raspberry and dark cherry. Made from Lacrima Nera, it’s a perfect example of something that would sell for double the tariff if it came from a more famous place like Tuscany or Piedmont.
A similar price-value ratio exists in the creamy Cantina Val Di Neto Rosso Superiore Melissa “Mutro,” smelling of brown butter, strawberry and Bing cherry. On the palate this is all about raspberry liqueur and black licorice, frankly a stunning wine at a very fair price.
As for dessert, make sure to sample the bright and peachy Paul Jaboulet Ainé Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise Le Chant des Griolles, a mouthful of a name for such a lightly viscous wine. I like the feel of this pure, floral, Rhone Valley juice. Peach, green plum and candied orange peel notes cascade through a pillow-puff finish.
While the tried-and-true may be most comfortable, in wine as in most things, taking a chance can produce a huge reward. Look for one of these wines, or ask your local wine professional for his or her pick.
Trapiche Extra Brut NV (Mendoza, Argentina) $14
Hugel Gewurztraminer “Hugel” 2007 (Alsace, France) $19
Alexander Valley Vineyards dry Rosé of Sangiovese 2009 (Healdsburg, California) $14
Feudo Dei Sanseverino I.G.T. 2006 (Calabria, Italy) $22
Cantina Val Di Neto Rosso Superiore Melissa “Mutro” 2005 (Calabria, Italy) $29
Paul Jaboulet Ainé Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise Le Chant des Griolles 2007 (Rhone Valley, France) $22/375ml