By The Glass
Mediterranean influence leads to inspiration
One aspect of winemaking that I find most interesting is the number of grape varieties that can produce tasty, unique wines. One winery-generated quiz noted there are over 10,000 grape varieties, with a little over 1,000 suitable for good wines.
Although chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are so popular among Americans, when you think about it, at least 996 more grape varieties are available.
On a recent trip to France, that fact was made clear to me, especially as we toured the southern part along the Mediterranean. With the regional foods and warmer climates, chardonnay and cabernet did not seem appropriate. We much preferred grape varieties such as vermentino, picpoul and grenache.
Mediterranean grape varieties grown and produced in California have been showing more promise, after years of attempts. Several producers now offer look-alikes that can stand alongside their Mediterranean counterparts in terms of minerality, uniqueness, food-friendliness and deliciousness.
For a tasty, food-friendly white, I highly recommend the 2007 Uvaggio Vermentino "Layla's Vineyard."
From Lodi, Calif., this wine is reminiscent of brisk, lively versions from Italy, southern France and the island of Corsica. At roughly $12 a bottle, it's hard to beat for the dollar.
For the red-wine lover, a real value standout is the elegant, classy, rustic, layered 2005 Bricco Buon Natale Barbera ($14). Grown high atop the hill at the acclaimed Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara, this fabulous wine is the handiwork of Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen. One would be hard pressed to find this kind of quality in a zinfandel, cabernet or pinot within the same price range.
Quite a few delicious Mediterraneanesque white wines are being produced in California. Try the newly released 2007 Cambiata Albarino
($24). Grown high atop a wind-pounded Monterey hillside, this is a wonderfully aromatic, quietly exotic white with a mesmerizing purity, seamlessness and refreshing quality that works with a myriad of foods.
On the red side, the 2006 Palmina Dolcetto ($21) is a truly captivating, delicious wine, worth the search to find a bottle.
Consider the 2007 Terry Hoage Picpoul "Hangtime"
($26), a riveting, pure, completely refreshing white wine grown on the limestone hillsides of Paso Robles. A stone's throw away is the limestone hillside vineyard that produces the compelling "I must have one more glass" 2006 Tablas Creek Vermentino
($26), normally available only at the winery.
A third Mediterranean-style white worth checking out is the 2007 Palmina Pinot Grigio "Santa Barbara" ($17). This stellar Italian look-alike works wonders at the dining table with a wide range of foods.
For red wines, although a surprising (and growing) number of terrific grenache-, syrah-, mourverdre- and carignane-based reds are coming from California, my two "short-list" reds are the majestic, barolo-styled 2003 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo ($35) and the wild, rustic, more masculine 2004 Cambiata Tannat ($40). Both of these, though pricey, are Mediterranean-inspired wines of the highest level.
We hear more and more about buying American, especially in these economic times. These U.S. wines certainly warrant the attention and support.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier, partner in the Sansei restaurants and a consultant to Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org