A Grape of a Different Flavor


Some grapes are immediately identified with a region: Riesling and Germany; Zinfandel and California; Sangiovese and Italy. Indeed, history has proven that these grapes do particularly well in these places. On the other hand, there are some grapes you wouldn’t see in certain places—Riesling in Sicily, Zinfandel in Germany, or Sangiovese in Champagne.

And then there are grapes that do well in unexpected places—wines that may not reach the heights of the classics, but that show a fascinating and delicious side to familiar grapes. Tasting these is good way to learn the inherent characteristics of a grape in the sense that wines will have certain flavors no matter where it’s grown. It’s also a good way to discover how soil and climate complements those characteristics. After all, an Italian Merlot should taste different from a California Merlot.

Spanish Chardonnay
Nekeas “Vega Sindoa” Navarra 2007, $14

This has all the components of a heady California Chardonnay: oak, butter, and tropical fruits, but doesn’t taste Californian. It drinks like a pastelled Chardonnay; light and lithe, and is heavenly with aged goat cheeses.

Australian Riesling
Torzi Matthews, Barossa Valley 2007, $20

Some Riesling snobs pooh-pooh Australia because they believe the region is too warm for the varietal. Yet the Barossa has its cool spots with Riesling-friendly soils that produce glorious examples like this one that’s full of lime and Asian spice.

Italian Cabernet Sauvignon
Castello di Corbara, Umbria 2004, $17.50

Lovely, fresh aromas of currants and spice with playful tannins that register on the mid-palate (rather than the back). An earthy note gives it away as Italy. A Cab you could drink with tomato sauce.

Oregon Syrah
Domaine Serene “Roadblock” 2005, $27

Dense red fruit flavors but a supple mouth feel that hides this wine’s substantial power. Like their Pinots, oak is deftly integrated into the cloak of this memorable wine. Enjoy with a dish highlighting rosemary.

Swiss Pinot Noir
Adrian Mathier–Lucifer Valais 2007, $25

This shows the lightness and texture of Pinot, but has a unique smoky, wild fruit flavor. A mineral wine whose earthiness complements the wine’s devilish fruit. A good Pinot for pork and apples. 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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