February 18 is pretty much the best day of the year. That’s right, it’s National Drink Wine Day. Basically, you owe it to your country to drink wine today. Sure, you could waste your wine holiday on a typical Merlot or Chardonnay, but why not make this an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try something new? It’s practically your civic duty. Take those patriotism points up another notch by purchasing your good-Samaritan sipper at a small business.
When I not-so-subtly suggest you should drink something “special” I’m not saying spend all your money. These six wines all cost less than $20 per bottle and feature grapes that are slightly off the beaten path. I snagged two at Ellwood Thompson’s and for the other four I pulled in an expert, Matt Fraker of the newly rebranded Branch & Vine. Have you stopped in yet? The Friday night wine tastings are not to be missed along with a side of flatbread pizza.
Without further ado, the wines!
2015 Contraras Ruiz ‘Edalo’ Blanco, Condado de Huelva, $9.99 from Ellwood Thompson’s
This Spanish wine is 100 percent Zalema grapes, which I had never heard of until this bottle randomly caught my eye while I was shopping for Valentine’s Day dinner. Apparently the grapes are native to the Condado de Huelva region of Southern Spain and are rarely grown outside the region. They are known for producing full-bodied white wines. I found this bottle to be a great value. Aromas of pear, pineapple, white flowers and slate are complemented by lemon, honeysuckle and a hint of fresh-cut grass on the finish. A hint of malolactic fermentation provides a slight creamy note that’s pleasant and not overpowering. Tangy and refreshing, this wine is pleasing alone, but I think it would be perfect paired with fresh seafood.
2015 Natte Valleij Cinsault, $13.49 from Ellwood Thompson’s
While you may not have hear of Cinsault, if you have ever sipped on a Rhone red blend, there’s a good chance you’ve tasted the grape. It also happens to be half the cozy little couple that created the Pinotage grape, which is grown throughout South Africa. This wine also happens to come from South Africa. Aromas of ripe cherries, blackberry jam and espresso are rounded out by more coffee and vanilla on the palate. I found this wine to be ripe, juicy and rich but not overly fruity, making for a pleasant wine to sip on its own. It also pairs nicely with milk chocolate.
And now for Matt’s expert picks:
Badenhorst Family Wines, “Secateurs” Chenin Blanc 2015, $15.99 from Branch & Vine
Matt says: “Chenin Blanc is by far my favorite off the beaten path white grape! It makes stunning wines in virtually every style possible across the board – from bone dry to dessert to sparkling… and everything in between. It’s a rockstar white grape from France’s Loire Valley where it’s probably best known for the elegant, high acid wines from Vouvray. Outside of France, it’s grown prolifically in South Africa. This particular wine is complex and silky, with racy acidity, and notes of mineral, stone fruit and honey. A perfect food wine!”
Weingut Köster-Wolf Müller-Thurgau 2015, $14.99 from Branch & Vine
Matt says: “Müller-Thurgau is a cross of Riesling and Madeleine Royale (both white grapes) that was created by Dr. Hermann Müller in the Swiss canton of Thurgau. Think of it as dry Riesling meets Vinho Verde. It’s light, crisp, fruity, refreshing and super easy to drink! It’s labeled “halbtrocken” or half-dry… so it’s ever so slightly off-dry, but still with enough zip and acidity to keep it fresh! Oh and the best part? It’s a 1 liter bottle, so it’s 1/3 more wine than usual.” Yeah, I’ll be stopping by ASAP for a bottle of this.
Domaine les Hautes Noëlles Gamay 2015, $12.99 from Branch & Vine
Matt says: “Gamay is best known as being the grape of Beaujolais, but often gets a bad reputation due to the association with Beaujolais Nouveau, the wine juice that comes out each year right before Thanksgiving. Forget Beaujolais Nouveau for a second. Gamay is actually made into serious and tasty wines throughout the villages (and even 10 cru villages) of Beaujolais. It’s also grown in lesser amounts in the Loire Valley, where the cool climate allows the grape to present its fruity, red berry, black cherry flavors while preserving acidity to keep it fresh and lively! This particular wine (and arguably most, if not all Beaujolais) could withstand a slight chill making it a perfect warm weather red.”
Pecchenino san Luigi Dogliani Dolcetto, 2013, $17.99 from Branch & Vine
Matt says: “Dolcetto means ‘little sweet one’ which in and of itself is a bit of a misnomer, as the wine is almost always dry. It’s native to the Piedmont region of northern Italy famous for its powerhouse Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera wines. Dolcetto (along with Barbera) is tavern wine for the region- the wines that they drink every day while waiting for the more serious, age-worthy reds to develop in their cellars. Medium-bodied and fruity, with soft, velvety tannins- making it smooth and easy to drink, the wine shows notes of raspberries and blackberries, with a typical hint of bitter almond on the finish. Perfect with pizza, pasta or meats and cheeses!”