Wines for The Adventuresome
|We like discovering new
wines...interesting and unusual wines made from grape varieties that are
a bit "off the beaten path."
Most stores selling wine stick to wines for which there's already a
demand, so they don't have to "show & sell."
Most places, further, don't even make an effort to guide consumers to
good, soulful wines. It's easier, frankly, to simply post a
numerical score and let folks fend for themselves.
One chain of stores even has its own wine guru who bestows 90 point
scores on wines.
What a sick way to buy or sell wine!
Given that most critics use "Cabernet Sauvignon" as a
yardstick, how can they possibly taste and appreciate a wine made of
Charbono, Tocai Friulano or Zweigelt?
Well, if you can break away from the mainstream, I promise that you'll
find some really interesting wines and, frequently, good values, too.
Abacela story is remarkable and it centers on two hardy souls who enjoyed
the budget-priced wines they could afford from Spain.
Earl & Hilda Jones (that's their real names, not something from the
Witness Protection Program) lived in the Gulf Coast and were perplexed
that the grape responsible for the wines they loved so much from Spain,
Tempranillo, was not much of a presence anywhere in American wine
regions. This, of course, was back in the late 1980s and early
Mr. & Mrs. Jones began studying climate way back when and it helped
that their son Gregory is a climatologist and researcher who's now working
at Southern Oregon University. Dr. Jones was on the road
to working in the culinary world before his parents' interest in
grapevines got him headed in a different direction.
They chose an un-tested region and began planting Tempranillo in
Oregon's Umpqua Valley, a place that was just starting to simmer with
winegrowing activity.. In fact, the word "abacela"
translates from some old Iberian language indicate the planting of a
grapevine. And plant they did, indeed!
Today they have 10 clones of Tempranillo scattered around 27 acres of
vineyards. And the vineyard sites are geologically quite
The Jones family makes several Tempranillo wines. We currently have
their "Fiesta" bottling, a sort of entry-level wine which is
actually quite good. We were a bit surprised to find this wine hits
so many of the notes we appreciate in good Spanish wines.
It comes from their Faultline Vineyard and this is a remarkably diverse
site. Diverse in terms of elevation and slope, as well as
Anyway, the 2012 Fiesta is quite good...it's along the lines of
a good Crianza wine from Rioja, but perhaps a tad fuller in body, so comparing
it to a wine from Ribera del Duero is not much of a stretch, although it's not
one of those high alcohol, heavily extracted sort of wines.
The wine saw 79% French oak and 21% American barrels with 18% of the wood being
new. We like the hint of oak in this wine...it's there just so you can
sense it, but not so much that it's all you smell or taste.
The wine is nicely gentle on the palate and it's even smoother paired with
paella, lamb or well-seasoned roasted chicken.
make a terrific Reserve bottling, too. In the past 16 vintages, only 6
were deemed worthy of this designation.
We tasted the 2012 and thought they did a damned good job...
The wine is deeper and more intense than the Fiesta bottling. It's matured
in a high percentage of new French oak and we like the woodsy impression present
on the nose and palate. We expect the wood will integrate with the black
fruit notes of this wine. It's got a moderate level of tannin and pairing
it with grilled lamb will make the wine taste smoother.
It's a splurge at fifty bucks, but the wine is a winner. The made
something like 6 barrels of this...123 cases.
The beautiful label was designed by Hanna Jones when she was a
kid. She's still young, actually, but she's an interior
designer these days.
Currently in stock: 2012 ABACELA "Fiesta"
2012 ABACELA "Reserva" TEMPRANILLO $49.99
- DOMAINE BERTHOMIEU
2010 MADIRAN $19.99
- From South-western France, we have a couple of exceptional wines from
Didier Barre's Domaine Berthomieu.
These are made from interesting and, to Californians, unusual grape
His Madiran is called "Cuvée Charles de Batz," a blend of 90%
Tannat and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like big, deep Cabernets,
put a bottle of this on the dinner table!
- DOMAINE ILARRIA 2011 IROULEGUY $17.99
- The vineyard
land in this south-west appellation struck me as rather rugged, perched on
steep hills and worked by rugged individuals. I suppose it's little
wonder, then, that the wines of the Irouleguy area are some of the most
"sturdy" in France and they're a galaxy apart from today's modern,
internationally-styled wines so prevalent thanks to point-counting
You're in the Pyrénées and Basque Country when visiting producers of
Irouleguy. The language is different, the people are wonderfully
different and the wines, thank goodness, are different.
Domaine Ilarria is owned by Peio Espil, one of the top vintners in the
region, not that there are hundreds. In fact, most of the wine of the
appellation is made by the local growers' cooperative. Most of the
production from the region stays at home...only 10% is exported. But
then, when you think about it, not many foreigners probably have a palate to
appreciate this sort of wine. They make a rosé, for example, which is
screamingly dry and tart.
Here's a wine based on the Tannat grape that's "tempered" with
Cabernet Franc (yikes!), so it pairs well with red meats, duck, etc.
The word "austere" comes to mind as a good descriptor. I
like the 2009 from Ilarria. It's big, moderately herbal and I found
the Cabernet Franc to give much of the aroma in this wine. If you're a
fan of Madiran and Cahors wines from the Southwest, you might consider
trying a bottle of Irouleguy.
