Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obscure Grapes

I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner at Wine & Spirits Senior Editor Tara Q. Thomas' house recently. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson's Assistant Editor was in town, and she has a special interest in obscure grapes. That would be the theme.

What do you bring to a dinner like this? These are folks who are familiar with things that are obscure to me. My Mondeuse would be mundane, my Poulsard too popular, and my Clairette commonplace.

I left this until the last minute, and then went to Slope Cellars, one of my absolute favorite Brooklyn wine stores. Patty, one of the owners, suggested a red wine from Germany made of a grape called Dornfelder. I liked this immediately because I’m pretty sure it is also the name of one of the main characters from the hit 1980’s film Revenge of the Nerds. And also because Savio Soares imports it, and I trust him as an importer. I also chose a sparkling Scheurebe, another German wine, and another Soares selection.

When I walked in I was greeted warmly by Tara’s husband Robert who helped me unpack my wines and said “Oh nice, a Scheurebe. We just did a Scheurebe dinner, all Scheurebe, all the time.” He then went back to deep-frying chickpeas. Okay, so Scheurebe isn’t obscure in this house. But aha – I brought a sparkling Scheurebe, the NV Brüder Dr. Becker Scheurebe Sekt Extra Trocken, and Julia had never had a sparkling Scheurebe. This must, by the way, set the world record for the most times the word Scheurebe is used on a single blog post.

Who were the other guests at the dinner? Oh, just Ray Isle, Joshua Greene, and Jamal Rayyis, a prominent wine writer. They all have done a fair amount of wine tasting, you could say. In fact, everyone at this dinner has forgotten more than I know about wine. But they were completely easy going and were there to enjoy themselves, and enjoy ourselves we did. Here are the wines we drank that evening. If these are not sufficiently obscure for you, well you can host your own obscure wine dinner.

We began with the sparkling Scheurebe (off-dry, floral, interesting Wrigley’s Spearmint finish) and the 2007 Terre del Principe Fontanavigna Pallagrello Bianco, a weird white from Piedmonte. With deep-fried squid perfectly seasoned with sea salt and oregano we had the 2007 Botani Moscatel Sec from Malaga, Spain. This was my favorite of the evening’s obscure wines. It was fresh and clean with a primary white grape essence, and also a lovely green herbal finish. It paired perfectly with the squid. It is obscure in that it is a dry example of Moscatel.

With seared scallops and a puree of parsley and celery roots we had the 2007 Vatistas Kidonitsa, from Greece. I had never before had a wine made of Kidonitsa, but I was assured that it was, in fact, classic Kidonitsa in character. We also drank the 2005 Cellars Unio Roureda Llicorella Blanc, a white wine from Priorat made entirely of Pedro Ximenez, of Sherry fame. Apparently the white Grenache varieties are the common white grapes in Priorat. Had I tasted this blind I would have had to guess it was an oxidized Savagnin from the Jura, and I liked it.

We then drank the 1988 Chapoutier Chante-Alouette Hermitage Blanc, a fantastic wine that was rich and broad and still taut with energetic acidity. This was a beautiful wine that defies my compulsion to name specific aromas and flavors in a tasting note because it was just so harmonious and gorgeous. Marsanne, obscure? No, but this is a rare wine, and I certainly was thrilled to be able to drink it. Just gorgeous wine, memorable and inspiring.

There were merely two red wines. We drank them with a perfect brisket (although I refused to finish my Hermitage and nursed it throughout the brisket, and they paired perfectly). I brought the 2006 Latitude 50 Nektar, the Dornfelder. It reminded me of Pineau D’Aunis – peppery and leafy. But it didn’t have the acidity that good Pineau D’Aunis has and overall it was a bit clumsy. Maybe it just wasn’t a good example of a Dornfelder. The other red was the 2006 Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel. I have almost no experience whatsoever with Zinfandel, primarily because I've never met one that I like. This one was perhaps a bit more cut than most, the flavors more precise, but I still just don't get Zinfandel.

With apple crisp we had the 1994 Julius Wasem & Sohne Huxelrebe Trockenbeerenauslese, a German sweet wine made of Huxelrebe. And it was really good – great acidity, clean fruit flavors, unctuous without feeling heavy. We also had the 2007 Persimmon Creek Ice Wine, a sweet wine from Georgia (the state, not the former Soviet Republic). I think the grape is called Albarola. I can tell you that a guy named Dr. Sonny Hardman made the wine, and that he must be a man of vision. I mean honestly, who lives down in Georgia and decides not only to make wine, but ice wine?

10 comments:

michelecolline said...

Isn't the pallagrello bianco from Campania? What's not to get from Zinfandel. Old Hill is, indeed, very old vines, and if I'm not mistaken, organically and dry-farmed. Anyone concur?

Jack Hott said...

The Botani is a pretty fun wine. The 2006 was made by the late Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher, and the 2007 by his son Gerhard. It's interesting to see winemakers associated with sweet wines make a dry wine out of a variety also associated with sweet wines.

michelecolline said...

Yes, the Pallagrello is a Campanian variety, I've heard it was related to, or, a clone of code di volpe...The winery by the way is co-owned by Manuela Piancastelli who has written some wonderful articles in the past for Veronelli magazine and is an expert on the zone. Obscure grape varieties is right up my interest alley and I am surprised, and a bit disappointed, by the lack of replys to such an interesting post. Scheurebe is a cross of riesling and sylvaner named after George.

Brooklynguy said...

hi michelecolline - thanks for your comments. i thought this might provoke more interest too. you just can't tell...thanks for the Pallegrello info. I heard that about Scheurebe too, but then i read in the oxford companion that DNA testing debunked reisling and sylvaner as the parents. they don't know who gave birth to Scheurebe.

michelecolline said...

I've got an old Oxford Companion('90) but I think I can check it out somewhere else...I'll get back to you...

michelecolline said...

My Oxford is '94(first published then)and definitively states who, how, what and where the cross was made. I guess they were mis-informed back then! An old article from Bibenda magazine states that scheurebe is an indigenous grape in Austria. Is blaufrankisch still limberger...sweitgelt(sp?) still a across of blaufrankisch and st. laurent? Lots of uncertain facts about wine...you gotta love it.

tq said...

brooklynguy, it was such a pleasure to have you over—and I for one really liked your leafy dornfelder (red without green gets kinda boring, you know?) About scheu, it's true the Dr. Scheu must have gotten confused; the mother is definitely not Sylvaner.

And just for the record, I just now finished the Cellars Unió Llicorella Bianco and it was still delicious. Hooray for oxidized whites.

Brooklynguy said...

hey tara - thanks again, i had a great time. you really took your time on the Llicorella. wine doesn't last that long in my house.

Tara said...

it's only because we had, like, 16 bottles of random wine open and that one got lost behind the milk and oj...it's not normal around here, either. But a happy finding!

Cisconian said...

Yeah, Pallagrello bianco is a variety from Campania, province of Caserta, to be precise, as Pallagrello nero. Try the Vestini Campagnano, even better!