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More Adventuresome Wines
- Sure, Heitz
is world famous for its phenomenal single-vineyard Napa Cabernets costing
$50-$120 a bottle. But they still make their delightfully exotic,
enchanting Napa Valley red wine called Grignolino.
In Italy's Piemonte the Grignolino grape has fallen out of favor in the
Langhe region. Many producers used to make wine from that grape, but
they make a lot more money producing darker colored wines from Dolcetto and
Barbera, so those are more prominent these days.
Grignolino still is easily found close to Asti, especially in the Monferrato
The wine is typically light in color, fairly acidic and tart, so it's a
great partner early in a multi-course meal where it's paired with
salumi. It's acidity cuts the fat in Prosciutto and salami.
But there are some other red grapes in the region and Brachetto is often
found being made by some of the wineries who dabble in Barbera and
Grignolino. You might find dry wine made from Brachetto, but more
readily available are sweet, fruity, fizzy Brachetto wines.
The floral and brown spice notes in Heitz Grignolino would suggest that
theirs is probably not precisely Grignolino, but Brachetto.
I've shared this wine with a number of Piemontese winemakers and they agree
this is probably Brachetto.
Now, dial back the calendar to the 1960s. Joe Heitz bought a little
wine cellar in St. Helena from a guy named Leon Brendel who produced but one
wine. And, in fact, it was known as Brendel's "Only
Brendel's vineyard surrounded the little winery he had, just south of Louis
Heitz became famous for his magnificent wines, Cabernet Sauvignon being the specialty
of the house. But Joe Heitz' kids still make Grignolino...or wine
that's called Grignolino.
It's a delightful dry red, much smoother than Cabernet and lighter bodied,
We understand that this wine will no longer be produced...Heitz will either
use the fruit for its Rosé wine or create a new label for the red...it's not
- We can relay a mildly amusing story about a fellow who was searching for
He ambled in to the shop and said "I'm from Benicia, California.
I once had a curious red wine from Napa. It's not Gewurztraminer, but
it's sort of like Gewurztraminer. I had it a decade ago and ever
since, I've been looking for it. I go into every liquor store I see
and ask about this and nobody knows what I'm talking about and they don't
have this wine. They've never heard of it. Do you have any idea
what I'm looking for?"
We said "Probably the wine you've been looking for is this one right
over here." And we showed him a stack of cases of Heitz
The poor fellow nearly wet his pants.
"Oh my gawd! That's the wine! That's exactly the
wine! I can't believe it!! You have it. I've been looking for
this for ten years!"
We asked how many bottles he wanted, thinking maybe he'd buy a
"I'll take one bottle." the guy responded.
We were shocked by this. "One bottle! Let me gets this
straight...you live 50 miles from here. You've been looking for this
wine for 10 years and haven't found it. You've been torturing liquor
store clerks who have no clue about the product you're requesting. You
finally find it and you're going to buy ALL OF ONE BOTTLE?"
"Okay...you're right," he responded. "I'll take
Now his associate, another rocket scientist apparently, decided he should
buy some wine, too.
"What might you have that would be good for a hot tub?"
We suggested a terrific Riesling with a price-tag of $7.99 on it.
The fellow shrieked when he saw the price. "$7.99!!! No,
that's too much!"
Without missing a beat and in our best deadpan we replied, "Oh sorry
sir. I thought you wanted a nice wine to drink while you were soaking
in a hot tub. I didn't realize you wanted something to fill the hot
Currently in stock: Heitz Napa Grignolino (list
$27) SALE $24.99
Croatia's island of Korcula is highlighted with the red arrows on this
map...it's about 150 east of the coast of Italy. But it's a world away in
terms of wine.
TORETA 2020 POSIP $21.99
- There's a remarkably interesting range of wines being made in the former
We periodically have requests for wines from Slovenia and Croatia and for
years these wines were simply "not ready for prime
At least, we can say that based on the few wines which had managed to find
their way to California.
A local fellow was intent on getting out of his Silicon Valley gig and
wanted to import wines. And he brought in a handful of really good
wines and a bunch of wines we simply could not recommend. The
curious thing is the guy managed to find a market for wines we evaluated
as "sketchy" and those which were well-made and worthy of
comparison to good California, French, Italian, etc., were proving
difficult for him to sell!
