#MWWC30, Baco Noir, Grenache, MWWC, Vranac, Wine

The Value in the Obscure – #MWWC30

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

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.century_club_seal

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.”

obscureRegular 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!



Dracula, Feteasca Neagra, Recas La Putere, Romania, Transylvania, Wine

Dracula Wine? A Review of Recas La Putere Feteasca Neagra 2013

Some weeks back, I received a coupon in my e-mail from Total Wine & More. OK, I get coupons from them all the time, usually $5 off $50 or some similar offer. But once in a while the coupon is special; $10 off $50. That’s 20%! If you are a regular reader (thank you), you know that I tend to hover in the $12-18 range for my wine purchases. So when I get these coupons, I like to use them to expand beyond my normal range, and look for a pricier bottle in the $35-45 range. Then I’ll find something new and interesting to round out the order to get me over the $50 requirement. On this particular occasion, I needed a bottle in the $8-10 range to check out with the coupon. As I browsed the selections, I spotted something I’d never seen before: a red wine from Romania. Transylvania, no less! I immediately knew I had to try it. I checked with my friendly TW&M store associate, who I’ve gotten to know and trust, and she gave the wine two thumbs-up. Into the basket, and away we went!

From what I’ve read about this heretofore unknown (to me) grape, it is best served with smoked or grilled meat. Alas, shortly after procuring the bottle, I found myself temporarily without a grill. So it rested. Now, several weeks later, I have remedied the dilemma and have resumed my meat-charring ways. The time was right to open and taste this exotic and mysterious juice!

According to the Wine-Searcher website, Feteasca Neagra means “black maiden.” The grape is native to Moldova, but suffered during the Soviet era, and is now more widely planted in Romania. It is often used as a blending grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.


From the back label:

“A mellow wine with an intense aroma of dark fruits and plums, a full bodied flavor with fine tannins and a hint of vanilla from fine American oak. Produced from our estate grown, carefully hand picked grapes, this wine is a result of a combination of the most modern viticultural and vinification techniques.  Extended maceration of the skins has given this wine a full bodied flavor with a powerful structure. Serve at room temperature with smoked meats, game or rich cheeses.”

Well, let’s crack that screwcap and see if I go batty for it!

Dracula’s wine? My first from Transylvania! Though I was expecting blood red, I was greeted with a pale garnet color in the glass, with aromas of raspberry and strawberry with a bit of baking spice. On the palate, bold red fruit: raspberry, plum, and strawberry with super soft tannins and light, balanced acidity. As it opens up, leather and tobacco swoop in. Medium body, with complexity throughout, leading to a ripe berry and chocolate-cherry finish.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

$9.99 retail at Total Wine & More


I don’t know if Vlad the Impaler liked his meat roasted, but paired with Grilled Pork Tenderloin in a simple Olive Oil-Dijon marinade, this wine was out of this world! A great value that I’ll definitely buy again.

If you have tried, or decide to try this wine, please let me know how you liked it!