American wine geeks visiting the Ilarria cellar.
Peio Espil in explains cultivating Tannat and Cabernet vines in Basque
Country. The vines, just 6 miles from the Spanish border, are
cultivated organically because Espil says the indigenous yeast on the
grapes is 'stronger' or more capable of a complete fermentation.
Yields are rather small in an effort to maximize quality.
A current vintage of Ilarria...
Here's an antique bottle of Irouleguy...a 1928!
BODEGA COLOME 2015 TORRONTES $13.99
- This old, pioneering Argentinean winery was purchased by Donald Hess
(The Hess Collection in Napa)...
We view the Colomé Torrontes as the benchmark example of this
grape. The folks at this winery credit the high elevation and
intense ultraviolet light with helping to produce this remarkable
Their theory is that the intensity of the UV rays causes the grapes to
develop a thicker and darker colored skin
I don't know if that's why this wine is so magnificently
aromatic and flavorful or if it's the particular clone of
Torrontes. But whatever it is, this wine is remarkable.
The fragrance is detectable the moment you open the bottle...there are
fragrances of exotic fruits and a bouquet of intensely perfumed
flowers. Despite all these "sweet" elements, the wine is
actually quite dry.
- If you're looking for an amazing aperitif wine, consider this.
It also pairs well with that Avocado/Mango 'salad' you're pairing with
pan-roasted Sea Scallops...
SOALHEIRO 2013 ALVARINHO $24.99
One of our all-time favorite Portuguese wines is back in
It's a remarkable example of Alvarinho (or Albarino, if you like). The
wine is fresh and fruity, nicely dry and crisp with a faintly
stony/minerally note and a touch of spice.
I brought a bottle to the Judge's Dinner at the San Francisco at the San
Francisco International Wine Competition. We passed the bottle around
the table and everyone was either writing down the name of snapping a
picture of the bottle as it's that good.
If seafood is on the menu this week, do stop by and snag a bottle of
They make an "old vines" bottling...$29.99 a bottle and it's
Only a few bottles are in stock, as we cleaned out the importer's stock of
Very fine...it's similar to the regular bottling, but like the volume on the
speakers is turned up all the way.
GARZON TANNAT $17.99
- The Garzon winery is a new enterprise in Uruguay that, from what we've
tasted, has moved to the head of the class in that South American country.
They hired a famous Tuscan winemaker to be their consultant, Alberto
Antonini, who's also paid by California's Gallo winery to oversee
operations in Argentina (as we understand it).
Antonini, who's been affiliated with Antinori and Frescobaldi, notes the
Garzon vineyards are reminiscent of those in northwestern Spain. And
so they're cultivating Albarino. But Antonini says the rolling hills
remind him, too, of Tuscany.
And, the Tannat grape has become the calling card for Uruguay and when you
taste this red wine, you'll know why: It's delicious and
This is a wine that fits on the dinner table in place of a Cabernet or
Merlot. It's a perfect red for grilled or roasted red meats.
There's dark fruit notes here and some beautifully cedary oak.
DOMAINE DE REUILLY PINOT GRIS
been hearing about so-called "orange wines," white wines that
are fermented on the grape skins along the lines of a red wine.
The wine picks up some color from the skin contact and, sadly to us
anyway, many of these wines show oxidative characteristics and the wines
smell "spoiled" (unless we're drinking Sherry).
Denis Jamain has been making wine for many years in the Loire Valley town
of Reuilly. The main grape there is Sauvignon Blanc and he makes a
good one that gives good Sancerre a run for the money.
But he also has a couple of hectares of Pinot Gris. And this wine is
fermented with the skins for a while. Pinot Gris grapes, when they
are mature, have a modest coloration to them, so there is a bit of pigment
to make the wine appear to have a salmon-hue to it.
I asked Monsieur Jamain if he was much of a fan of "orange
wines" and he admitted he didn't know much about them.
"Well, you've been making one longer than most winemakers and yours,
oh-by-the-way, is beautifully made and extremely
He was delighted to receive a bit of praise for his efforts, as you can
I wonder if he's (since) gone in search of "orange wines" to
make the comparison.
I was at a tasting where a fellow asked what I thought of some very
sketchy wines. My response was "When the Merlot and the Pinot
Gris have the same color, Houston, we have a problem!"
- Well, Domaine de Reuilly Pinot Gris is crisp and dry. There's
maybe a suggestion of melon or pear on the nose and palate.
Consider serving this with prawns or scallop dishes, Asian cuisine,
- Bill Frick has
been making interesting wines since the mid-1970s. He was a young
hippy back then and today he's, well, an old hippy.
And he makes some "hip" wines.
We tasted through Bill's current line-up and found his blended red called
"C-3" to be really soulful. It's a blend of three varieties, all
starting with the letter "C." There's Cinsaut, Carignane and
Counoise. The Counoise comes from his vineyard near the winery while the
other two come from some old head-pruned vines a short distance from the winery.
This is a medium-bodied, mildly berryish red. He only made something like
6 barrels of this wine.
- Currently in stock: FRICK 2012 Mendocino CARIGNANE