My friend Jack is a bit of a wine nut. In the best sort of way. He loves the stuff, and in particular loves exploring uncharted wine territory. He and I geek out on occasion exploring new varietals and new regions. He turned me onto some awesome stuff from Hungary, and I gave him a bottle of a new varietal from Portugal.
It came as no surprise, then, that when Jack and his wife Joanne were throwing a holiday party the theme was “Wines From Elsewhere.” Guests were asked to bring “obscure” wines — strange varietals, places off the standard winemaking maps, etc. etc. Of course, Jack couldn’t help himself — not content to simply find an odd wine or two in his own cellar (of which there are more than a few) he went out and dug up some real gems from places like Mexico, Romania, Switzerland, and Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Combined with the ones brought by the guests from Turkey, Ecuador, Greece, and other locales the evening was essentially any good wine geek’s idea of a good time.
I was in heaven.
I know I would never get around to reviewing each of these wines individually, even though a number of them clearly merit in-depth coverage, so I’ll instead provide you with my full tasting notes here. Enjoy! Oh, and before anyone goes busting us for having a few wines in there that are not quite fully obscure, cut us a little slack. It was a holiday party after all. 😉
2000 Movia “Puro” Sparkling Wine, Brda, Slovenia
Slightly cloudy and pale gold in the glass this wine has an almost savory nose of toasted brioche and light minerality. In the mouth it is zingy with great acid, medium fine bubbles, and a soft, somewhat ordinary mousse when it hits the palate. The wine strikes a very fine and somewhat unique balance between a honeyed quality and a minerality that one of the other guests described quite aptly as “alka seltzer” in nature, which might also be described as a chalky, limestone quality. Super easy to drink and very balanced. Yum. Unsure of the varietal, but likely to be Pinot Nero. Also worth noting is that this wine is sold un-disgorged, meaning that the person who owns it needs to store it upside down, and open it underwater to remove the yeast sediment plug before drinking. An adventure in a bottle to be sure. 9/9.5.
2005 Xavier Frissant Touraine Les Roses du Clos, Loire, France
Near colorless in the glass this wine smells of gooseberries and flint, with hints of citrus/orange zest. In the mouth it has a nice feel in the mouth with good acidity and a combination of citrus, mineral and a light floral quality coupled with what feels like a tiny hint of residual sugar sweetness, but which may just be aromatics. This wine qualifies for obscurity status because it is made from Sauvignon Rose, an odd clone of Sauvignon Blanc. Poured from a magnum. 8.5/9.
2005 Callaghan Lisa’s Selection White Wine, Arizona
Pale straw colored in the glass, this unusual blend of 55% Viognier and 45% Riesling has a nose that you might expect from this blend — a mix of peaches and pears, with just a whiff of something more mineral. In the mouth it has great acid and a very silky, almost oily presence on the tongue that carries flavors of peaches and other white stone fruit, and finishes (unfortunately, to my taste) with a note of petrol that is somewhat surprising after a very fruit driven wine. Arizona. Who knew? 8.5/9.
1999 Nurihannam Wines Chardonnay, Nuriootpa High School, Barossa, Australia
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine has a classic chardonnay nose of cold cream and lemon curd. In the mouth it has excellent body and balance with primary flavors of pastry cream, candied lemon peel, and cold cream / mineral notes on the finish. A solid Chardonnay that qualifies for obscurity because it is made in small quantities by high schoolers. 9.
2004 Casa de Piedra Piedra de Sol Chardonnay, Baja, Mexico
Essentially colorless in the glass, this wine has a nose of honey, toasted nuts, oak, and, unfortunately, quite a bit of sulfur. In the mouth, however, it makes up for the slightly stinky start with a gorgeous mouthfeel carrying flavors of peach and other stone fruit with just a slight sweetness mitigated by great acidity, and prolonged through a very nice finish. I don’t know that I would have pegged this as the unoaked Chardonnay it is in a blind tasting. 8.5/9.
