Unusual varietals can be worth a try

April 14, 2014

There are very few disadvantages to living in the backwaters of the coastal resorts, as opposed to the urban sprawl of the Route 95 corridor. For those of us who enjoy the panoply of wine, the missing varietal wines are one such issue. They are tough for the local stores to shelve. So few are aware of them. Once we have found our favored few, many are reluctant to risk our hard-won cash on outliers, no matter how highly they are recommended or by whom. There are literally hundreds of wine grapes. Those who wish to see a fairly complete listing may go to a search engine and type in vitis vinifera + wine for an extensive listing.

That said, I sampled a flight of Chignin made from Jacquere grapes from the Savoie, a region of France bordering Switzerland in the Alps foothills. As you may imagine, most of the wine grapes grown near the Alps are white. Other common varietal whites are Rousanne, Gringet and Rousette aka Altesse. The cool growing climates don’t normally allow the reds to fully ripen on a consistent basis. Those who read here will also remember that these conditions usually produce cru designated Chignin, a dry white wine. The wines of Chignin are either light, dry, white wines made predominantly from the Jacquere grape variety or a red Chignin Bergeron made from Mondeuse. Anyhow, ask your local wine store pals to order a case of Denis and Didier Berthollier Domaine la Combe des Grandes Vignes Chignin Vieilles Vignes 2011, Savoie, France.

I have seen Chignin described as a halfway house between Sancerre and Chablis, a catchy phrase that works well for me. The 2011 Berthollier is very pale lime-colored. It opens to a clean, focused nose, with rose, mineral and white peach notes leading to green apple and apricot flavors. These are very dry and crisp with a clean finish.  A porch sipper that complements spicy Central American, Asian and Indian non-meat foods. You should be able to buy a case for $180 or so.

Those who would enjoy trying some Swiss varietal wines can look up Nick Dobson Wines. Make sure you get complete price since shipping can be murder. Another producer of note is Andre & Michel Quenard.

John Gilman of View From the Cellar is the wine geek’s wine geek. He recently laid a big, wet 93-point kiss and wrote, “It is one of the most complete examples in recent vintages,” for Marc Olivier’s Domaine de La Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie 2012. It is extremely rare for Muscadet to get a 93-point rating from Gilman or from anyone for that matter. Rarer still to find this quality being sold for $13/bottle, when you buy a case. Olivier is one of those great winemakers we try to follow. The 2012 adds to his creds. Pale green-tinged, it opens to a complex bouquet of lime, green apple, gravel, and dried flowers. I found this Muscadet to be much more full-bodied and better balanced than many, which are often a bit austere for my palate. Leaving on the lees (sur lie) means the wine stayed in contact with the spent yeast cells and grape sediment, and usually that it is bottled without fining. The best easy-to-try example is that of buying fresh-squeezed apple juice, allowing it to separate then tasting the clear. Next, shake to remix, then drink the mixture. Completely different, n’est-ce pas?

I sampled a lovely Reserve Viognier 2012 from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. This wine was also left on its lees. It did not see oak, nor did it go thru malolactic fermentation. Goes well with balsamic and/or fruit sauces. Peach and nectarine nose with tropical fruit flavors, some pear, passion fruit, and herbs. Appropriate balance between acidity and fruit nose. Can be found under $20.