The Wonderful World of Weird Wines

I love “weird wines”. What I mean is I love unique wines, different wines, special wines that are not found on the grocery store shelves. There are so many interesting grape varieties out there and many creative blends. And each wine has a story. The story can be about the grape, the place, the winery, the winemaker or the wine and I asked some of my friends to share their favorite “weird wines” which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

When you look at your collection of wines at home, what is the “weirdest” wine you have?

When I say “weird,” I am talking about a wine that would be considered unique because of the grape variety or blend, the region it is from, the packaging or label, or the story behind it. At this past week’s Virtual Wine Tasting with my wine friends around the country, this is what I challenged everyone to do. I asked them to pull out one of the more unique wines in their cellars and share with us.

What inspired me to this theme is that I have a number of interesting wines here at home that I have acquired over the years. Some have been picked up during travels, others have been left over from events I have hosted and some have been gifts.

One of these interesting wines that I have been holding on to is a Greek wine called Didimos that was given to me by Christos Taralas of Elinos Winery in Naoussa, Greece. Elinos Winery is a family winery run by Christos and his twin sister Nikoletta and their parents. I visited Christos and his family in Greece in 2015.

Didimos means “twins” in Greek. Christos and Nikoletta are twins, and it turns out that there are a number of Greek winemakers who had twins. In fact, there are approximately 15 winemaking families from all over Greece with twins. In honor of this anomaly, beginning in 1999, these winemakers, George Vassiliou, Thomas Ligas, Christos Aidarinis, Vassilis Kanelakopoulos, Dimitris Kioutsoukis, Leonidas Nasiakos, Thanos Dougos, Theodoros Pangalos, George Skouras, D. Taralas, created Didimos.

Didimos is a blend of wine from all of the families. And, the wine is a blend of the grape varieties Agiorghitiko, Mavrodaphne, Mavroudi, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Negroska, Refosco and Xinomavro from across Greece. The Didimos that I opened was a 2007 and the medium-bodied red wine drank beautifully with notes of cherries, plums, dried tomatoes, olives, leather, and spice.

As for my wine friends, here are the “weird” wines that they pulled out of their cellars and what inspired them to select that wine:

Katherine Jarvis of Jarvis Communications opened a bottle of Andrea Occhipinti Alea Rosa from Lazio, Italy. What is unique about this wine is that Aleatico is a native grape that is typically vinified into a dessert wine; however Andrea Occhipinti produces a dry rosé style that is not filtered or fined. As a rosé, it is not the typical pink color, but rather a deeper, almost reddish hue.

Fred Swan, wine educator and journalist, opened the 2017 Bryn Mawr Dolcetto from the southern part of the Willamette Valley, Oregon. While Dolcetto is a prominent grape in Piemonte, Italy, there are only 92 acres planted in California and even less in the Willamette Valley. As 13 percent alcohol and with notes of dark fruit, tea and earth, low acid and fine-grained tannins, Fred described the wine as a “solid example of Dolcetto.”

Megan Kenney, a former wine blogger, decided that our tasting was the perfect occasion to open a strange wine that she had been hesitating to taste. It was the Valiant Vineyards American Merlot, a wine that is bottled and cellared in South Dakota, but the origin of the grapes is unknown. Megan’s parents had picked up this wine on their travels to South Dakota but shipped it to her when they could not send it home to Connecticut. The wine is the officially licensed wine of Sturgis, a town in western South Dakota that is home to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame as well as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Megan reported that it did not smell like Merlot but rather charcoal-covered raisins. At least our group gave her an opportunity to open the bottle.

Jason Stubblefield of CorkEnvy opened the palatable 2016 Costieres de Nimes Chateau de Nages White Rhone wine, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. While this rich, full-bodied wine with delicate acidity and an elegant, minerally finish is not a weird or unique wine, Jason selected it because he had no idea where it came from. He has no recollection of buying it or receiving it as a sample and found it odd to be in his collection.

Cindy Rynning of Grape Experiences selected the Quinta de Santa Cristina Batoca from Vinho Verde in Portugal. There are only approximately 52 acres of this variety planted in all of Portugal and it is typically used in blends. Quinta de Santa Cristina is the only winery to bottle this in a single variety and Cindy brought a bottle back with her after a trip to Vinho Verde two years ago. She explained that the wine was light and a bit frizzante, but the wine was simple, and she understands why it is typically used in blends.

