Villa Cavarena Soave 2016

Okay, so gargenega won’t win any sexy grape type name competitions any time soon. When pronounced correctly it sound more like a throat clearing than the entree to a night of fun…but that might be a signal.

The signal I’m thinking of is that the ugly name means nothing. Just as we don’t taste the colour, neither do we imbibe the name; the only judgement that counts is the way the senses connect with the imagination.

Contemplating volcanic hills and a history dating to Roman times, plus the romanicism of Verona (I’m thinking Shakespeare) might be a better way to approach a soave. Mostly constructed from gargenega, this one is 20% chardonnay, which, along with verdicchio, is a customary blending grape. The combination is beguiling. Chardonnay brings with is a bag full of full-bodied fruit, contributing the ripe notes of fresh pineapple to the nose. Lemon oil and fresh almond meat spritzed with tangerine rind complete that picture.

All of that is carried to the palate; a luxurious kind of oily nut mouthfeel makes one stop for a moment, and for a moment I thought I saw a deep background minerality. The key here is the fleshy nut and fruit feel taming any over-zesty lemon-oil elements, which is a long way round of saying that all inputs balance well. No sharp edges here.

The finish is surprisingly long, with that tangerine pith leading to a kind of salty minerality. This bottle begs for big seafood; give it to her.

$12.99

Chateau de Nages Buti Nages Nimes Rouge 2014

What the heck is a buti nages? And where the heck is Costières de Nîmes? And why do so many people confuse this wine with the rose by the same producer?

Wine, eh? So many questions.

According to the bottle, buti nages means to gather nectar, a wholesome metaphor, no?

More interesting is the story of the Costières de Nîmes AOC. Beginning life as part of Languedoc didn’t fit this determined child, which felt much more at home as a member of the Rhone family; grape types, wine style, soil composition and all that. In addition, proximity to the Med means – tadah!- sea breezes, and we all know what that can do, looking at you, New Zealand.

Think of this AOC as a kind of Rhone on summer seaside vacation.

75% grenache, 20% syrah and 5% mouvedre tells you where we’re heading. More fruit than tobacco, the nose is still a welcoming combination of the floral grenache and dry syrah – a sort of dried herbs and just-dead flower-petal dynamic. A just right dryness on the palate with soft fruit is still held together with clearly defined acids. One imagines this is the French version of “easy drinking”, one horrible convolution in both word and deed, but accurate for our purposes.

Living midway between pinot noir and syrah in the body/color stakes, grenache punches in a higher weight class than its color and translucence suggests. That’s why the blending works so well – it’s like adding wings to a race car to tweak the aerodynamics and create a winner.

One wonders why people buy those Californian blends with enormous alcohol and sloppy definition when there’s this for the same price..a question that answers itself.

$11.99 and a delight.

Balthasar Ress Von Unserm Rheingau Riesling Trocken 2015

Hundreds of years of winemaking must make a difference. That, and the riesling grape, of course. German precision, too. Those hillsides. The slate.

It’s all there in the bottle, in an eye-opening glass of wonderment combining river, rocks, rain, rays (if they can find them) and the irresistible restraint of the winemaker. Perfecting a craft might be among humans’ most impressive achievements – all the better for the end product being wine.

So, it’s a good thing, this one. To begin a layered nose of unripe white peach, very mild tennis ball and barely-there jasmine. Instantly on the tongue is the lime-y acid that slides to either side in something less than a pucker and more than a how’s your father? Henceforth the minerality, the defining character of this wine after the fruit. Cool, slate-y and decidedly juicy. Perhaps we’ve coined another riesling rejoinder?

My experience of quality riesling is that sipping a glass has the same feel as eating a beautiful piece of stone fruit. In this case, let’s call it a peach. I have a knife, and I slice slowly from the skin to the stone and eat each piece, skin and all. The flavor varies with each individual mouthful, the skin, the middle flesh and the inner flesh all subtly different. The orchestration of these sweet and sour notes, the acids and the flesh makes the experience simultaneously simple and complex.

One naturally understands that each piece of fruit is different, and appreciates every one as the fruition of many years and many inputs. So it is with a glass of wine…well, a glass of wine like this one.

Zesty lime in the complete and yet lingering finish are simply terrific.

$19.99

Mauro Veglio Barbera d’Alba 2014

Italia’s bronze-placegetter in the acreage stakes is Barbera, which could work either way. It’s either overlooked or overhyped.

Happily, it’s the former and not the latter, which is wonderful because it means there’ll be plenty of choice in future and a sufficiently large consumer base (in italy, one imagines) so that it need not be promoted elsewhere.

The advantage of being a poor-ish cousin is that no-one cares what you do, nor do they have expectation. You can keep on doing what you do best and not have to explain yourself to those who might want more or less from you, for their own reasons.

In any case, #3 here is a delight. Quite it’s own beast, barbera is a kind of melange of a bunch of interesting characteristics. A calm vanilla and blackberry nose could be from new world shiraz or zinfandel, but the violet, dried strawberry, sour cherry and juicy acids are not.

An intriguing phenomenon of simultaneous fruit on the front of the tongue and drier elements towards the sides left me with the sensation of this being a dry wine…and yet not.

In a global view this wine is a strong competitor for any pinot noir, especially anything from the new world. Low tannins high acid and those cherry notes ring familiar; the way primary and secondary notes combine do not…and that’s a good thing.

After a day’s air the fruit melted away leaving the lovely dryness. Fascinating.

$15.99

Saladini Pilastri Pecorino 2016

Among the many delights of wine is the sense of discovery that befriends the adventurous.  That’s a relative term – adventurous – for what amounts to gambling a few dollars on a bottle for the mysterious liquid within…and drinking it.

Heck, it’s 2017 and there’s not a lot left for the regular Joe to explore. We do what we can. And here’s a case in point. Best to start here:

Marche’s Rediscovered Jewel

For The People

Definitely of medium-plus body and medium-plus acidity, this wine is a magic carpet. Imagine being on the Italian Adriatic coast, a simple seafood dish placed on the table, a breath of salty sea air caressing your brow. Wait, we’re not in a romance novel here, this is serious; and so is this glass.

Thick, alcohol-drizzled lemon-y minerality on the nose leads to muscular almond-y acids on the palate. Undercroft of not-yet-ripe stone fruit and that salt breeze? Yeah, it’s there, which makes it all the more likely to be great with any kind of food; this is a grape strong enough for all but red meat.

Some mention the idea of giving pecorino some time, which sounds like a great idea to me. Buy a case, put it down and take a couple of bottles out on the first day of summer and mid-way through for six years. Now that’s what I call a plan.

$12.99

Spier Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Taste shifts with the crowd, which, in the case of sauvignon blanc, means the popular iteration leans towards the New Zealand version.

Nothing wrong with that. Popularity means the Kiwis are doing something right by hitting the sweet spot of public palate-pleasing acclaim. Sauvignon blanc is a deceptively tricky mass-market grape as it’s very dry and therefore working against human nature’s sweet tooth. Craving sweet could be our one unifying yearn, which might explain chardonnay’s pre-eminence in white-wine land.

Ahem. Notwithstanding, here’s an unassuming wine from a region not recognized for growing sauvignon blanc – or not to the standards generally set for these things. As a drink from the glass, I wonder why we don’t see more of it. All the classic qualities are there in a crisp, balanced, delicious package, making this a kind of gift card varietal specific wine that should please almost anyone.

Green-gold reflections, herb and gooseberry nose, citrus/pith and mineral palate plus a Cape of Good Hope sea breeze if you look for it.

$9.49