2002 Chaupi Estancia Palomino Fino Yaruqua, Ecuador
Pale straw in color, this wine has a gorgeous, complex nose of lemon, mineral, paraffin, and kerosene aromas. In the mouth it is everything you want in a white wine, excellent acids, poise on the tongue, and a sumptuous mix of flavors ranging from lemon curd, to saffron shot through with a granitic quality that is quite compelling. One of the more unique whites I’ve had in some time, making me wonder where else I might be able to find examples of the Palomino varietal. 9/9.5.
2001 Luc Massy “Epesses” Sauvignon Blanc Estate, Switzerland
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of starfruit, green wood and wet wool. In the mouth it has great acids and flavors of lemon, wet slate, and only the slightest hint of apple on what is a very long finish. I never would have guessed this was Sauvignon Blanc in a million years. 8.5.
NV JSC Tsin Andali White Wine, Georgia (the country)
Light gold in the glass, this blend of Rkasiteli and Mtsvane varietals has a highly oxidized nose of pine sap, sarsaparilla, and sherry aromas. In the mouth it has great acidity to support flavors of pine sap, parchment, and a steely minerality that gives way to a light herbal quality on the finish. Certainly unusual, but ultimately a little too oxidative to be successful. I rather enjoyed the flavor more than many of my fellow guests. 8.5.
2003 Callaghan Padres Red Blend (Tempranillo), Arizona
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has an odd nose that is a combination of nutty and berry aromas, with a hint of lanolin. In the mouth, however, all strangeness departs, and the wine delivers a fantastic medley of complex flavors that range through plum, prune, and fig mixed with earthier elements of sawdust or fresh lumber. The tannins are smooth, and the wine has nice acids that carry the flavors through to a long finish that has a hint of mustiness to it. 9/9.5.
1999 Domaine Mecouri Proprietary Red Blend, Peloponnisos, Greece
Light garnet in the glass this wine has a pleasant, soft nose of sour cherry and dried herb aromas. In the mouth, this blend of Refosco and Mavrodaphne proves to be soft and supple with very light dusty tannins and flavors of cherry and rosemary and other dried herbs. While not remarkable, it is one of the better red wines I have had had from Greece. 8.5/9.
2002 Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Tasya’s Reserve, China
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of green wood and cherry, and ends up tasting much the same. Medium bodied with not many redeeming qualities, but no obvious flaws that would keep it from passing muster in most supermarkets on one of the lower shelves. I feel like Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda: Disappointed !! 7.5.
2003 Dynasty Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Royal Selection, China
Medium garnet in color, this wine has the strangest combination of floral and green bell pepper aromas I’ve ever experienced in a wine. Which is why I was doubly disappointed to find that it had nothing to deliver but ordinary cherry cola flavors shot through with wet, green wood. I’m starting to think my one experience with a halfway decent Chinese Cabernet was a daydream. 7.
2002 Viña Progreso Tannat Reserve, Uraguay
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a compelling nose of raspberry, black cherry, and other undefined red fruits. In the mouth it proves why tannins are named after this grape, but in the classiest possible way. Plummy, cherry and redcurrant flavors swirl around a heavily reinforced structure of thick stiff tannins that give the wine a resonance and grip on the palate. Good acids give me the idea that we opened this bottle about 15 years too early. I’d love to see what it is like in 2015, but it was a lot of fun to drink now. 9.
1998 Nurihannam Wines Shiraz, Nuriootpa High School, Barossa, Australia
Dark garnet in the glass this wine has a nose that gives Shiraz a good name among most consumers. Bright blueberry and blackberry aromas explode out of the glass. Not surprisingly, on the palate, this wine explodes with juicy gorgeous fruit. Blackberry explosion with a lovely typical menthol/eucalyptus note to keep it real. What’s not to love about this? Great acids, full body, lovely finish. I wish I went to THIS high school. 9/9.5.
2002 Fairview Shiraz The Beacon, South Africa
Dark inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells deliciously of roasted meats and blackberries. In the mouth it is perfectly formed with a slight rusticity of flavor, tasting of blackberry, earth, and that elusive delectable bacon fat quality that so many people search out in wine. This wine makes you understand why. Lovely structure, lovely finish, doubtless ageable for a decade, this is most certainly the best wine from South Africa I have ever had, and by a wide margin. 9.5.
