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More Adventuresome Wines

PIERCE
Not many California wine aficionados will know the location of the San Antonio Valley.  Probably some will think it's in Texas, but that's wrong by close to 1600 miles.

In fact, if you want to visit the top producer in the San Antonio Valley, you'd head in the direction of King City and and meander south another 24 miles to the town of Lockwood.  ((This is a few miles west of San Ardo.))
 
The Pierce family has about 30 acres of vineyards amongst three sites near Lake San Antonio at about a thousand feet above sea level.  They're maybe 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and on lime and chalk soils.  
 
We've found this estate to have some interesting wines made of Iberian grape varieties.
 
Their 2014 Albari˝o really hits that nail on the head.  The aromas offer notes of lime and apple, with a hint of a spicy tone.  It's crisp and dry, too.  No oak, so you won't mistake this for a California Chardonnay.  You might, however, mistake it for an Iberian version of this lovely grape...
 
Best with seafood or as a cocktail/aperitif wine.
 
Currently in stock:  2014 PIERCE San Antonio Valley ALBARIĐO  $15.99
 


 

 
 
HEITZ CELLAR
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 hills.

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 One."    
Brendel's vineyard surrounded the little winery he had, just south of Louis Martini's winery.  

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, too.  

We can relay a mildly amusing story about a fellow who was searching for this wine.

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 Grignolino.  
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 case.  

"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 two!"

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 tub!"

Currently in stock:  Heitz Napa Grignolino (list $22) SALE $19.99


 



 
 




Robert Charavin
Coteaux des Travers



COTEAUX DES TRAVERS

Robert Charavin owns this magnificent estate in the village of Rasteau in the Southern Rh˘ne.    We visited the place in April of 2010 and tasted the usual dazzling line-up of wines, both white and red.

The 2014 Rasteau is a delicious little red wine.  It's predominantly  Grenache, with a modest amount of Syrah and about 10% of MourvŔdre.  The vines are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 years old. 

Currently in stock:  2014 COTEAUX DES TRAVERS Rasteau Rouge $17.99






 

 

TAHBILK

Tahbilk is a famous Australian winery, dating back to the 1860s.

They're in Central Victoria, about 70 miles north of Melbourne and the vineyards are planted largely with grape varieties more commonly found in France's Rhone Valley.

Most people wouldn't build their brand around the Marsanne grape, but at Tahbilk it's a bit of a specialty, along with Shiraz.  In fact, they've been growing Marsanne since the 1860s and Tahbilk has, we're told, the world's largest vineyard plantings of that grape.

We had the opportunity to taste some older vintages of Tahbilk Marsanne and these were extraordinarily good and remarkably complex.  Still family owned and operated, they used to be called "Chateau Tahbilk."  The word "tabilk" is that of some indigenous people and refers to many waterholes.   That's not watering holes as we have in San Francisco, by the way.

They changed the spelling of "tabilk" to "Tahbilk" so European customers would be able to pronounce it correctly.

The entry level Marsanne bottling is a winner and puts to shame most of the local vintner's work with white Rhone varieties, never mind the price.  This is a very famous wine...every Aussie connoisseur knows Tahbilk's Marsanne and yet it remains a reasonably-priced bottle.

Winemaker Neil Larson told us he likes to ferment the juice at relatively low temperatures and bottle the wine in its youth to capture the bright fruit characters of the Marsanne grape.  No oak, no malolactic and no lees stirring of this wine...and yet we found a faintly toasty or smoky aspect to it. 


In the meantime, the 2011 has just arrived and it's most attractively priced.  It reminds us a bit of orange/honey and a touch of pineapple or melon...Dry.  

They offer, periodically, a "Museum" bottling...we have their 2009 and this ages handsomely!  It's a bit smoky and deeper thanks to its extended maturation (in bottle) period.  And the price is quite reasonable, so pairing this side-by-side at dinner is quite interesting.

Currently in stock:  2011 TAHBILK Central Victoria MARSANNE  $14.99
2009 TAHBILK "Museum" MARSANNE  $20.99


 

HARRINGTON 2014 LAGREIN  $29.99
HARRINGTON 2013 NEBBIOLO  $29.99


We've been fans of Bryan Harrington's wines for many years.  He produced some wonderful Pinot Noirs and, finding the market for those wines to be a bit challenging, he went even more off the deep end by producing wines from relatively obscure Italian grape varieties.

He still makes some good Pinot Noir, but we found a couple of his Italianesque reds to be of interest.

Harrington's 2014 Lagrein has a number of the hallmarks of Alto Adige-grown versions, though perhaps it's a shade more tannic or coarse than some of the young bottlings we've tasted in Italy.  
It comes from a Paso Robles-area vineyard and it's made with Pinot Noir sensibilities.  He avoids picking during the hot daylight hours, going for either a night harvest or picking in the early morning.  
The juice is then cold-soaked, as is currently fashionable for Pinot Noir.  Indigenous yeast fermentation...hand punch-downs (the grape skins tend to rise to the top of the tank and need to be submerged back into the fermenting juice to give color and character to the wine)...it's matured in small oak, but you won't find much in the way of wood here.

We suggest opening your bottle of Harrington's Lagrein a couple of hours before serving it and splashing it around in a decanter is also a good idea.  Match it with sausages & polenta...try it with grilled duck...or a bit of lamb (something fatty to match the tannin).

We also have a youthful Nebbiolo...grapes come from two vineyard sites in Paso Robles.

Both vineyards have a chalky soil, somewhat akin to the vineyards in
La Morra and Barolo.  The wine even reminds us, to some degree, of the wines from Piemonte.

Yes, it's young, so giving this an hour in a decanter is suggested.

Bryan doesn't make but 5 or 6 barrels of this, so the production is typically around 120 cases.







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