Domaine de la Presidente Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2015

Some wines are easy to get to know. Some are friendly. Some are warm; some others are cold. Yet some others are just plain hard to reach. This might be one example of a difficult to befriend wine, a wine who simply cares not what you think, nor what you tell your friends.

Which makes it an interesting character indeed. The blend here is Grenache Blanc (50), Marsanne (10) and Viognier (40). There’s a troublesome trio.

Theoretically, that blend works a treat. In practice it does too, but it requires a little contextualization and lateral thinking, along with psychic macrame and a dash of lesbian dance theory.

Nah, I’m just kidding. Vigonier is the opener here, a clear-cut nose of steel and apricot stone. The grenache is there with florality, a general sense of keeping things together, and the marsanne keeps the finish going for a long, long time.

The hurdle here to getting close to this new acquaintance is the juxtaposition between the beguiling fruit and the clearly salty substructure. Don’t get me wrong, they work brilliantly, but not in the way you might expect.

Difficult friends are difficult for a reason, and friends for  a reason.

$11.99

Winzer Krems Gruner Veltliner Kremser Sandgrube, 2016

Let’s be thankful for human nature, which, mostly, is about falling into a rut and staying there. If this were not the case, we’d never find hidden  gems.

The opposite of a hidden gem is Kendall-Jackson. For some drinkers, “wine” actually is something like K-J. Or J Lohr. Or Woodbridge. 99% of (especially US consumers) buy 1% of the names, leaving to the inevitable corollary that we 1% have almost the entire field to ourselves.

This is enormously good news, meaning, as it does, that there are a heap of nooks and crannies for us to explore. Austrian counts as larger than a nook or a crannie, but we can stipulate for the purpose of illustration.

To open, here’s a glass of salty lime citrus that was grown within coo-ee of the Danube – as delightful an idea as any I’ve tasted recently. Descriptions vary from fruity to spicy to herbal, supported by possible creaminess and universal acidity. This glass was brightly lime-y acidic with the distinctive mild carbonation common to young gruners.

Lemon saltiness will go brilliantly with fried, breaded meats or fresh white fish. Or nothing else but a willingness to try something not Kendall-Jackson.

$14.49

Chateau de la Perriere Brouilly 2015

Gamay. Let’s just luxuriate in that name for a while. Is there a more feline word for a grape? It doesn’t fell like it’s at all related to any other variety; it’s more…human. Soft, perhaps, even fey, this noun feel like it will mold to our shape, rather than us to it.

Luxuriate as long as you like, I’m checking out this Brouilly. Working hard to find anything more than an inoffensive nose, one knows we’re at the lighter flavor end of the spectrum. That’s good, simply because “quality” or “good” is often co-mingled with the size – or, in my mind, the bandwidth – of a glass. It’s a human trait, I think, to believe that more is better, making subtlety a rare quality.

Subtle is indeed this wine’s distinctive quality. Smooth as a windless day pond, gamay’s trademark cherry and cranberry threads insinuate themselves gently upon one’s tongue. Tannins are there, clear and yet still muted, with acids binding the elements together.

Binding might be too strong a word, as it feels like all the parts of the wine are friends from long ago. Like an Audi gearbox, the smooth meshing of qualities is all the more beautiful for not making a big deal about it – subtle quality, in other words.

$15.49

Neetlingshof Pinotage 2016

Big fruit right out of the bottle. Plums and prunes, balsamic and bacon, the nose is really quite reminiscent of a muscle-bound ripasso. Or – heaven forfend! – an amarone.

It’s hard not to like a wine that makes a statement up front. An unfair way to judge, agreed but, like the labrador or a successful wine sales pro, first impressions that aren’t bad predispose us to positivity thereafter.

Aglianico has the same kind of profile. Bold and unapologetic, redolent of cured meats, hoisin sauce and sweet tobacco, I can see some of the more overblown zinfandels here too. Subtlety here is run over by a flavor bus.

Key is the fact of the non-fruit flavors. Astonishing, this business of how grapes can, when fermented and manipulated, create the chemicals that make them so much more than squished, rotten reproductive media.

$14.99

Domaine de Bellevue Signargues Côtes du Rhône 2016

Looking forward to a glass of wine is a big part of the experience. Anticipation emanating directly from the pleasure-reception area part of the brain is as powerful as the act of drinking that glass. Alcohol is merely the kicker.

I mention this only because I look forward to a glass from the Rhône in a different way than others. Syrah might be a part of that, given my connection with South Australian Shiraz. The dark fruit, spice and rich nature of Shiraz is embedded deeply in my psyche.

Which is only of peripheral value when evaluating this wine. The distinctive climate of the Rhône and its history are a literal world of their own. For that reason, blending grape varieties separate New World from Old. Excellent.

Here’s a glass of four varieties that time has burnished to a fine gleam. The blending of, that is. Mostly Grenache and Syrah, with minor parts played by Carignan and Mourvedre are our ingredients. Let’s face it, a good recipe needs no modification. The natural variables are quality of fruit and winemaking, accepting the vicisstudes of weather.

Success is its own virtue. This glass of virtue is more savory than fruity. Think black olives.

$13.99

Trio Chardonnay Reserva 2015

Thematic wine lines sound like a good idea. The unfortunate horror of retail reality is that most wine purchases correlate only somewhat with wine quality, or, worse still, wine adventure.

