Just in time for spring, experts Wini Moranville and Charles Smotherman review a few unconventional wines with extraordinary flavors.
It’s finally spring—and in this season of renewal, why not pour something new in the wineglass? Next time you’re browsing the wine aisle (or clicking through your favorite online wine store), walk past the Chards, Merlots, and Cabs from more well-trod regions and go for something unexpected. Here, we highlight ten fabulous wines that will get any wine-lover out of a rut.
–Wini Moranville and Charles Smothermon
• Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2010 (Stellenbosch, South Africa; $12): How long has it been since you’ve had a wine that was so good you couldn’t stop drinking it? I found this one to be dangerously enjoyable. It’s a balanced beauty—faint orchard blossoms give way to a decidedly ripe, fruity side (pears, pineapple); on the finish comes a high-toned brightness. This voluptuously bodied yet graceful white may end up being my house white for the summer.
• Schloss Saarstein 2008 Pinot Blanc (Mosel, Germany; $18): If you’ve ever wondered what “minerality” means when it comes to wine, this bottle will reveal what that’s all about: a cool and pleasing sensation like wet stones in a garden after a spring rain. Combine that with a floral bouquet, stone fruits and citrus zest on the palate, and a thoroughly racy finish, and you’ve got another fine pick for spring.
• Sartori di Verona “Ferdi” 2009 Bianco Veronese (Italy; $14): Though this white is made from Garganega, the same grape that anchors Soave, you’ll think “suave” rather than “Soave” as you sip this. It’s roundly fruity (as in pears and apricots) but with a brisk finish, bringing Northern Italian finesse for a great price.
• Prazo de Roriz 2008 (Douro, Portugal; $17): The Symmington Family (fourth-generation Port traders and producers) teamed up with famed Bordeaux winemaker Bruno Prats for this red table wine from grapes grown on the historic Quinta de Roriz estate, whose vineyards date to the early 18th century. That’s a lot of history and pedigree for $17. Plush dark fruits weave with layers of earthiness and a bright finish for a beautifully integrated wine that will show best at the table.
• Café Culture 2009 Pinotage (Western Cape, South Africa; $14): This wine is made of Pinotage, a crossbreed of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is one of South Africa’s flagship grapes. For this expression, winemakers heightened the wine’s mocha-coffee flavors with a little toasted-oak trickery during the fermentation process. While I thought I was in for a novelty wine, there’s more to it than that—thanks to its bright, shimmery fruit, no one will mistake the wine for a lukewarm cup of coffee; rather, it’s a vivaciously fruity sip with, yes, pleasant roasted coffee touches on the nose and finish. This one is best for sipping solo—as you would a cocktail.
• Trinitas Cellars 2007 Old Vine Mataro Contra Costa County (California; $35): Another name for Mourvèdre, Mataro is a dark, sumptuous and juicy varietal — and it can be especially complex and interesting when the fruit comes from old vines. Here, the vineyard is more than 120 years old, producing only a small amount of fruit per vine, and only a bit more than 200 cases of this unique taste of history in a glass.
• La Posta 2008 Glorieta Vineyard Pinot Noir (Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina; $17): Needless to say, Pinot Noir isn’t usually the first thing we think of when it comes to wine from Argentina — there, Malbec rules the roost. So I was very pleasantly surprised to make the acquaintance of this friendly, fruit-driven Pinot from a vineyard site at 3,700 feet of elevation. Light-ish, with a pretty floral bouquet, this is one I’ve especially enjoyed alongside poultry dishes.
• A to Z Wineworks 2006 Chemin de Terre (Rogue Valley, Oregon; $20): Speaking of Pinot, no U.S State is more famous for world-class bottles than Oregon. But did you know that southern Oregon is gaining ground as a superb region for bigger, bolder reds? A blend featuring Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache, and yes, just a splash (2%) of Pinot Noir, this satisfying red makes it abundantly clear that Oregon is no one-hit wonder.
• Heinrich 2008 Red (Neusiedlersee, Austria; $18): The producers made the right call in simply naming this table-friendly wine “Red” — otherwise, they’d probably still be struggling to fit the blend’s three varietal names, Zweigelt, Saint Laurent, and Blaufränkisch, somewhere on the label! Despite these bizarre names, the wine is remarkably welcoming — particularly with simple, spring meals.
• Tariquet 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Côtes de Gascogne, France; approx. $10): Hailing from a region of France better known for Armagnac than wine, this astonishing bargain may cause French wine lovers to think twice before casting aspersions on no-name districts. Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc suits seafood and fish to a T, and represents such an incredible value that it just might become my house white next summer.