Aspiring acolytes and wine aficionados often ask the Goddess of Wine this question: "What is your favorite wine?" I reply, "Why limit yourself?" There are so many wonderful wines in the world, from myriad regions, thousands of winemakers - and just a limited amount of time to taste as much as you can! So today, we're going to talk about some wines that you might not know, and we'll see where it leads us.
How about a light, crisp, low-alcohol softly fizzy wine with a lot of bang for your buck? Picpoul Blanc (also spelled Piquepoul Blanc) is one of the lesser-known Rhône varietals, grown mainly in the Languedoc for at least 500 years. It is crystal clear with green highlights, a soft nose with hints of acacia and white flowers. Although delicate and fresh in the mouth, it neutralizes the salt and iodine in shellfish and other crustaceans, and is surprisingly good with rich cheese and charcuterie. Literally translating to “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc produces wines known in France for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor. Try a French 2012 Paul Mas 'Estate' Picpoul de Pinet for under $10, or if you prefer your wines from the New World, see if you can find a Tablas Creek Picpoul. Outstanding!
Or, for those of you who had a bad experience with Chardonnay and think you hate all white wines, why not try a Viognier (vee-own-yay). In contrast to Chardonnay, Viognier has more natural aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets, and minerality. Grown primarily in the Rhone Valley in France, both California and Australia have significant acreage devoted to Viognier. Try a French 2012 Yves Cuilleron "La Petite Côte" Condrieu for around $65, or stay closer to home and sip a 2012 Cold Heaven Cellars Viognier – Le Bon Climat Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley for around $35. I guarantee that the pale straw color, floral aromas and tasty minerality on the palate with overtones of white peach, vanilla and a bright mineral acidity will complement your spicy Asian food. It should age well for at least 5 years, too, an added benefit!
Have you heard of Lagrein? No? Not surprising. Lagrein (lah-GRINE) is a red wine grape variety native to the valleys of Trentino Alto Adige in northern Italy. It also grows really well in Paso Robles. It makes big, tannic wines that are generally softened with oak or blended with Syrah or Petite Sirah. By itself, it's rich, deep and dark in color, with a spicy character on the palate, notes of blackberry, and a touch of chocolate. If you can get it, try a 2011 Jacuzzi Family (yes, that Jacuzzi) Lagrein from Paso, or stick to Italy and taste the 2010 Cantina Terlan "Gries" Lagrein for about $25. Pair Lagrein with lasagne or other hearty Italian favorites.
Let's stay in Italy for another minute. Do you know Nero d'Avola? "The Black Grape of Avola" appears to have been selected by growers near Avola (in south east Sicily) several hundred years ago. Its ruby red color, fruity nose strongly redolent of blackberries, and its dry, slightly acid, rounded, warm and full-bodied flavor make it a favorite in the Goddess' household. Some growers in California are beginning to grow Nero d'Avola, but it's still mainly imported from Sicily. Luckily, it's very reasonably priced. Try a 2013 Valle dell'Acate "Case Ibidini" Nero d'Avola Sicilia for around $15 or Chiarito Vineyards 2009 Nero d'Avola from Mendocino for around $35.
Cold Heaven cinemagraph image courtesy of Lee Tomkow. All others directly from winery websites.