Obscure…O-B-S-C-U-R-E…I have never heard of the grape or the region from which this wine is made; they are both obscure. Obscure.
Having successfully completed the latest round in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge Spelling Bee, let me just say that I am a big fan of the obscure. Although there is no conceivable way to taste all of the thousands of different grape varieties in my lifetime, I am committed to giving it my all, and taste as many as possible! Not too long ago, I learned about the Century Wine Club. Yes, it’s a thing! All you have to do to qualify for membership is taste at least 100 different grape varieties. After going through my wine log, I discovered that I was only a handful short, so I hastened to my local wine shop and stocked up on a few more obscure varietals and blends. Yes, blends count toward membership.
As you may have determined by now, this is my entry into the 30th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC30. Last month’s winner, Shez, The Epicurious Texan, had the honor of selecting the topic for the next Challenge. As luck would have it, she selected “Obscure.”
Regular readers of my blog may know just how much I enjoy the pursuit of the obscure. My love of obscure not only includes grape varieties, but regions, too. I am even writing a series of blog posts on “Lesser Known AVA’s” which can be accessed from the tab on my menu. Sure, it’s small now, but wait till I get going! Whenever possible, I like to conduct my research live and in person. But that is perhaps a topic for another MWWC.
Nevertheless, when Shez was kind enough to post a blog offering some guidance into what she had in mind with this topic, she specified that she is interested in reading about others’ favorite obscure wines and grape varieties. My only hesitation is in adhering to Shez’ suggestion that we select “that one varietal that they love…” Just one? As much as I tried, the best I could do was narrow it down to three. I hope that’s OK, Shez.
Many who are “into” wine might not find my first selection to be that “obscure”, but most people I know with limited wine knowledge have never heard of it. In fact, just the other day at lunch, a co-worker was looking over the wine list, and asked if any of us had ever tasted “Gree-natch.”
Grenache is a red grape, and is probably most famous as one of the trio of grapes that make of the classic Rhone blend GSM – Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. (Another obscure grape!) It is also the main grape used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, and is renowned as a major player in Rosé from Provence. In addition to France, Grenache is also widely planted in the U.S., Australia, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha. One of the things I like about Grenache is its versatility. I have tasted Grenache wines ranging from light-bodied with mineral and gravel notes, to rich and full-bodied with juicy red and black fruit flavors. My favorite Grenache to date falls into the latter category.
Navarro Vineyards Grenache 2012 ($27.00 Retail)
Big, bold red. Blackberry, cassis, spice, and oak. Full bodied with firm, smooth tannins.
I’m not sure why I didn’t take more detailed tasting notes on this one. Maybe because it left such an indelible impression on my brain that I knew I would never, ever forget it!
My second obscure grape may be more familiar to those of you in the Great White North. While on my Quebec “work-cation” earlier this year, I came across Baco Noir, a hybrid grape originally developed to resist phylloxera while maintaining a French character. The grape is also quite hardy and can withstand the harsher weather and climate conditions found in cold regions like Canada. Unlike many native Canadian grapes, which display “foxy” aromas, Baco Noir is bold and fruity.
Henry of Pelham Baco Noir 2014 ($16.40 CAD, approximately $11.35 USD Retail)
Fruit explosion! Deep violet in color. Aromas of blueberry and raspberry. Flavors burst with blueberry, blackberry, black currant, and cedar. Medium tannins, yet full-bodied, with zesty, tingling acidity. Best with food; the acidity can overpower without. The finish lingers with berry and spice.
Many of the reviews I read prior to purchasing this wine complained of its sweetness, which caused me no small amount of apprehension, since I do not prefer sweet wines. However, after tasting it, I discovered this is not a sweet wine. On the contrary, it is quite dry, but very fruit-forward which many people mistake as sweetness. My biggest disappointment is that I haven’t found anywhere here in Northern California where I can get my hands on more of this wine! If any of you dear readers know where I can find it locally, please let me know in the comments!
Finally, please let me introduce you to my friend, Vranac. Talk about obscure! I just checked, and Total Wine & More, the wine superstore, doesn’t list it on it’s website at all! Vranac is a black-skinned grape native to Montenegro. It is most commonly planted in Macedonia and Croatia. Lucky for me, an obscure winery nearby in the Sierra Foothills has also planted some Vranac vines, and produces this remarkable wine. Now that I mention it, I’m way overdue for a visit to Sierra Ridge Winery!
Sierra Ridge Winery Vranac 2008 (Hmm. I didn’t make note of the price when I bought it. I’m guessing in the $18-24 range.)
Deep purple color. Aromas and flavors of Blackberry, cherry, black pepper, and spice with notes of raisin. Medium bodied with soft, smooth tannins and a lingering finish.
One of the common denominators I have found in my exploration of obscure grapes and regions is…value! Since these wines are not widely known, they don’t demand such high prices as their more famous counterparts. Yet, these wines are equally as good, and in many cases (think mass-produced supermarket brands) they are far superior! I encourage you to stretch out of your comfort zone and seek out the obscure. I can promise you will find some amazing wines, and you might even save yourself a buck or two in the process!