It’s always fun to take stock of all the interesting wines one has encountered over the past year (if you’re a wine geek) much like travelers like to reflect on all the great trips they’ve had. I’ve always thought wine is a terrific way to visit another place without going anywhere as you get a dose of culture, history, and terroir in every good glass of wine. This past year was no exception when it came to wine fascinations.
At a recent Wines of Portugal tasting, I tried the 2017 S. Sebastião Arinto ($12) from the Lisboa region. I’m always a huge fan of Portuguese wines as they offer terrific value for quality but hadn’t had much of this historic Portuguese white variety. Arinto is known for its acidity and this aromatic wine leapt from the glass with bright citrus and pineapple, dried mushroom, and floral notes. The palate was lush and mouth-coating from 3 months on lees accompanied by bracing acidity. It was as if a glass of flavors broke in my mouth and absolutely commanded the palate.
The Jeeper Cuvée Naturelle Extra Brut Champagne ($125) was another standout. I personally like Brut Natural wines (those with less than 3 grams/liter of residual sugar) but they can be austere and off-putting for many. This one had all the wonderful crisp lean flavors of a Brut Natural but in a very approachable soft way. Made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir grapes, this wine is also Certified Organic.
The “Jeeper” name comes from the Jeep gift that was given to owner Armand Goutorbe upon his return from the Second World War by the U.S. army. During the war, Armand was taken prisoner but refused to reveal any military secrets which helped to save many American and other Allied forces' lives. The Jeep allowed Armand, who was disabled after the war, to work his high-sloped vineyards more easily and get his life back on track.
The Brut Naturelle is one of the premium wines of the Jeeper collection but they also have a more affordable Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée Grand Rosé (that doesn’t look pink at all), and a Cuvée Grand Assemblage. The bottles are also distinctively-shaped with a rounder shoulder meant to help the wine age longer (due to less air contact) and also meant to resemble the grenades used to rescue Armand during the war.
In the “classics” category, I had the 2013 Pflüger Dürkheimer Riesling ($25) that reminded me just how scintillating these elegant wines can be. This one was dry (not sweet) and absolutely sang of minerals, slate, dried peaches, and that trademark petrol of a Riesling with some age on it. It’s the equivalent of Barbra Streisand hitting one of her perfectly-tuned high notes – clean, precise, and linear surrounded by a cascade of nuanced notes.
Another white wine “wow” moment was the 2015 Avancia Old Vines Godello ($32). Godello is a native Spanish/Portuguese white grape that Jorge Ordóñez introduced to the United States (along with the better-known Albariño). This legendary wine importer and producer liked Godello so much that he grew his own in Valdeorras. Aged 10 months sur lie in French oak puncheons and demi-muids, this wine was positively vibrant with a textured body but kept light on its feet with white flower and wet rock flavors backed by laser acidity. If you have Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc fans that both need pleasing, this is a perfect wine as it has the body of a Chardonnay with the minerality and crispness of a Sauvignon Blanc.
On the red wine front, one of the more unusual wines I tried last year was the 2012 Casalfarneto Rosae Lacrima di Morro d’Alba ($10). In the blind tasting that accompanied this wine, the guesses ranged from Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo to Burgundy. Anything that generates that amount of diversity has to be interesting! This wine had the freshness of a Gamay, the regality of a Burgundy, the savory notes of a Pinot, and structure of a Nebbiolo. From the Marche region of Italy (on the Adriatic coast side), this wine is made from Lacrima grapes from the township of Morro d’Alba. This also confused us as any name with “Alba” in it typically sends people to Piedmont and Barolo. Incidentally “lacrima” means “tears” which refer to the drops of juice that appear from the grape when it’s ripe and ready to harvest.
In the “biggest surprise” category, I tried the Underwood Beaujolais Nouveau ($6.99) which is a canned wine released for the infamous third Thursday of November Nouveau time. I confess to being leery of canned wines but this one tasted terrific and had beautiful hunter green packaging that actually made me think about collecting the cans. Two elegant looking peacocks sit facing each other with wispy trailing feathers. Don’t be put off by the “nouveau” label as this is a serious wine that is perfect to kick off the new year, another kind of “nouveau” occasion.
The wine inside was Pinot Noir (as Underwood wanted to represent their Oregon roots whereas Beaujolais is typically Gamay) which also added a neat twist to it. It was a light and lovely red fruit and savory expression of Pinot and a fun addition to any party. Keep in in mind that if you try this, you are getting 375 mL of wine (which is 2.5 glasses or half a bottle) per can. The can doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its usual alcohol of 13% so take your time drinking it.
No new year is complete without some great bubbles. While there are a lot of Proseccos out there, this one stood apart with its distinct mineral streak and drier style. Introduced this past summer, Bariano Prosecco has a striking purple and white striped-label and is named for the Romano Beverage family; the current owner is third-generation Tricia Romano-Barry so combining her two names yielded Bariano.
Made as a joint project by two old friends, Chicago’s Romano family and the di Gasparetto family of northern Italy, Bariano is a labor of love and family. This wine was delicate and light yet had exquisite staying power with tart pear, apple, and lovely slate mineral notes. The mousse was persistent and long with the mineral backbone carrying all the way through the crisp finish. Bariano is available in full ($11.99) or half bottles.
Happy new year and let me know what exciting wines 2020 brings your way.
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