2005 Callaghan Z5 Red Blend (Zinfandel), Arizona
Medium purple in the glass this wine makes it clear from the start that this is going to be a fully fruit experience, with a nose of powerful blueberry and blackberry aromas. In the mouth it comes out swinging with mulberry and blueberry fruit, earthy and juicy at the same time. No tannins to speak of, but who would really want them in this meditation on what grapes can do with a little time and wood. Hard not to like, unless you have an objection to fruit and new oak in your wine. 9/9.5.
2001 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin Bordeaux blend, Okanagan Valley, British Colombia
This joint project between Osoyoos Estate and Gruaud Larose of Bordeaux shows dark, inky garnet in the glass and classically Bordeaux with a nose of pencil shavings and wet earth with the barest hints of black cherry fruit. In the mouth it has lovely black cherry, wet earth, and tobacco flavors with excellent smooth, structured tannins, great acidity, and a substantial finish. Dead ringer for Right Bank if you ask me. 9/9.5.
2003 Valea Calugareasca, Cabernet Sauvignon “Aurelo” Special Reserve, Dealu Mare, Romania
Medium purple in the glass, this wine is the All Plum All The Time cable channel for your nose. In the mouth it is plush and well formed with primary flavors of plum, blueberry and a surprising hint of blackberry (for a Cab) as it heads towards a modest finish. 8.5.
2000 Blue Danube Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Dealu Mare, Romania
Medium ruby in the glass this wine smells of cherry and classic Cabernet green bell pepper aromas with a note of wet earth. Not a bad start, but in the mouth it sort of falls apart in the mid-palate with a very dark earthy flavor that eventually shows some cherry fruit before sulking off to the back of the throat like a sullen teenager. 7.5.
2005 Kayra Kalecik Karasý Denizli, Southwest Turkey
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a brooding nose of wet wool and red fruits. In the mouth however, it is surprisingly tart and fresh with an nice balance between acid driven flavors of umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) and a lightly tannic woody character that is pleasant. Much more to my taste than its other countryman this evening. 8.5.
2004 Kayra Aküzgözü-Boaazkere Red Wine, Southeast Turkey
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a shy nose, that after much inhaling proves itself to be lightly floral with a hint of bright blue fruit. In the mouth it proves to be medium bodied with a grapey quality to its flavor that…didn’t really do it for me. Not a flawed wine, and certainly drinkable, but not to my taste. 7.
2003 Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel, Baja, Mexico
Medium garnet in color with hints of bight purple, this wine, which is billed as a “Mediterranean blend of tempranillo, merlot, syrah, grenache, and viognier” (??), has a pretty floral nose of violets and red fruits. In the mouth it is shapely and weighty on the palate with a very polished aspect to it as it provides full black cherry fruit and an unmistakable signature of a lot of new French oak as it heads for a long, and just slightly warm finish. This is clearly a very “crafted” wine, but one that is undeniably high quality. 9.
2000 Golan Heights Winery Merlot, Yarden, Israel
Dark garnet in the glass this wine has a direct and straightforward nose of figs and prunes. In the mouth it proves to be as straightforward with primarily dried / cooked fruit flavors that center around prunes and raisins and make for a pleasant if unremarkable red wine experience. 8.5.
1991 Ferreira Barca-Velha, Duoro, Portugal
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, with a nose of mulberry, huckleberry and floral scents I would bet hundreds of dollars that this was only a four or five year old wine, and perhaps even more once I tasted it. In the mouth it is gorgeously full and rich with fantastic velvet mouthfeel, dusty smooth tannins, and deep resonant flavors of wet earth, huckleberry, leather, and notes of wet stone as it heads towards a gorgeous finish. Apparently some folks consider this the very best dry red wine made in Portugal. And after tasting it from an average vintage, I could easily believe it. 9.5.
2001 Bodegas Olivares Dulce Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain
Dark inky garnet in the glass, this wine has an ethereal nose of grapey, raisiny, roasted fig-o-rama. In the mouth it is weighty with glycerin and thick with fig and raisin flavors and a medium sweetness made very tolerable – nay, delicious – with good acidity to back it up. I couldn’t drink more than several mouthfuls of this, but I certainly would enjoy them. 8.5/9.