I’ve heard that “to play it safe is not to play.” Often I’ll find myself wandering around one of the local wine shops (and there are many) - in search of something new to try. I’ve got a reputation for avoiding most of the “safe” wines, and if something looks new or unique, I can’t seem to pass it up. This is probably why my wine racks have very limited space. But honestly, what can a wine drinker hope to learn by drinking the same “safe” wines over and over again? Not a whole lot - which is my reason for thinking outside the box when roaming the aisles of the wine shops and staying until I find something exciting to bring home and try.
Last month, while wine shopping for nothing in particular, I came across a very inexpensive Rose from Languedoc-Roussillon. When I saw that the label read Cinsault, I decided I needed to try this bottle I’d never seen before, especially at about $7, I thought, what have I got to lose? It was the 2010 Celliers Contemporains, which I wrote about last week. It was such a great deal on a wine I’ve never tried before - in fact, the thought of Rose Cinsault hadn’t crossed my mind before, but it’s one of the best discoveries I’ve made recently, and at $7 it’s by far the best deal of the summer for me.
I think most wine drinkers have seen bottles from E. Guigal in the wine shops and have probably tried E. Guigal’s reds. I’ve been a fan of their Cotes-du-Rhone for some time, but a few months back, I came across a bottle of their white. I almost didn’t pick that bottle because I generally consider E. Guigal a relatively “safe” producer, but most of the white Rhone grape types are underrepresented in my wine racks, so I decided it was worth trying this wine. It was the 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, and Bourboulenc. This wine was anything but safe - Southern Rhone wines are usually a bit on the wild side, with aromas that often leap from the glass and flavors that burst on the palate, making for some excitement each time a bottle of Rhone is opened. And the white Rhone didn’t disappoint - pale in color but bold on the nose and palate, characteristics of lemon and grapefruit, orchard fruits including peach, pear, and crisp apple, tropical fruits, honey, and deep spices and pepper, and a full yet clean texture with a long finish, this was a lot to take in at only $13. I paired it with soft shelled crab, the match was excellent, and the wine was as exciting as any Rhone I’ve tried. Just because a wine is produced by a reliable maker doesn’t mean it has to be boring and predictable, and this was a perfect example.
Another recent example of something a bit different from a very reputable producer happened when I was shopping for a Soave and came home with both the Soave and a bottle of 2006 Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba. I think most wine drinkers have heard of Dolcetto and many have probably tried it. This was actually my first experience with a Dolcetto, as I tend to go for Nebbiolo wines from Piemonte, but I needed a wine a bit lighter than a Nebbiolo to pair with my squid ink pasta with lobster and asparagus tips in a light tomato sauce. I had intended to pair that dish with one of the Italian reds I already have in the wine racks, but it was the only Dolcetto in the wine shop, and being a lover of Pio Cesare wines, $13 seemed like a good buy. The wine is a deep ruby color with characteristics of both red and dark fruits laced with spice and pepper, and is nicely balanced, and got the job done - pairing correctly with heavier pasta but lighter sauce and shellfish.
One of the most unique wines I’ve ever tasted was a result of wandering around a wine shop I rarely go to. Sicilian wines fascinate me, since they pair particularly well with my Sicilian cooking but they’re so different from other Italian wines. This was the Scilio Phiale Etna Rosso, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio - fairly dark in color with characteristics that reflect the ashy volcanic soil near Mount Etna where the grapes grow, as well as dark fruit, spice, wood, and slight bitterness. It is full and dense and very dry, with a really long finish. If I can ever find another bottle of this wine, I will be sure to buy it again. It is fantastic and different from anything I’ve ever tasted.