Wines of the Week

Varietals You Should Know -- And Love

As we’ve noted before in this space, the world of wine is vast and extensive.  There are many countries where wine is made (including China, and much of the wine is better than you’d think) and over 200 varieties of grapes to make it from.  The wall chart in my office lists 184 varietals, and that’s probably not all of them.  In fact, I’ve been a wine geek for over 20 years, and people will still pull out a bottle of something I’ve never heard of.  That’s what makes this all so much fun.

Recently, I received a bottle of Bombino Bianco, which was a bit of a surprise, because we’ve sipped our way all over Italy, from Sicily to Milan, and had never encountered it.  This was a light refreshing white from the “heel” of Italy’s boot, and we’ll be looking for more of it.

Many wine grapes are obscure, or unknown for many reasons.  First is that some are used in wines that never leave their area of production.  In the far eastern reaches of France near the Alps, for instance, they make a wine called vin jaune, or “yellow wine.”  It’s produced from a grape called Savagnin, which grows only in that region.  While the wine is available from several online retailers, I have never seen it on a wine store shelf.  And there are many other varietals and regions just like that.

Teroldego makes a really interesting Italian red.  And Touriga Nacional is a major component of red table wines from Portugal.  The situation is complicated even further by the fact that in the Old World, the wines are known by their place names, and not the name of the grape.  So you’d never know that Sherry, which is a place name (in Spanish it’s Jerez) is made from a grape called Palomino.

Also, many varietals are grown specifically to be used in blends, and are rarely, if ever, bottled all by themselves.  Here, good examples would be Petit Verdot, a significant component of the Bordeaux blend, and Tannat, which comes primarily from Southwestern France, but is also grown very successfully in Uruguay (of all places).  They can be delicious on their own, but finding them is a bit of a chore.

But when you come right down to it, this is all part of the real enjoyment of discovering wine.  There are always new regions, new varietals, and new sensations.  So sample widely, and enjoy some of this week’s recommendations.

Contrade Malvasia/Chardonnay Puglia 2016 ($10) – This wine is 90% Malvasia, with a bit of Chardonnay blended in for body.  It’s a light straw color with white flowers on the nose.  It’s slightly sweet, and refreshing, offering flavors of white flowers, and white peach.  Our tasting panel says it’s a perfect “boat wine.”  WW 86

Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2010 ($30) – I’m convinced that the Nebbiolo winemakers up in northern Italy are pushing a lighter style, because most Barolos in the past have been huge, extracted wines.  This is a much lighter version, with earth aromas, light tannins, and well balanced dark fruit flavors.  WW 89-90

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap 2014 ($78) – Gorgeous.  Deep inky black color with nose of black currant.  Rich mouthfeel and abundant complex flavors of dark currant, blackberry, cassis, and chocolate.  Decant it, or give it some time.  Your wait will be rewarded.  Sensational.  WW 95

Salentin Malbec Primum 2013 ($65) – We all liked this one.  Dark ruby color, cherry, smoke, brown leather, all kinds of flavors going on in the glass.  A bit tannic, so it will need some time.  WW 91