Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: Obscure Varietal Wines for Wine Geeks Only!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I am always amazed. There seems to be a growing number of people who think that M. Scott Peck wrote The Road Not Taken or that the name of the poem is The Road Less Traveled. Likewise, I am always amazed how Americans are always seem to be looking for a new grape or varietal wine to discover, the further you have to travel, the more exotic, the more attractive it seems to be. New wines from Hungary or Greece seem to have captivated wine hipsters from New York to LA and back. Like Lord Byron, they seem to need to wipe the dust of American soils from their Doc Martins and their Crocks, only to plunk down hard earned American coin on long shots from foreign shores. Rather than set out for distant lands, maybe it’s time to pull your own wine Candide – and spend a little time in your own backyard and rediscover America – and discover some new, exotic American wine.
Let me dazzle you with this – there are tons of obscure grapes you probably haven’t experienced. There are grapes, I can guarantee you, that are being grown in the U.S. that you don’t know exist or don’t know are being grown here in the U.S. The world is experiencing a Golden Age of wine, and America is the land of Oz. Explore it, relish it, be thrilled with it. There is so much to taste! To discover! Not since the invention of the railroad and car has there been a better reason to discover America and its vast regions all over again!

There are a host of grapes, from vinifera, to hybrid, to native that I am sure you have not tried. Maybe you have had some of them, but definitely not all of them. Not grown and made here in the U.S. And I can likewise guarantee that even among professionals, there are writers and bloggers who have not tasted all these regions or all these wines. Wine is too big today. There’s so much going on, everywhere, especially in the Unites States. It’s much harder than it was even 15 years ago to know what’s going on.
There are grapes such as Malbec, Tannat, Toraldego, Petite Mensang, Nebbiollo, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Baco Noir, Leon Millot, Norton, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, St. Croix, Chelois, and many, many others.

The story of Candide has been morphed many times over, most notably in The Wizard of Oz, and so I would quote the famed witch-killer from Kansas Dorthy Gale, otherwise known as Judy Garland, "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with!"

So click you heels three times. There's no place like home!

Here's a few of the wines I recommend. This is not meant to be an absolute or definitive list, but rather a jumping off point. I am sure I missed a bunch. But I promise, this is a solid list of quality wines:

A fine old Italian grape is finding new homes here all the time. Italian winemakers at Hopewell Valley, Barboursville, and Turdo Vineyards do a great job with it! Slack in Maryland and Glass House in VA also makes a very nice ones!

Norton is as an American a grape as you will find. Matter of fact, it almost solely made in the US, mostly in Virginia and the mid-west. A whole book has been written about the grape called, THE WILD VINE. Horton Vineyards in Virginia certainly deserves credit for bringing this wine to prominence. Rappahanock also makes a nice one.


Seyval Blanc
The most famous Seyval Blanc is Clinton Vineyards in the Hudson Valley.They started the craze for classic white table wine made from the French-American hybrid, which has been served in the White House! Other notables include Hunt Country Vineyards, Glorie Farm Winery, Clearview Vineyards, and Hudson-Chatham Winery. There are some lovely ones from Bellangelo in the Finger Lakes, Miranda from CT, and one from Rappahanock on VA.


  Wine Label   
Petite Manseng
My spelling is atrocious, and Petite Manseng is defintely one I always have problems spelling - but never have a problem drinking. Aromatice and delicious, many Virginia wineries have taken this grape from southern France an done a fantastic job with it! Try it out! Glen Manor and Pearamund are among my favorites!


This is a hybrid grape developed at University of Minnesota for cold weather sites, and it's ripping through the wine world, gaining ground faster than Patton through France. It is light, bright, and filled with cherries and nice acidity. Very light Rhone-ish red-styled wines have captivated wine lovers in the mid-west and northeast! Favorite is Lincoln Peak, although neighboring winery Shelbourne is doing nice things with their reserve!


St. Coix
This is another Elmer Swenson special from U of Minnesota. Makes a big deep wine, perfect for a big, deep port, which many id-western states do use it for. But several small vintners on the east coast have been able to make some very palatable, drinkable wines from it! Here are two: Honora from Vermont and Nashoba from Massachusetts.

This is a classic French grape, and certainly of noble parentage,. But it is obscure because it is a difficult grape, and is only grown in a few places. Done right, it is an immensely floral wine, with great nose and great character. I love Viognier! Here's a few classics! Many seem to be from Virginia! Veritas and Jefferson are among my favorites, but then so are Annefield and Barboursville. I'm leaving out half a dozen others!

Petite Verdot
Again, Petitie Verdot is a classic grape but it's so rarely grown an sold as a varietal, I decided to include it in my selection! It's hard t find anywhere in the world, let alone the north east! Virginia does it best! Although occasionally you will see one pop-up elsewhere. If you do, grab it! Veritas and Pollack are among my favorites, but there are other notables, as always.


Leon Millot
This is a fabulous French-American hybrid that is gaining in popularity. The King of the varietal wines of this grape is Keuka Lake Vineyards, whose wine won bed red in New York state. It is simply put - stellar. Other notable examples include Altamont Vineyards, and a few others.


Sangiovese is another of the popular Italian grapes, but again, there are several east coast wineries that do it quite well. Turdo Vineyards and Barboursville are the best. But there are other notables! 