He's since retired and we are delighted to say the crew who took over the
company are more passionate about wine, but even better, they are
importing wines which DO compete with the rest of the wine
We've now had a couple of vintages of wine from the Toreta
winery. The place was founded in the late 1990s, though the family
of winemaker Frano Banicevic has several generations of winemaking
- You'll need a ferry boat ride from Dalmatia to get to this place.
The island of Korcula has less than 16,000 residents, scattered over 108
Happily it's not Cabernet and Chardonnay which makes Korcula famous for
its wines. Toreta is viewed as a reference point for a wine made of
the Posip grape. With the 2019 we had their basic bottling,
but tasting two versions from the 2020 vintage, we selected the more
Korcula reportedly had 4000 hectares of vineyards in the late 1800s, but
these days that number is much smaller...just 450 hectares!
The fruit is hand-harvested and the grapes are crushed and left with the
skins for a few hours. No, it's not an "orange wine," but
Frano Banicevic is looking for the maximum character he can get.
They allow the indigenous yeast to ferment the juice, but if it's a bit
sluggish, they will add a measure of a cultured yeast to insure the wine
goes completely dry.
There's a mildly stony note here and the wine is medium bodied.
Though this batch sees maybe 20% of the wine being matured in Slavonian
oak, you won't find any overt woodsy element. One person described
it as reminiscent of Chablis, but we don't find that flinty note here.
It's a good cocktail white and you can easily pair this with a variety of
CHÂTEAU DE VAUX MOSELLE (FRANCE) "LES
GRYPHÉES" BLANC $19.99
- You might associate the "Moselle" with the German wine region
(Mosel in Deutschland) famous for its delicate and delicious
Rieslings. Seeing or hearing its name in conjunction with French
wine is likely confusing to the average wine drinker.
As for the Moselle River: there are more miles of this waterway in France
(195 miles) than in Germany (129 miles).
The town of Vaux is roughly 170 miles due east of Paris and you'd need
three hours, or so, by car to drive there.
The appellation was, at one point, had about 6000 hectares under vine
around the start of the 1900s, though we read one report saying there were
34,000 hectares in the 1800s. But on the heels of the phylloxera
outbreak where vines were decimated by a root louse, growers in this area
were allergic to the notion of grafting their local varieties onto roots
which were impervious to the bugs.
Back in those days, as we understand it, the region was quite important in
terms of grape production and fruit from this area was purchased by
Champagne houses for their sparkling wines.
Pinot Noir was a major variety in that area and we understand there's
still some being grown there.
The Château de Vaux dates back to the 13th Century, though the present
owners, Marie-Geneviève and Norbert Molozay bought the property in
1999. Her family had been in the wine business in the nearby city of
Metz, while he's from Beaujolais and traveled to wine regions around the
world, gaining practical experience.
Originally they had 5.5 hectares of vineyards and these days they
cultivate about 14 hectares in 7 municipalities comprising more than 2
This is about 20% of the vines in the entire appellation presently.
The main white grapes are Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Muller-Thurgau.
Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are also allowed in these Moselle
wines. Reds are typically Pinot Noir, though pink wines might
include a bit of Gamay, too.
We currently have a delightful dry white from this estate. It's a
blend featuring the Auxerrois grape, a variety which is a bit
mysterious. In nearby Alsace it's routinely blended into wines
labeled as Pinot Blanc. But in the Moselle region it's been thought
to be Chardonnay, possibly because Auxerrois appears to have the same
parentage as Chardonnay (Gouais Blanc and Pinot).
There's also Pinot Gris and Müller-Thurgau and they add a splash of
It's a rather crisp, dry light white wine, but this does not mean it
doesn't have character. There's plenty to like here as the
fragrances are reminiscent of melon and peach. It's dry, as we
noted, but you'll find plenty of fruit notes on the palate.
The Les Gryphées is a good cocktail white, but don't be afraid to pair it
with clams, mussels or crab. The Molozay family suggests braised
'lemon chicken' as another good pairing.
MORE ADVENTURESOME WINES