Every so often we go for a themed version of Oddities. It keeps everyone on their toes. Although more and more of us are buying American wines, which are much better represented in the UK than they were even five years ago, many said they had found it quite difficult to find much that was very odd. But they made a great effort. Surprisingly we only saw three South Americans, one example being badly corked, and all were from Chile (no Argentina!). But the north yielded some diversity with Canadian wines from two Niagara micro climates, Willamette, Yakima and Columbia Valleys in Oregon and Washington States, and of course California. It was the latter which stole the show overall with, I think, most people’s top three or four wines on the day.
Mariposa Vineyard Arvine 2014, White Heron Cellars, Columbia Valley, Washington State – A very rare sighting of this Swiss/Aostan native (though not of the Petite variety in this case). Lemon sherbet to the fore, a nice racy white with a little less breadth than you might find in the Valais. I thought this was quite delicious, though not a complex wine. I think I heard $12 mentioned and if that’s right, it would be a remarkable bargain (a few wines came back across the Atlantic in a suitcase).
Trousseau Gris 2014, Wind Gap, Russian River CA – Slightly broader with a waxy texture, possibly a little skin contact, but something a little steely about it, almost Riesling but not on the aromatic side. What could this be? Well, having drunk it and written about it a week ago, I felt a little silly not to spot this. As I said in that roundup of recent wines, this is no relation to Trousseau Noir, Jura’s darkest hued native variety. It used to go by the synonym Gray (sic) Riesling in California, and was widely planted before being grubbed up in all but a few old vine locations. But a surprisingly decent number of producers are making one now, probably due to Jura’s fashionability (though I’ve not seen Trousseau Gris even in the vine repositories I’ve visited there). Still, for all that, this is enjoyable if not profound. I think I like this wine more than many.
Johan Vineyards Grüner Veltliner 2013, Willamette Valley – Another major fail in identifying this wine on a table with several WSET Diploma holders and a MW candidate. I jest, yet when this was revealed it was so obviously full of white pepper. We just weren’t expecting GV from the Americas. A clean, fresh, and perhaps over-typical example, pretty decent though.
Boushey Vineyard Grenache Blanc 2014, Two Vintners, Yakima Valley, WA – If Willamette Valley is a drive south of Portland, Oregon, Yakima Valley is to that city’s northeast, in the State of Washington. This Grenache, which actually has 7% Roussanne blended in, is another unusual variety for this far north in the US, a variety we are more likely to know from the South of France. Its production is tiny, a mere 310 cases. It manages to keep a little of its typicity up here. It’s not as cool as one might think, being between Bordeaux and Burgundy in latitude with a continental climate. Syrah is becoming a favoured red variety. So you can imagine that although this was a decent effort, it was a little on the lean side despite over 13% alcohol. But Grenache Blanc is capable of producing better wines than we occasionally give credit for and I’d happily drink a bottle of this, if not buy a case.
Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Cave Spring Vineyards, Beamsville Bench, Niagara – Canada gets a first look-in with a wine from the increasingly high profile Niagara Escarpment’s Beamsville Bench. Most of the Niagara terrain is glacial deposits but there’s a fair amount of chalky soils on the benches too. Ice Wine used to rule. Now, Pinot Noir and Riesling are gaining a following for dry wines, but this Chardonnay variant is a rarity. Summers are warm here, largely due to Lake Ontario’s influence, and the movement of the airstream around the falls. So ripeness is rarely a problem. That said, Chardonnay Musqué does make for an unusual wine. I guessed some kind of Muscat, and there was a hint of it, but on reveal, this did have some cool climate Chardonnay characteristics too. Perhaps an oddity in several senses, but I enjoyed trying it. One or two didn’t like it but, as is often my take, I’d quite like to try a whole bottle, giving it a little more focus.
Steverjan 2014, Scholium Project, Rocky Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain – This was my offering, and was (as I suspected) nailed on mere sight by Mr Rogers opposite me. This is Abe Schoener’s skin contact Pinot Grigio, a sort of mix on the palate between a pink, an orange wine and a white (in that order). It combines an almost fruit juice like texture with a subtle complexity. It’s one of Schoner’s least expensive wines (around £28 retail, I think), but one you can drink all day. Most found it delicious, certainly a top three placing. The name – the town where Gravner and Radikon make wine, what else!
Vineland Pinot Meunier 2011, Niagara Escarpment – Another Niagara wine, this fooled everyone, largely because it appeared older than it was, and because it was so “obviously”, to a few of us, a well aged Pinot Noir, although there might have been the odd shout for Virginia. Again, an unusual grape in an unusual location fooled us all, but on being told it was PM it seemed to make sense. I’m guessing it was planted on the Escarpment for its famous frost resistance, although frosts don’t appear to be as bad as one might think up there, with all that moving water and offshore breeze. Fascinating stuff, and it’s impossible to thank people enough for trawling New York wine stores just to bring things like this back for us to try.