Either way, a tough name for a grape. I prefer Blaufrankisch. Originally I did not like this grape, but more and more people are doing well with it. Red Tail Ridge does it the best, hands down. But there are some other nice wines coming up with this grape. Channing Daughters of Long Island and Vynecrest of Pennsylvania have made two excellent ones as well.Laurita and Belleview turn in notable efforts in NJ, and Palaia in the Hudson Valley. There are also some nice Merlot/Lemberger blends that are very nice, but I'm going with straight-up varietals here.


Vidal Blanc
Vidal Blanc is one of the mainstay work horses of the french-American hybrid grapes. I love varietals made from this grape, from straight up table wines all the way to late harvest dessert wines (always my favorites) Here's a few classics from Vidal Blanc:


Albariño or Alvarinho is a variety of white wine grape grown in Galicia (northwest Spain), Monção and Melgaço (northwest Portugal), where they make bright, dry table wines with lots of bright acidity and are very zippy and refreshing. Here are two great ones: Black Ankle in Virginia and Palmer Vineyards in Long Island.


Frontenanc Gris
Another of the onslaught of Minnesota varieties. Frontenac Gris is among my favorite, very much making a bright light white wine with great fruit and acidity. Reminds me of a more floral Albarino. A lovely, lovely wine dry or slightly sweet!!! There are also several blends featuring Frontenac Gris which are also quite wonderful!

    Fresh Tracks Farm Frontenac Gris

Gamay Noir
The backbone of Beaujolais, this grape is absolutely among my favorite. Bight, soft, light, approach able reds. Don;t confuse this with Nouveau. These are sophisticated light red wines, perfect with lunch or a light dinner. beautiful, classic in structure. I especially love Whitecliff Vineyards in the Hudson Valley and Shelldrake Point in the Finger lakes.


Nero D'Avola
Another classic Italian grape rarely seen as a varietal on the east coast. Turdo Vineyards does an incredible job with this grape!

La Crescent
Another Minnesota variety gaining wide spread acceptance and favor. A lovely, bright, acidic wine. Can make great dry or semi-sweet wines. Some lovely different versions of this one out there. Shelbourne Vineyard in Vermont makes a lovely one. Thousand Islands and Fresh Track Farm also make nice versions!

Fresh Tracks Farm La Crescent 

Baco Noir
Baco Noir was one of the grapes that made huge headway in the 1950s and 1960s under the wings of such winemakers as Philip Wagner in Maryland and Mark Miller in the Hudson Valley. The grape is experiencing a renaissance today! Some wonderful soft, red Burgundy-styled wines have made serious impressions on discerning wine folks. Benmarl continues to carry the flag with Hudson-Chatham and Brookview Station also producing critical successes and popular editions.


This is the red grape work horse of the French-American hybrid reds. Can make everything from a Bordeaux-styled big deep red, to an Italian-styled dry red, to port. There are some lovely Chambourcins being made, especially in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia! Hopewell Valley and Four JGs make the best versions. But Port of Leonardtown and Fiore also make good versions, and Silver Decoy and Zephaniah also make some very good wines as well. Classic in structure. Great table reds that will ages for years to come!


Only twin wineries currently make Chelois - Hudson-Chatham Winery and Brotherhood (which only sells it in their tasting room seasonally). Both come in small quantities. But notices for the wines have grown.These make light, bright, Pinot Noir-styled wines from a very fabulous, but little known French-American hybrid. Plantings used to be more plentiful, but dimmished. A small comeback is now in the making.

A deep, red from the Minnesota program, this found a happy home in the mid-west, but in the Northeast, this grape is coming on strong. Two nice editions come from Coyote Moon and the soon-to-be-released Brookview Station estate bottled dry red. The BSW red is easilly the best produced on the north east of this variety. 


This is obscure Russian grape that dr. Konstantin Frank made popular more than a half-century ago. It is now starting to spread quickly. Very much for drinkers who like Riesling and Gewurztraminer. A lovely, refreshing wine. Dr. Franks is the standard bearer hands down. But there are others.


Tannat is a red wine grape, historically grown in South West France in the Madiran AOC and is now gaining attention around the world, especially in South America. Fabbioli makes a dynamtite big, deep red wine from this grape. It is fantastic! Big, and age worthy, it's a serious red drinker's dream come true!

Another of the classic Italian red grapes. Barboursville does it best hands down! But breaux Vineyards, and especially Gabriele Rausse also do classic versions of this varietal. Fantastic!


This is a classic noble grape of Bordeaux, France. But again, like Petite Verdot, the chances of finding is varietal of this wine is near impossible. Peconic Bay does a very nice version. Lenz and Raphael wineries have offered single bottlings to their wine club members in the past. Whitecliff Vineyards and Hudson-Chatham have also offered very palatable versions as well. Always a surprise! A lovely, jammy red, with classic structure.

Teroldego is a red Italian grape variety currently being grown in New York state. I thought there might be some in Virginia or Maryland, but no other straight up varietals I could find. But let me tell you, this one will do, grown and made at Red Tail Ridge Vineyards, this medium-bodied dry red wine is absolutely fantastic. it's begging for some sharp cheese or lightly grilled meats or Portobello mushrooms. It's spectacular!