2011 Wine Resolution: Reach for Less Familiar Wines!

Happy New Year! All last week I pondered what I would write about for my first post of 2011. I started to think about some wine resolutions. Recurring thoughts centered on the idea of experimenting, exploring new and different wines. What are your wine resolutions for 2011? While professionally I taste all sorts of different wines, in my personal life I am a little guilty of sticking to the classics and the wines I like best. Sticking to what we know is easy and there is a certain comfort factor and confidence that the wine will taste as expected. All very normal. Especially since the financial crisis and recession took hold in 2008, research has shown that in wine, the familiar tried and tested brands won out. Two years on, maybe it is time to reach for the less familiar again and have some experimenting fun.

Over the past few weeks I have done just that and have been more than delighted with the results.

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First up has to be the 2008 Alain Graillot ‘Syrocco’ Syrah, which is from Morocco which we thoroughly enjoyed last Sunday evening at the newly opened Marcus Samuelsson restaurant 'Red Rooster' in Harlem. As I perused the winelist I was heading toward familiar ground when my husband weighed in and strongly suggested we try the Syrocco. To be honest I was a bit hesitant first, thinking it might be rustic, hot and not terribly good. I was certainly proven wrong.

While it was the first Moroccan wine that I have ever tasted two factors encouraged me to try the wine. The first being a familiar grape variety, Syrah – so I had an idea what it might taste like. The second was the producer Alain Graillet, who is a very renowned producer in Crozes Hermitage (Northern Rhone) and whose wines I absolutely love. ‘Syrocco’ is produced by Alain Graillot in co-operation with Domaine des Ouleb Thaleb.

The wine comes from the designated wine region Zenata, which is near Casablanca. A combination of coastal influence and high altitude provides the necessary cooling influences from the hot Mediterranean climate. The wine was full-bodied (but with modest alcohol of 13.5%). It was fairly modern in style and packed with delicious ripe black fruit, and yet it also retained an Old World restraint and terroir earthiness. Retail prices vary from $16 to $20/bottle and it seems to be widely available.

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Next is a delightful white wine from Madrid, in Spain – the 2009 Tochuelo White and made from the Malvar grape. I spotted this wine in our local wine store. Nothing unfamiliar about a Spanish white wine, you might say, except the grape variety ‘Malvar’, was a new one for me. Upon checking, I discovered that it is a local variety grown around Madrid. As I read over the label, I noticed that the alcohol was only 12% and half expected the wine to be slightly off-dry.

While not a very complex or age-worthy wine, it was delightfully dry, refreshing, slightly earthy but not heavy or rustic with attractive citrus and orchard fruit flavors. Cost was $10 – excellent value.

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For my third new wine I am heading to Georgia (the country – not the state!). Just before the holidays I had the opportunity to try the delicious sparkling wines of Bagrationi. Lots of unknowns here, except that I remembered from my studies over the years that Georgia had a long and prestigious history of sparkling wines. In fact as the people I met from Bagrationi explained to me, archeological finds show that winemaking in Georgia can be traced back 7000 years, which is even further than in Greece.

Georgia has a lot of very old indigenous grape varieties. The ones used to produce these sparkling wines are the white varieties Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitka (I know, a mouthful to pronounce). I was intrigued by these varieties and keen to understand what each variety brought to the final blend. My hosts explained that Chinebuli gives body, acidity and fruit intensity. It is also highly prized for sparkling wine production. Mtsvane adds complexity, especially in the aromas. Finally, Tsitka adds freshness, acidity and citrus flavor.

When we think of Georgia, one might be inclined to think that the climate would be too cold for growing grapes. However, Georgia is actually fairly south, on the Black Sea, whose influence moderates the winter cold. It is also on the same latitude as the well-known wine regions of southern France, northern Italy and northern California.

I tasted all four of Bagrationi’s sparkling wines and was extremely delighted with how they tasted. The mousse and bubbles were tiny and persistent in all four. Having only recently entered the US market the wines are not yet very available across the country. At the moment they are available online from Barclay’s Wine.

Bagrationi 1882 Classic Brut NV – a blend of Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitka and made using the Charmat/tank method (just like Prosecco),where the second fermentation takes place in tank to retain a fresh fruity taste. Delightfully vibrant and lively, with waxy citrus flavors, hints of apple and melon. Not terribly complex but easy drinking and refreshing. A nice alternative to a Cava or Prosecco. $15

Bagrationi 1882 Classic Extra Dry NV – a blend of Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitka and also made using the Charmat method to retain a fresh fruity taste. Lively mousse, refreshing with notes of fresh honeycomb, almond and wild flowers, slight sweetness on a smooth, soft finish. $15

Bagrationi 1882 Reserve Brut NV – a blend of Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitka made using the traditional method as in Champagne, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine undergoes a period of ageing on the lees. Fine persistent bubbles. Nice buscuity complexity against a backdrop of orchard fruit. Slight waxy note on mid-palate. Lingers. $25.99

Bagrationo 1882 Royal Cuvée Brut NV – 100% Chinebuli and considered their top wine. It is also made using the traditional method. Much more intensely flavored. Waxy notes, hints of dried herbs, freshly baked bread and macaroon. Smooth, creamy, persistent mousse. $37.99.

Over the year I will be trying lots more interesting, off-the-beaten-track wines. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear about the interesting wines that you are discovering.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

Related: Oaked White Wine: Dated, Timeless, or on a Comeback?

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Drinks, Wine

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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