Esoteric Wine Finds

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - November 12, 2008
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There are so many winemaking regions around the world that I’d bet you’ve never even heard of, much less had the chance to taste. These sometimes remote or unheard of areas tend to fly “under the radar” for most wine lovers, which is one of the reasons why I love tasting these types of wines. And when I find these esoteric wines that are absolutely delicious, many of them provide terrific value for the money.

My first unfound treasure is the 2005 Herri Mina Irouleguy Blanc ($19). The appellation of Irouleguy (e-ru-leg-e) is in the Southwest of France in the Basque region famed for its independence, hardy red wines and Brebis cheese. It lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains and is comprised of a miniscule area of 250 acres. The Herri Mina Estate is owned and operated by one of France’s most-famous winemakers, Jean-Claude Berrouet. Berrouet was the wine-maker for Chateau Petrus from 1964 to his recent retirement last year.


So why would such a famous Bordeaux winemaker set up in far off Irouleguy? Well, Berrouet’s father is actually Basque, thus a return to his roots and the challenge of dealing with unique white wine varietals such as Gros Manseng (55 percent), Petit Courbu (40 percent) and Petit Manseng (5 percent). This wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel and bottled with as little intervention as possible leaving the essence of the wine intact. It has beautifully ripe apple and pear aromas with a distinct mineral edge. It combines a white tea spice and vibrant fruitiness. It is dry like a Chardonnay but with a lighter texture more akin to Pinot Grigio. This is a lovely wine at a reasonable price that once you try, you will never forget.

OK, maybe you might have heard of Hermitage, that great promontory that forces the Rhone River to bend around. Yes, the same granite stone-based hill that gives the world one of the apogees of the noble Syrah. But did you know that they make a lovely white wine as well? Here the grapes are Marsanne and Rousanne. The 2004 Betts & Scholl Hermitage Blanc ($65) is a terrific example of how these grapes can eke out some of the most wonderful and ineffable aromas and flavors that ever coursed your palate. It has a beautiful stone and apricot-peach aroma and reminds me a bit of white Burgundy but without the oak. It surely has a rich texture very much like Chardonnay and even more poached orchard fruit flavors that are very lengthy and inviting. And by the way, did I mention that the wine is made in cooperation with Jean-Louis Chave and family? Yes, that Chave family.

Going from one rocky slope to another, I’ve found one of the most satisfying light wines in the 2007 Quenard Chignin Blanc ($14). Chignin is a tiny town in the Savoie region of France that cozies up against the French Alps. On these slopes white grapes such as Rousanne and Jacquere are the workhorses for the wines. This particular Chignin is 100 percent Jacquere from 40-year-old vines and vinified in stainless steel tanks. It has a terrific alpine air to its aroma with flowers and fresh vegetation coming to the fore with a nutty, dried apricot background. It is superbly refreshing, easy to quaff and simply a terrific value. It has character, pleasure and refreshment all in one.

What fun it is to find these diamonds in the rough. But they are even more fun to drink!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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