So sad. The average wine-buyer looks for a brand in precisely the same way they choose a breakfast cereal or fast food. Pathetic. In a sense, this is the fundamental problem marketing wine, which is that taste, quality, perception and budget rarely form a coalition. When they do, we find treasure, but for the most part, not.

This Trio wine is a gallant attempt to find an audience that probably doesn’t exist apart from me. Difficult to do better than the website:

Three white grapes complement each other in Trio Chardonnay providing a fresh and well balanced wine with intense aromas and a juicy and mineral acidity. Its Chardonnay base gives the blend structure, a hint of semi-tropical fruits and a balanced acidity. The Pinot Grigio adds sophistication through its citrus and mineral notes, while the Pinot Blanc confers freshness and elegance.

There you are, a terrific idea from folks who know precisely what they’re doing and make the wine accordingly. The above paragraph so accurately describes the wine – but not it’s visceral attraction – that it’s all the more sad that it needs a push.

To do my bit: the glass is an aromatic tour of ripe new-world chardonnay qualities. Ripe, because of the pineapple-centric notes. Secondary characteristics are of the (noted) white peach and minor minerality, but the overwhelming impression is of juicy fruit and equally complex acids. Rich. Beautiful. Deserving of much more attention.

$14.99

Domaine Millet Sancerre 2016

Storied Sancerre, the spiritual home of sauvignon blanc, or so the story goes. If that story rests upon a glass of acid-driven, lime and limestone-y lemon and lemongrass-y wine, that’s it. That’s what comes from this bottle.

In the way that wine has of proffering multiple personality traits, here’s a great example. Herbal and yet fruit-based; acidic and chalky; vibrant and clearly of long heritage, there’s a geography, history and horticultural story in every sip.

Flinty by nature, refined by presentation, living up to reputation.

$21.99

Santa Ana Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Despite the point end of the pyramid taking all the attention, most wine consumed lies at the bottom of that pyramid.

That is as it should be. Pointy ends are only pointy by virtue of restriction of some kind, such as input – grapes, land on which to grow them – skill at winemaking or, the big one, price. On the other hand we have a wine like this, made and designed with a balance between all of those elements.

No, it’s not at the pointy end of the wine world. What it does represent is the fact that quality isn’t necessarily related to price. We can all make that calculation.  What does “quality” mean down here on the ground, and is price an input to that equation?

Simple but well made, this is a classic cool-climate New World sauvignon blanc. If we look, we can find all the characteristics we love in that variety: citrus and mildly herbal nose, delicious dry mouthfeel of subtle citrus fruit and surprising mineral notes verging on salty.

This would be a brilliant companion to any fish or a salad.

$7.29

Armani Foja Tonda DOC Terradeiforti 2011

If you find yourself offered a glass of casetta, take it. For one thing, this wine is made from a rare grape. For another, it’s full of surprises.

From the producer’s website:

The “Casetta”, called “ Foja Tonda” (round leaf) in local dialect, is an indigenous grape variety from the Adige Valley, cultivated since antiquity in the townships of Dolcè, Ala and Avio between the regions Veneto and Trentino. After having been abandoned, since the market favored other – sometimes more prolific – grape varieties, Foja Tonda was destined to extinction, until Albino Armani rediscovered it. In 2002 it was reinserted among the varieties admitted for cultivation These old grapevines, sometimes with their original roots, seem to tell the story of the age-old passion for wine shared by the inhabitants of our valley. Since 2007 it is recognized with the appellation “D.O.C. Terra dei Forti”.

Yet again geography and history find their way into a glass of wine. Can you not feel yourself transported to north-eastern Italy? Is the Adige River not tinkling in your ears? Is that the whiff of espresso?

Then there’s the drink itself. Over a 24 hour period, the nature of this glass changed completely. Initially it was forward biased, with dark fruit, freshly tanned leather, vanilla and licorice. With air more red-fruit and sneaky-big acids introduced themselves. In some sips I found even strawberry notes, in the vein of a pinot noir.  Vinous and wild with sticky tannins, the finish became lengthy and fascinating. Acids: yes.

Notes mention tobacco, and I sense that thread, but nothing like you’d imagine. For what’s billed as an agricultural grape – a relic from another age – the subtlety and chameleonic personality are worth the price of entry.

$24.99

Monticello Pinot Noir Estate Oak Knoll 2013

This, Hermione, is not your supermarket pinot noir. From the producers:

I find expressive and appealing aromas of strawberry, cola, cinnamon and hints of graham cracker on the nose. On the palate, the wine lunges onto the palate, conveying richness and a full-bodied texture. I find ripe red berry flavors balanced by light vanillin oak notes, transitioning into a bold finale of bright fruit.

No graham cracker for me (was that a MacGuffin to see if we’re paying attention?) however, the rest is accurate. The overwhelming feeling of this wine is that it is BIG. I’d say it might be somewhat too large to pair with a light white-protein dish – so much so that red meat dishes, or anything rich would be a better thought. As the producer opines:

Ham as well as duck and goose.

Which is all of academic interest. The fascinating thread through this glass is the boldness of the alcohol, to the point where there are some brandy-like characteristics. Yes, that and the dark licorice element help lend a zinfandel-like quality, which is quite some trick given the base fruit.

The more we taste, the more we find. After a day’s air, the structure remains with the addition of a woodsy earthy stratum, which is completely in keeping with the conceit of the glass. All of that leads us to the acids: they’re great. I find little to zero spice, but in light of all else that’s here, it’s hardly worth mention.

$29.99