What the Geeks are Drinking

Esoteric wine making mainstream moves


There's a progression in the wine world that leads in a non-linear way from the most mainstream to the most esoteric. There are far too many forks along the way to connect the two but what one can say is that what is one day esoteric may very well be quite mainstream the next, metaphorically speaking.

Take for example Gruner Veltliner, perhaps the most striking example of a grape that moved from the obscure, through the wine geeks and broke  through in a big way on the main stage. While not all geek wines enjoy this kind of success, it's worth paying attention to the geek wines of the moment to see what might be in our collective futures. Obscure wines require a certain devotion and mind set if one is to truly learn about them, and I for one am happy to learn from those friends and peers so disposed. Who knows, I might even throw in a discovery or two of my own here!


The wines of the Jura are hot right now. To a certain extent it's just their turn but on the other hand the Jura is home to Vin Jaune, a wine similar to dry sherry which is a required stripe on the wine geek merit badge. Vin Jaune is produced from Savagnin grapes and fortunately for us there are also table wines produced from Savagnin. Savagnin is a member of the trainer grape family, though much less aromatic than the more famous Gewurztraminer that it shares some heritage with.

Savagnin based wines, for it is often blended, are common in the Jura as well as the Savoie which lies directly to the south of the Jura. As a table wine Savagnin tends to produce light, elegant wines with flavors of nut meats, orchard fruits, citrus and floral aromatics. They can be fabulous paired with nutty, savory dishes and are perfectly balanced for summer enjoyment with their refreshing acidity.

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Since it may seem as though we're talking about the same thing, let's move on with Savigny, which is in fact a region in Burgundy and has nothing to do with Savagnin. Savigny les Beaune, as the name implies, is located in Burgundy's Cote de Beaune and is being touted as Burgundy's last great value. The wines have been values for years and it's somewhat ironic that they are being recognized by a more mainstream audience as values just s they begin to sell at a premium, because they are such great values you see.

The truth is that all Burgundy has become so expensive that even value burgundy can now regularly top $50 a bottle, but the truth is that the best of Savigny competes with wines twice their price. Savigny is a large appellation, and as is often the case its size is a bit of a handicap as the boundaries of Savigny enclose great and ordinary vineyards. Stick with the top producers though and you'll be drinking some absolutely compelling Burgundy at what are still value prices. In style the wines of Savigny tend to fall between the more elegant wines of Volnay and the wines of Pommard with their rustic weight.

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Gamay, and in particular Beaujolais is high on the list of geek wines these days much for the same reasons Savigny; people are looking for value priced alternative to the more traditional Burgundies. The top Beaujolais, and in particular the cur wines have emerged as a new class of collectable wine over the past decade or so, and prices have begun to climb along with the new notoriety.

Gamay is of course not limited to Beaujolais, with fine examples coming format he Loire valley in particular but also from maturing efforts throughout the new world, particularly in California and Oregon. As can happen when a grape becomes hot, there's is a significant effort to make it more 'serious' for lack of a better term. While I get it, and Gamay can certainly be made in a powerful and age worthy style it is most often best suited to being produced in friendly, accessible, and joyful style.  I do fear a bit for this style of Gamay as there are far too few playful red wines in the marketplace and it would be tough to lose this most playful and available of them all, but I doubt that will be Gamay's fate. At it's most playful Gamay is an explosion of light fruit flavors with a loose structure built on acidity, and yet at the other other end of the spectrum gamy planted in the right place is capable of transforming into a terroir driven wine with depth, complexity, power and structure for at least a decade of aging.

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Field Blends

We are in the midst of a bit of a renaissance of the old vineyards of California. As well slowly become less of a Cabernet and Pinot centric marketplace people are waking up to the joys of other grapes but also to the historic importance and gustatory potential of the traditional field blended vineyards in California in particular, but to a small yet growing extent also around the globe. These vineyards tend to be fairly old with the concept of the field blend being pretty much totally discredited in favor of mono-varietal plantings certainly in the post WWII era. Oh, progress, once again you fail us.

The beauty of many field blends is not only the unique composition of the vineyards, with their ancient clonal stock, but also in the way that blend has grown accustomed to its terroir, that blend of soil and climate that can help form a vineyard's unique labor profile. That uniqueness, and the sense of authenticity that field blends seem to impart to wines, along with the historic appeal of drinking wines from vines that can reach back over 100 years has come together in a wave of enthusiasm for these wines. there are really just a few of these vineyards left and as more people find themselves interested in truly unique wines I expect we'll be seeing increased demand placed on this limited supply.

Since there is no single term to identify these wines seating for them can be a challenge.


And finally here's my contribution: Perricone. Sicily has been on fire as of late with much of the attention due to the fabulous wines grown on Mount Etna from the Nerello grapes. While those are absolutely world class wines they are in danger of becoming mainstream, which means the geeks need to move on to the next great thing. For me that may very well be Perricone, which comes from the western side of Sicily, about as far from Mount Etna as one can get and yet remain on the island. There is very little perricone produced from fewer than 400 hectares of vineyard under cultivation but what I've tried has really intrigued me.

Perricone, which also goes by the name Pignatello, is said to be an offspring of Sangiovese though in a way I find that it has more similarities with Nebbiolo. It's not a particularly large scaled wine, though it is well structured with plenty of acidity and aggressive tannins supporting berry fruit that can be quite clear and precise or rather rich and powerful depending on the producer. Aromatically there are hints of violets and tobacco, and all to often toasty oak, all adding interest. Truth be told I have not had enough Perricone to really feel as though I have even a modest understanding of the grape, which is why it tops my list of grapes to geek out with this coming winter. Anybody want to follow my lead?

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