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Filtering by Category: Best Wine You've Never Heard of

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #003

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Cantine Valpane "Euli" Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese

Monferrato, Italy. Top of the boot, so to speak, where the land surges up toward the towering Alps to the west. This is the Piedmont, or Piemonte, a region best known for its two big 'B' names—Barolo & Barbaresco—but which has a rich wine tradition that extends well beyond the borders of those famed microclimates. Along the northern border of the Piemonte runs the Po River, where we find the charming town of Casale Monferrato. The climate here is warmer than Alba or Asti to the south, the land lower, making it ideal for late ripening grapes like the odd, delicate red varietal Grignolino.

The bowl-shaped property at Cantine Valpane has been planted with vineyards for hundreds of years. But at the turn of the 20th Century a young man named Pietro Giuseppe Arditi wheedled his way into a sharecropping agreement that, two years later, landed the estate squarely in his hands. Valpane has been in the Arditi family ever since.

Today, Pietro Giuseppe's grandson, also named Pietro, holds the reins. Pietro the younger is a major proponent of Barbera del Monferrato, which he says is more expressive of the true character of Barbera than the wines of his Southern neighbors. But one of the wines that sets Cantine Valpane apart is Pietro's Grignolino, called "Euli" (the name is a play on the German word for the owls living in the barn on their property, and on the name of the indigenous tribe that inhabited the Grignolino vine land in ancient times).

It's a perfect summertime red—lowish in alcohol, brightly refreshing and yet a touch musty, making it a welcome companion to grilled foods. It's really not like many reds I've had otherwise. Euli is delicate and floral, like a Fleurie (cru Beaujolais), and brimming with intense fruit, like a basket of tart wild berries that has maybe sat in the sun for a day too long. Strange? A little, but that's what makes this wine so seductive.

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #002

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Domaine de la Tournelle | Fleur de Savagnin Jura, France.

This is hill country. Not the hill country of blues fame and not Texas hill country, although those are lovely places in their own right. This is hill country à la Française. Here the towering spine of the Alps comes tumbling down into a collar of Jurassic-era limestone and marl ridges. Here the cheese is made in the same rustic methods that were established by the medieval serfs who first created Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex. Here the hilltops are capped by cliffside chateaux and sprawling forest, and the southerly slopes are zippered with vines yielding ancient grape varietals that make some of the world's most austere, most authentic wines.

Of the wine appellations within Côtes de Jura, Arbois is the most important. And here we find Domaine de la Tournelle. Husband/wife vignerons duo Evelyne and Pascal Clairet started working their six hectares in 1991, and have since gained recognition as one of the most celebrated producers in the region. And the Fleur de Savagnin is one of their best.

Tournelle

Savagnin (not Sauvignon) is a white grape known for its thick skins as well as its concentration of sugars and its high retention of acidity. The sugars in this case don't translate to sweetness in the wine, au contraire, this wine is anything but sweet. They do give the wine a certain heft, a fullness of body, to which the acidity plays counterpoint. In the case of Tournelle, the acidity wins the day. Theirs is made in a brisk and refreshing style that pairs perfectly with warm evenings, saffron-inflected mussels and of course, Morbier cheese.

If it's true you've never heard of it, that's likely because there simply isn't much of it made. The Savagnin grape is little worked with outside of the Jura (in Germany it's known as Traminer, also rare), and the production levels inside this region is as low as any major wine region on Earth. It's old school, all picked by hand and selected for quality at the vine. All non-interventionalist in the cellar. All natural in the bottle. All good going down.

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #001: Heidi Schröck weissburgunder

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Last week I had a conversation with Napa grape farmer Mike Hendry, a guy who considers himself a viticulturist first and a winemaker second. In Napa, that's pretty rare. But in the parts of the world where wine is viewed, at least generally speaking, as a cultural product more so than a cash crop, that farming mentality lives strong. So it is with Heidi Schröck, feminist, lecturer and viticulturist extraordinaire. Frau Schröck makes wines of distinguished character from traditional Austrian grapes like grauburgunder, weissburgunder, and welschriesling. Her weissburgunder (or pinot blanc, as it's also known) is full of bright foral notes and citrus oil. It's a versatile wine that exhibits a finely textured savory quality balanced by its density and supple mouthfeel.

She only farms about 10 hectares of land, which is really small, even by Austrian standards. But somehow she has captured the imagination of the international wine scene, including sommeliers in some of the top restaurants in the U.S. It has to do with the gorgeous fruit, authentic approach and food-friendly acidity of her white wines.

It also has to do with the spirit she brings to the project of making wine. When Heidi first took over her family's vineland in 1983, she was one of a very small group of women making wines in a largely male-dominated industry. What was her response? Gather all the women she knew who were doing what she was, and build a consortium of women vintners who shared a common philosophy in the cellar: make great wines, and don't fuss too much.

If you're looking to get your mind blown with some deeply cultural white wine, this is it.

The Wine

Heidi Schröck weissburgunder - $25 Burgenland, Austria