On Wine



Scarcer Varietals

Pais? Lemberger?? Which of the Scarcer Varietals Should You Try?

by Fred McMillin

To get an answer my tasters tackled over 40 exotic bottles. Many interesting varieties did not make the cut. For example, the grape that made the first wine in the New World, the Mission, alias Pais, was rejected. After the dust had settled, 15 pleasing wines were left standing. Here they are, with the best listed last. Thus, the further you read the better the bottle.

The Whites

Rank   Wine
5th - Marsanne, Butterworth, Santa Ynez Valley, 2002, $12. A Rhone variety gaining popularity.
4th - Pinot Blanc, Valley of the Moon, Sonoma County, 2004, $16. Chardonnay- like, but less intense.
3rd - Viognier, Wild Horse, Central Coast, 2004,$20. The star of Rhone whites.
2nd - Riesling, Mirassou, Monterey, 2004, $10. The New York Times said California should give up on the Riesling! We're glad Mirassou didn't.
1st - Gewurztraminer, Gundlach-Bundschu, Sonoma Valley, 2003, $22. "Not a name that will launch a thousand cases" (Jancis Robinson), but its unique honeysuckle-spice character is not to be missed.

The Reds—They were rated good.

Rank   Wine
10th - Tempranillo Reserva, Campo Viejo, Rioja, Spain, Allied Domecq Imports, 1999, $13. Spanish reds are being upgraded nicely.
9th - Carignane ReZerve, Sobon, Rocky Top Vineyard, Amador County, 2002, $24. A Rhone Ranger red.
8th - Lemberger (or Blue Franc), Shooting Star, Washington, 2003, $12. Quite gentle, but good berry flavors.
7th - Petit Verdot Reserve, Trinchero, Napa Valley, 2003, $27. A Bordeaux varietal with plenty of purple power.
6th - Norton, St. James Winery, Missouri, America's best native wine grape. Served by Mrs. Abraham Lincoln at White House dinners.
5th - Sangiovese, MonteVina, Amador County, 2002, $18. