Nobles for Less

While there are literally thousands of grape varietals used to make wine, there are only a handful considered to be “noble grapes.”

It is believed so-called noble grape varietals make more profound wines than all the rest. Why have these grapes stood the test of time? In short, there are four reasons: they show more complexity, age longer, taste beautiful and the flavors transmit the character of the place they’re grown.

Among whites, these are Chardonnay, Riesling and Chenin Blanc. For reds, these are Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

The greatest examples of these grapes are among the most rare and expensive wines in the world. Moreover, most of these grapes are pretty finicky and value priced examples are disappointing more often than not. That said, values in these wines do exist—it just takes a lot of persistence to find them.

The following are wines that show the intrinsic beauty of these noble grapes without being prohibitively expensive.

Riesling, Leitz “Dragonstone” Rheingau Germany, 2007, $18
Year in and year out, Dragonstone outshines Rieslings at twice the cost. It has spritz, zesty acidity, gentle sweetness and a deep core of ripe fruit that show the depth that Riesling contains.

Chardonnay, Potet Montagny, Burgundy, 2006, $19
It’s hard to find quality white Burgundy at this price. Much more elegance than generic French Chardonnays, with that classic layered mouth-feel that great Burgundy is known for. A fetching wine with halibut.

Boroli, Anna Langhe, Italy, 2006, $14
A blend of the great grape of Piedmont and Nebbiolo, with some Barbera, Cab and Merlot. The Nebbiolo shines through on the nose with dual aromas of wet earth and violets. The wine is silky and suave and is best drunk slightly chilled and enjoyed with earthy foods.

Pinot Noir, Steele Carneros, California, 2006, $18.50
Pinot Noir is the both the greatest and most disappointing grape. Steele’s shows seductive and intensely fruity aromas that reveal raspberries, fruitcake spices and chocolate. On the palate, the wine is lush with penetrating acidity and real density.

Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds Koonunga Hill, Australia, 2006, $13.50
Burly and wild, with ultra-ripe flavors of currants tinged with smoke and coffee accents. The Cabernet seems to provide the backbone and cassis flavors; the Shiraz the olives and spice. Fire up the grill! The featured vintages are available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

The featured vintages are available at Madison's finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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