I’m always pushing others to educate their palates and try off-beat wines, and often suggest staying in the $10-$20 range. Lots of off-beat wines are around that price range because not very many people know about them, so there isn’t a big demand for them. I have so many favorites under $20 - hidden gems from places most people haven’t heard of, at least in terms of wine production - Bergerac, Irouleguy, Basilicata, Franconia, Burgenland, Istria, Coonawarra, Salta - the list goes on.
But how about taking a bigger risk - how about spending a bit more on an off-beat wine? It could be off-beat because it’s made from a grape we’re familiar with, but produced in a place with which we’re unfamiliar, or a well known wine region but a strange grape, or a strange grape or blend from an area we’d like to know more about. After enjoying lots of wines under $20 that are considered off-beat, perhaps it’s time to take a chance on a slightly more expensive bottle.
This past week I got to try two very awesome off-beat wines. One is a well known grape from a lesser known region, and the other is a blend of lesser known grapes from a lesser known region. Both were very satisfying and perfectly food friendly, and the dishes I paired to the wines (yes, I choose the wines first, then the dishes - I know that’s not proper but my priority is accommodating the wine I choose).
The white, 2009 Domaine du Bagnol, is a blend of Marsanne, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc, from Cassis. I’m not talking about Creme de Cassis from Burgundy - I mean Cassis, the small region in Provence right on the coast. The packaging is beautiful and I had my eyes on that bottle for a while, and of course the wine didn’t disappoint. It’s straw colored with characteristics of citrus, barely ripened white orchard fruits including peach and crisp apple, lots of cool mineral toward the finish, and a very clean texture, lighter than I expected, considering that it’s about half Marsanne (which is usually on the oily side). It’s bright and lovely and elegant and it paired perfectly with the wine and lemon marinated Chilean sea bass and herb roasted onions and fennel.
|2009 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis|
|Marinated Chilean sea bass and herb roasted onion and fennel|
The red was the 2008 Domaine Philippe Gilbert, a Pinot Noir from Menetou-Salon. Menetou-Salon is a region in Loire. We usually think of Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, but also found in Loire are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. The wine is a lovely clear red color with a clear colorless rim, with characteristics of tart cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, cinnamon spice, and lots of mineral and expression of its terroir. There’s plenty of bright acidity and the wine is very dry, making it very food friendly and easy to find a match (this one absolutely must be served at cellar temperature, or it will taste too acidic). The red fruit and spice make it an ideal autumn wine, and I paired it with my “deconstructed French onion soup” - I made the traditional soup, but instead dipped slices of crusty bread into a sauce of cave aged gruyere, butter, and parmigiano reggiano. That was a perfect pairing, as the earthiness of the wine matched the earthiness of the cheese as well as the onion, and the perfectly clean feel of the wine cut right through the richness of the melted cheese.
|2008 Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon|
|Deconstructed French onion soup|
|Bread in gruyere sauce - divine and so rich, needs a very clean wine!|
Both wines were in the $20-$30 range, and both were well worth it. So keep on hunting down the under $20 hidden gems, but sometimes it’s great to take a risk on something slightly more expensive!