Pleiades XXI, Sean Thackrey, California – No more specific designation, Thackrey has crafted wonder blends from old vines in his Bolinas base for a few decades with just a cult following. My first ever Pleiades preceded the numbering system, bottled in 1995. XXI was bottled in 2011, and consists of Sangiovese, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Marsanne, to name just some varieties. I thought I spotted Sangiovese (tick) and Nebbiolo (big cross). A wonderful wine, which hid the labelled 14.9% alcohol very well indeed. Complex, savoury and majestic, this was almost unanimously wine of the day.
Pistolero 2011, Viña Raab, Quilpué, Chile – Quilpué is a town about 10km inland from Valparaiso, on the cost just north of Santiago. It sits just south of the warm Aconcagua Valley, and Christophe Beau probably has no difficulty achieving the 14% alcohol on this unusual blend of Merlot and Pinot Noir. This is a well made, tasty wine from organic fruit and quite an interesting blend (I’ve had Pinot blended with Shiraz from Victoria and The Hunter Valley, but not with Merlot). But as Joel said, how was it going to follow the Thackrey? It did suffer a little in the attention it got as a result of that.
Unofuera 1994, Maipo, Chile – This old gem was the product of a collaboration between the late Paul Pontallier (Ch Margaux) and Bruno Prats (Cos d’Estournel) back in the days when Chile was wine’s wild frontier. Hard to think that this cost £4.99 at Oddbins back in the day. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a large (25ha) vineyard in the region, close to Santiago, where the Chilean wine story began. If only it were possible to buy a wine like this for £4.99 today (well, an Argentine Malbec costing under £5 at Asda has reputedly just won a Decanter Trophy in the 2016 DWWA, so we shall see). Needless to say, the Bordeaux pair didn’t mean to craft a £5 wine, and its subsequent incarnation went on to claim a better price. A momentary bargain which we were privileged to drink on Friday. If a 1980s minor Cru-Classé from Bordeaux were still holding up well, it might taste similar to this.
Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2014, Secano DO, De Martino, Chile – Sadly, this was horribly corked. A great shame as there’s no reason why this relatively inexpensive wine, which I have enjoyed a couple of times over the past twelve months, couldn’t have been sealed under stelvin/screw cap.
Johannisberg Late Harvest Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyard, Chateau St-Jean, Alexander Valley, Sonoma CA – Once a speciality of once famous Chateau St-Jean, this wonderful old brown wine showed lovely complexity, a rum-like smoothness, and a scent worthy of any old Mosel, except that this is an almost unique style. It has more in common with Rutherglen stickies in some ways, but with a mere 10.3% alcohol on the label. Words fail really, you just wish you had a case (the man who brought it did, once). Another close WOTD contender.
Zinfandel Port 1988, Christian Brothers, Napa Valley – The Christian Brothers winery is famous in the annals of Napa. Founded in 1882, there’s a tiny connection between this winery and Chateau St-Jean. When Japanese drinks giant, Suntory, bought St-Jean in around 1984, it was, at $40 million, the most paid for a Californian winery at the time. Christian Brothers was bought by then UK drinks giant, Grand Metropolitan in 1989 for a seemingly remarkable $150 million (estimated). Where are they now? This 1988 “Cali-Port” was the last vintage made by the famous winemaking monk, Brother Timothy. But aside from its historical significance, it’s a smooth and alcoholic example of a disappearing genre. In the rush to escape Napa’s high alcohol reputation, it would be a shame to see little (well, maybe little is a poor choice of word) gems like this disappear, a wine of another time and place.
Rochelle’s generosity extended beyond the most amazing chicken (I completely forgot to ask where they sourced it from) to the most enormous hunks of three English cheeses (it broke more than one heart that we couldn’t finish them, and there were ten of us), and an Eton Mess variant dessert. It gave a couple of generous attendees a chance to open these two beauties, off theme but so enjoyable…
Here are a few pics from the Canteen…
…and what we drank for afters at Winemakers Club…
Oddities lunches take place approximately every two months at Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch. They are open to all, but they are first announced on Tom Cannavan’s Winepages site, on the wine forum. If you would like to come to a future event (there is no charge other than for food, usually up to £60 with a tip, and the bottle you bring), sign up there and keep your eyes open.
I got a bottle of the Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2014 from Whole Foods and it was corked, returned it for a new one and that was corked too – De Martino, using cheap corks or bad shipping? Love these oddities.