When I look at a wine list or scan the bottles behind a bar, I look for the unfamiliar — and not just unfamiliar. In fact, the weirder the better.
So when I’m confronted by a list of Napa cabs and a shelf full of easily recognizable Russian vodkas, I opt instead for a seasonal beer on tap. At least I know it will disappear soon enough.
But sometimes I’m rewarded with a true oddity, like the 2008 Cucao PX (about $11) from Argentina. Made from a Spanish grape called Pedro Ximenez, it’s a very reserved, crisp dry white that makes a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. In Spain, PX is used to make sticky sweet dessert wines. In Argentina, it’s used to make pisco, their version of rot gut brandy.
But a dry white version? That’s not something I’m familiar with — so it’s something I want to try.
I’m also a fan of sparkling sake, and I’ll order it to go with a wide range of dishes — pretty much anything a sparkling wine will pair with.
I recently tried a product from Gekkeikan called Zipang that comes in an interesting pop-top 250ml bottle ($7). The size is perfect for one serving and it’s pretty delicious: refreshing and slightly sweet with a distinctively light rice flavor.
I also recently tried Sam Adam’s Blackberry Witbier, winner of their “Beer Lover’s Choice” program (it defeated a coffee stout). I wasn’t a huge fan, though my wife seemed to like it. It’s dominated by the “Marion blackberries” on the nose with the wheat beer component hanging in the back. In the mouth, it’s lightly carbonated and the sweet berry flavors continue to dominate.
I’d drink it as an alternative to a soda pop.
Speaking of beer, I also have a new favorite “lawnmower” beer. Since Wiedemann’s disappeared off store shelves, I’ve had a hard time finding something light and innocuous enough to chug after cutting the grass on a hot summer afternoon. Luckily, Burger Classic has been reintroduced by Hudepohl-Schoenling and — while its corny, grainy taste doesn’t scream “quality” — it’s perfect for quenching a powerful thirst. Plus its low price makes it truly recession friendly.
Back to the wine, I recently saw the 2006 Jade Mountain Mourvedre ($10) from Contra Costa County stacked at Bigg’s. I love this grape, which makes gutsy, meaty reds in Southern France and Spain (where it’s called Monastrell), so I picked up a bottle.
Dense and opaque in the glass, the nose screams oak. In the mouth, it’s a touch bitter from the wood tannin, but some decent fruit emerges with air along with pleasant vanilla. With a hearty grilled steak topped by a garlic blue cheese sauce, it did all right, but could have been better if the winemakers had been a touch more restrained in their use of oak.
CONTACT MICHAEL SCHIAPARELLI: firstname.lastname@example.org