A few weeks ago we featured five grapes grown in California, in what most people consider to be Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon Country. Featured in that post were Albarino, Carignane, Mourvedre, Malvasia, and Picpoul. But wait, there’s more! For the daredevils and explorers among us, here are another five grapes that don’t generally spring to mind when you think, “California”.
Dolcetto: Dolcetto’s home is in the Piedmont region of Italy, where it is not as finicky, and earlier to ripen, than other grapes that thrive there, namely Nebbiolo and Barbera. The red grape is known for easygoing, supple, and fruity wines with low acidity that can be enjoyed young. Dolcetto, however, can sometimes show pronounced tannins, which require a good core of fruit to round the wine out.
One to try: The 2012 Idlewild Dolcetto Fox Hill Vineyard Mendocino ($30.99) is a labor of love for the vineyard owner, who followed his passion and planted his favorite Italian varietals. For the Idelwild team of Sam and Jessica Boone Bilbro, it’s an adventure that their passion for wine has led them to. This Dolcetto is a little bit whimsical and a little bit serious; the combination of sweet fruit and bity tannins is just mesmerizing.
Gamay: The red grape both famous and infamous for producing the wines of Beaujolais, France, is often lumped together as if all Beaujolais were of the simple and fruity nouveau variety. In reality, Gamay based wines can run the gamut from strawberry and banana to more complex berry and pepper notes. Gamay is also planted elsewhere in France as well as in Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, New Zealand, and California.
One to try: A new California project partners up Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts with Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and Sandhi Wines to produce RPM (Roberts, Parr, Meyers). The 2012 RPM Gamay El Dorado ($36.99) comes from two vineyards (secured by Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John wines) in El Dorado with a climate and granite soils similar to that found in Cru Beaujolais. This intriguing and hard to find wine has the fruit and flint reminiscent of a Morgan with a little California richness.
Nebbiolo: Another native of Piedmont Italy, this red grape is best known for its tannic and age-worthy expressions in Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is not fond of warmer climates and requires a long growing season to ripen properly. Descriptors of Nebbiolo based wines often include tar and smoke, roses and violets. Not many outside of Italy, or even Piedmont, have met with much success with the grape — but the new world keeps trying.
One to try: Jim Clendenen’s 2007 Clendenen The Pip Nebbiolo Santa Maria Valley ($29.99) is quite likely the most true-to-character Nebbiolo out there from California. Violets and earthy notes coupled with a fragrant floral and cedar aroma, are evocative of the great Barbarescos. The wine is held back so it has the advantage of age to soften the tannins, which means it’s silky and delicious now.
Valdiguie: No matter how you choose to pronounce it, this grape is now as obscure in France, where it originated in the Languedoc-Roussillon, as it is here in the United States, where it was once erroneously referred to as Napa Gamay. There’s not a whole lot out there about Valdiguie’s typical characteristics with the exception of lower alcohol levels and juicy, jam-like fruit.
One to try: The 2012 Broc Cellars Valdiguie Solano County Green Valley ($27.99) has grown on me quite a bit; like something that at first just makes you curious and later draws you in and makes you smile. Green Valley is close to, and cooler than, the Russian River Valley and seems quite well suited to good ol’ Valdiguie. The wine is plump with fruit balanced by an herby/spicy component and prominent acidity. It just screams for some herb coated goat cheese.
Vermentino: A white grape grown in many Mediterranean climates, Vermentino is most associated with the coastal Ligurian region of Italy. It is generally easy to grow and produces light, fresh, and citrusy wines that are meant to be drunk young.
One to try: The 2013 Tendu White Wine California ($24.99, 1L) is made by Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines. It is exactly what you want Vermentino to be – especially when it’s in a liter bottle with a beer cap; fresh, zesty, with citrus and pear notes. Perfect for a picnic table, beach blanket, backyard barbecue, or (here in NYC) a rooftop gathering.