Melanie Ofenloch of Dallas Wine Chick decided to open a bottle from Napa. But it was not a Cabernet or Merlot but rather a 2015 Tempranillo from Vincent Arroyo. Vincent Arroyo was one of the first wineries Melanie ever visited and they only produce 16 barrels of Tempranillo. This wine is not only a rather obscure wine for the region but also holds a special place in her heart.

Thea Dwelle of Vine Wire Consulting picked the Idlewild Arneis from Wild Ruth Ranch in Yorkville Highlands in the southwest corner of Mendocino. Winemaker Sam Bilbro specializes in Italian varieties in the California terroir and the Arneis is delicate with a fruity and floral character.

Helene Kramer, who lives in Contra Costa County, loves rosé wines and typically drinks ones from Provence and Tavel. But the 2018 Le Bastide Blanche Bandol was recommended to her in her local retail shop, so she purchased it. She had never had a Bandol prior to this bottle and enjoyed her first one with our group.

Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications opened the 2014 Shelburne Vineyard Marquette from Vermont. Marquette is an inter-species hybrid red wine grape variety that was developed at the University of Minnesota. Michael loves to drink locally when he travels, and his passion is to collect wines from everywhere he goes. His wine collection has domestic wines not only from California, Oregon and Washington but also from Colorado, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi and Vermont.

Patrick Llerena Cruz, a Healdsburg resident who works at Locals, a co-op tasting room, picked the Mercury 2012 The Dark Side from Alexander Valley, which was an odd blend of 34 percent Cabernet Franc, 33 percent Petite Sirah, 33 percent Syrah.

Julie Pedroncelli St. John and Ed St. John went into the back of their cellar to select the 1996 Geyser Peak Sparkling Shiraz. Sparkling Shiraz is common to find in Australia, but this is domestic one. And, the wine had been sitting on a back shelf for years, so they did not have high expectations. Surprisingly, the wine had held up over the years and was a brick red color with leather and earthy notes and still some effervescence.

Mary Beth Vierra of MB Vierra Wine Education and Consulting was tempted to open the 2017 Sottimano Mate’ “Vino Rosso” Neive, Italia, a still, dry Bracchetto with high toned aromatics but as it was her very last bottle she decided to save it and instead opened her Wine Academy Students 2011 Petite Sirah from Dry Creek Valley.

Made by a “student” winemaker group in 2011, it was a wine made from multiple hands and has held up quite well for an experimental wine made as part of a team exercise. While it did not taste like a classic Petit Sirah, the wine had bright red fruit notes, high acid and a silky finish.

Amber and David Burke of Wine-Travel-Eats selected a 2016 Teroldego from Passaggio in Sonoma. Not only are they big fans of the winemaker Cindy Cosco, but they love the unique Teroldego. Teroldego is a black-skinned grape typically found in the north-east of Italy. But, Passaggio sources their Teroldego from the 3.5-acre Hux Vineyards in Lodi who have a small amount planted. The resulting wine is a food friendly wine with flavors of sour cherry and apple combined with subtle tannins.

Justin Koury of BevFluence picked the 2012 Nottingham Cellars Grenache from Livermore. Livermore is thought to be a hot region but there is a cool part in the western part that is influenced by the Bay and that is where cool climate Grenache is produced.

Mary Cressler and Sean Martin, authors of Fire + Wine, enjoyed the Bells Up Winery 2019 Helios Seyval Blanc from the Willamette Valley. Seyval Blanc is a hybrid wine grape variety that is used to make white wines. It is grown mainly in England and the East Coast and Bells Up Winery is the first and only winery to plant it in the Willamette Valley. Similar, yet unrelated, to Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is more subtle and pairs well with grilled fish or smoke trout.

Betsy & Bill Nachbaur of ACORN Winery & Alegria Vineyards in the Russian River Valley grow more than 70 grape varieties and have a passion for growing and producing co-fermented field blends. While they are known for Italian and French blends, the Nachbaurs also planted three vines of Blauer Portugieser, a red grape found in Austrian, Slovenia and Germany and in 1999 produced the Acorn Winery Blauer Portugieser which they opened for our tasting.

Take a look in your cellar and see what “weird” wines you can find. Whether it is the story of the wine or the story of how you got the wine or whether it is the region it is from or the grapes in the bottle, there are so many stories to tell and share. So, next time you are opening up a bottle of wine, forgo the classic wines and open up something unique, different or even weird and have fun.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.