Time for Some REALLY Strange Grapes

Last blog I talked about Tannat, the grape found in Madiran wines. The blog before I talked about white varietals beginning with “V.” Today I sat down with Mike, one of my favorite distributors, to taste “Geeky” wines. This is a term we use for wines from obscure grapes that are often unusual. Sometimes it's impossible to decide if they are wonderful or just strange. In today's case, they were both.

First up was Burja Zelen 2010 from Slovenia. Zelen is a rare grape grown only in the Primorje region of Slovenia. It is not grown much because of low yields, but recently the grape has made a comeback. It is remotely related to the Italian grape Verduzzo. The wine is a golden yellow with a pretty bouquet of tropical fruit and spice. Its palate is rich with peach and apricot against an unusual background reminiscent of green tea. A nice acidity balances out the flavor.  Unfortunately, you will probably never see this grape. This particular producer makes the most of anyone in the world…135 cases.

Next up was Valdibella Munir Catarratto. Catarratto is one of the most ancient varietals in Sicily and was one of the original grapes used in the production of Marsala. The wine is incredibly aromatic with intense citrus notes. The fruit is nicely balanced with ample acidity and structure. This is a great everyday wine.

Last was the Valdibella Acamante Perricone 2010. Perricone is another ancient indigenous Sicilian grape. Only 340 hectares in all of Sicily--and the world--are devoted to its growth. The wine has a fragrant nose of fruits and spice, and I expected it to be full bodied. Instead, it is medium bodied with beautiful red berries, clove, and pepper, and surprisingly obvious tannins. This is a great summertime red. Of note, this varietal has an extremely high level of antioxidants that are so important in heart health. As a side note, you'll be glad to know that Valdibella's wines are certified non-mafia as indicated on the label.

I also want to mention one more wine I tasted recently, although not with Mike. St. Mont Les Bastions from the Basque influenced area of Southwestern France is a pretty little wine fashioned from local varietals--Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, and Mensang--found only in the immediate area. The wine has a very complex, fresh, fruity, floral and slightly herbal nose and palate. It is very refreshing and appealing. This is a great match for summertime fare or sipping alone on the deck.

Literally thousands of grapes are used in making wine. While Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Malbec, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc are well known for good reason, trying new, different, and sometimes obscure wines adds to your palate and you never know...you may find a gem among them.

-Kevin Downs