Everyone knows “the regulars” — Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Zin. They’re like your old friends, welcoming you with a whiff of familiarity each time you pop a cork. You know them, love them and rely on them. And that’s great. Keep drinking them. But guess what? There’s a whole world of crazy wines to try! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to celebrate Wine Discovery Month!
What’s that, you say? “Wine Discovery Month? Where the hell did that come from?” Well, I made it up and here’s why: before I really knew anything about wine, I was like a lot of people — smacking my lips at a buttery, oaky glass of Gnarly Head Chardonnay. Savoring every sip of Bonterra Merlot paired with braised short ribs. But then I started tasting … and tasting … and tasting. At home. At work. On trains. On planes. Everywhere. (Was I hammered the whole time? No, because I also learned how to spit, as you do when you work for a wine company.)
So, I declare October Wine Discovery Month! I recently tasted four wines from The Republic of Georgia, and this past weekend, I tasted four other cool new wines. Come with me! See what’s out there!
My most recent discoveries happened at Taste Talks in Chicago, a weekend-long conference exploring the future of food and drink. Emily Wines, Master Sommelier and head of Wine Experiences at Coopers Hawk, co-hosted a tasting of “Rare Varietals” with Rachel Lowe, beverage director at Chicago’s amazing Spiaggia restaurant. Here’s what we tasted:
♥♥♥ Sigalas Santorini 2016 Made from the Assyrtiko grape – one of Greece’s signature white grapes – this wine’s got crisp acidity, hints of lemon curd and a creaminess in the mouth, with an edge – almost a prickliness if you will. It will totally make your mouth water and you should immediately order up some tzatziki with toasted pita, shrimp kebabs or just a good, salty Parmesan or Brie and pretend you’re on holiday. This is the kind of “porch pounder” you could drink all day long on a summer day. About $21-24.
The cool thing about this wine is this: the grapes are grown on the island of Santorini, which is a big hunk of rock in the middle of the Aegean sea, subject to whipping winds. So the locals devised a crazy way to grow the grapes to protect them from the winds: wind the vines into a basket shape so the grapes grow inside the “basket.” Cool, right?
The other cool thing: Santorini wine never goes through malo-lactic fermentation (which involves transforming grapes’ natural – and tart-tasting- malic acid into more appealing lactic acid – which often imparts that creaminess you know in Napa Chard, for example.) The natural “creaminess” of this wine comes from lees-stirring, where the winemaker literally stirs the wine in its barrel to mix up some of the spent yeast cells.
♥♥ Y Leccia Patrimonio Blanc 2013 This dry and refreshing white wine from Corsica – yes, that tiny French island east-southeast of Marseille in the Mediterranean Sea (to which Napoleon was exiled) is fun! Corsica is really rocky and mountainous and hot-hot-hot in the summer, which means the vines have to work hard to find water and as a result, the flavors in the grapes are super-concentrated by the time they are picked. It’s not surprising to find Vermentino here, with the island’s’ proximity to Italy. You might pick up some notes of almonds, a bright acidity that makes your mouth water, and a round, fresh mouthfeel. It’s very aromatic and would go great with almost any cheese on the planet, any chicken or seafood dish, even a tuna sandwich! Hard to find this at retail, but it’s about $35 online.
♥♥♥♥ Tenuta Delle Terre Nere 2015 From Sicily, this deep red wine is made from the island’s signature red grape, Nerello Mascalese. Sicily is home to the furious Mount Etna volcano, so the soil is stuffed with volcanic compounds, and it all comes through in the wine. It’s got big BIG tannins, earthiness, notes of pine, mushrooms, black cherry. I wished someone had a pizza in their pocket while I was tasting this. It was just beautiful – graceful and powerful at the same time. And guess what? It’s like, $20! It waaaay over-delivers on quality for that price. Sicily been smokin’ hot – sorry, volcano pun, can’t help it – for a few years, but I think more people are starting to get on the bus.
♥♥ Pintas Character Red Blend 2014 This big red blend from the Douro region of Portugal (which is famous for Port wines) contains Portugal’s signature red grape — Touriga Nacional — and as well as Tinto Roriz (Portugal’s name for Tempranillo), Touriga Franca and a bunch of other grapes – 30 in fact! It’s made in kind of a “New World style,” meaning it’s a little more extracted, a little riper, more oak – to appeal to a more universal audience. So you get those notes of vanilla that come from the oak barrels, but you also get juicy red cherry and plum and a bit of black pepper spice. It’s well-balanced and screams for a grilled ribeye steak or a burger. About $35.
Thanks to Emily Wines and Rachel Lowe for the excellent tasting and conversation. I loved tasting four new wines for Wine Discovery Month. Have at it! Try something fun and new! Cheers!