By the Glass: Quality, value found off the beaten path
When looking for value, in many cases we now search in lesser-known regions, where land is less expensive.
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The 1970s marked the beginning of my fascination with wine. My appetite for learning soon became insatiable, greatly enhanced by the teachings of my mentors, supplemented by reading the revered wine books of the time. All of this created a sense of wonderment and allowed me to imagine what could be.
For example, an upstart wine- growing region unfolding at the time was Napa Valley, Calif. Amid the more well-known regions — Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italy and Germany — California was gaining prominence.
Because my best friend and biggest mentor, Nunzio Alioto (now also a master sommelier) was born and raised in San Francisco, he had the insider’s scoop on what became a global sensation.
Nunzio also was well-versed on many other wine-growing regions, so my relationship with him was a golden opportunity to learn.
All of this pushed me to develop a better understanding of what “good” wine could be and inspired me to search the world for those wines, especially those that offer inherent value for the dollar.
That search continues today. The scope has expanded greatly and grown more detailed, especially if you are looking to work with family-owned and operated vineyards that promote indigenous, heirloom vines and farm sustainably.
When looking for value, in many cases we now search in lesser-known regions, where land is less expensive. And if a vineyard has been held in the same family for many generations, the land costs added to the price of a bottle really can be negligible.
Each of these fine wines derives from indigenous, heritage grape vines, farmed sustainably, and all offer sensational value.
>> 2018 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc (roughly $17 a bottle): This chardonnay is well worth searching for, but you should know it reflects the minerals and soil that the vines grow in, much more so than the grape variety itself. So you won’t find typical chardonnay nuances of apple, pineapple, cream, butter or clove (oak). The minerality is straight up — pure, uplifting, crisp, wonderfully food friendly, tasty and gulpable. This small domaine has been in family hands for more than 500 years! They farm organically and biodynamically — essentially nothing is added and nothing taken away. PURE!
>> 2017 Ciu Ciu Pecorino Offida “Merlettaie” (roughly $16 a bottle): Offida, on the east coast of Italy facing the Adriatic Sea, is really quite off the beaten path. The grape variety is Pecorino, a nearly forgotten, indigenous vine. In fact, I was told that in the early 1980s a researcher found, planted and essentially brought this vine back from extinction. While others pursued the grape, in 2000 less than 200 hectares had been planted. This wine shows the potential of this grape variety. The 2017 is a dry, quite masculine, stony, savory white wine with lots of fortitude and mojo to its core. It is thankfully so very different from the light, airy, tutti-fruity white wines more commonly found throughout Italy. It is a warrior well-suited to those hankering for a change from chardonnay.
>> 2017 Scarpone Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (roughly $22 a bottle): This red wine from Italy’s east coast is quite a delicious discovery. Montepulciano is the name of this indigenous grape variety (not to be confused with the Italian town of Montepluciano in Tuscany). The wine’s origins are in the 5 hectares of organically farmed estate vineyards planted in 2000. I love its wonderful earth-laden savoriness, its intriguing velvety texture and how well it works with Mediterranean-inspired fowl and meat dishes.
>> 2017 Clos La Coutale Cahors (roughly $21 a bottle): Cahors is a longtime wine-growing region in southwest France (the French Basque region). It is the ancestral home of the well-known malbec grape variety and some of the world’s finest truffles. This malbec wine is a masculine, brooding, mega-savory, soulful red, which has the earthy, pungent characteristics of Basque reds. I love it with red meats, especially those roasted or braised.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the DK Restaurants group. Follow his blog at chuckfuruya.com.