Although I preach about trying new varieties and obscure areas, I occasionally have to check myself for falling into a wine rut.
This is where you find yourself buying wine in retail shops and from menus that are yawningly familiar and well within your comfort zone. Granted, many restaurants have little imagination when it comes to their so-called wine programs. They are perfectly happy peddling wines that the major periodical “experts” bread-crumb us toward. Unfortunately, many of these wines barely go with their menu items and seldom take into account the varied tasting profiles of their customers.
As budding and borderline adventurous drinkers, what can we do to encourage the retail shops and on-premise establishments to offer a greater and more interesting variety?
For starters, we can support progressive-minded places that are willing to take a chance by offering us these gems.
Sharing the responsibility, we need to increase our own beverage knowledge base. Even the slightest growth in understanding fosters curiosity and a resulting willingness to drink more (variety); something we can all benefit from.
Everyone has consumed, or at least heard of, champagne. Even though it’s a protected brand, most refer to all sparkling wine by this name. There are French sparkling wines made by the same traditional method outside the Champagne region, many times at a fraction of the cost. Loire Valley is the largest producer of French sparkling wine outside Champagne using a number of varieties and with differing ranges of sweetness.
Chenin Blanc is the main white grape in central Loire and has the versatility of Chardonnay in that one can produce dry, semisweet, dessert or sparkling wines with great success. Although you might have sampled some French sparkling wines outside Champagne or tried wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape, the two together become magic. The weightier body of Chenin combined with the soft mousse from well-made traditional method sparkling truly is something to experience.
Our next stop is the underappreciated area of Savoie ( sav-wah ). Located just south of Jura and close to the Swiss border, Savoie has enjoyed viticultural longevity, with wine being made here since the first century. This alpine influenced climate favors mostly white wine production, but some reds are produced from the indigenous Mondeuse Noir and Persan along with the well-known Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Interestingly enough, even though the vineyards are planted 800 to 1,800 feet in altitude, the south-southeast exposure generates enough sun and warmth for sufficient ripening. In fact, the vineyards often share ground with almond, fig, olive and olive trees; not what you would expect in foothills of the French Alps. With the trend toward increasing temperatures and earlier harvest dates, look for Savoie as a potential future superstar.
We now find ourselves traveling to the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean: Corsica. Located approximately 100 miles southeast of France and only seven miles from Sardinia, the island has been ruled by no fewer than six nations. Although strongly influenced by Italian viticulture, France currently maintains ownership.
The vineyards are located in a ring around the island, with the mountainous center dedicated as a national park. The varying aspects and soil types divide the island into nine appellations, including the all-encompassing Vin de Corse. Nielliccicu is the most planted red grape on the island, accounting for approximately 35 percent of the area under vine.
Although seemingly unfamiliar, we would readily recognize this grape under its more familiar Sangiovese title. Make no mistake, it might be the same as the famous Tuscan grape, but here it produces a markedly different wine. Finding Corsican juice can prove a bit of a challenge because of the low export demand coupled with a high domestic consumption.
With spring arriving, sooner or later, and Easter, weddings and graduations on the horizon, keep these wines and regions in the forefront. Remember, there remains a certain poetic nature to rationalizing your habits through education. Constantly trying new things will expand your knowledge and broaden the beverage culture of the town in which you reside. So in actuality, we are not doing it for ourselves but rather for the good of the town and for the advancement of beverage education.
Domaine Champalou Vouvray Brut NV
Vouvray AOC, France, $20.99
This 100 percent Chenin Blanc demonstrates a beautiful golden color and small, persistent bubbles. The nose overtly boasts tropical citrus, lemon zest, white flowers and a waxy honeycomb aspect. The dry palate offers bright acidity, a medium-plus body and a prickly mousse. Flavors of tangerine, preserved lemon and a slight nutty toast-like finish make this sparkling wine a true pleasure to drink. This is scary easy to consume on its own but will also go with creamy cheeses and seafood (bisque, citrus shrimp, calamari with lemon).
Viallet Savoie Rosé 2016
Vin de Savoie AOP, France, $12.99
This 100 percent Gamay rosé has a vibrant salmon/copper color and aromas of raspberry, cherry, cherry stem and a slight almond/Brazil nut nuance. The palate is bone dry with a mouth-watering acidity and flavors of crunchy raspberry and cherry. At a temperance-favoring 12 percent abv, this might be my new summer wine. This wine is extremely versatile, but I’ve found it works well with cured meat, a wide range of cheeses and barbecue chicken.
Domaine Petroni Rouge 2015
Corse AOP, Corsica, $15.99
The wine is composed of 50 percent Nielluccicu, 35 percent Syrah, 15 percent Grenache and has a nose of tart red fruit (cherry, cranberry) wrapped in woody herbs. The palate is dry with a medium body, well-integrated alcohol and a medium grainy tannin structure. Flavors mimic the nose with red fruit (raspberry sauce), Asian spices and an earthy herbal edge. This is quite a unique style of the Sangiovese clone and would pair with grilled lamb, burgers or duck breast dressed with a red fruit sauce.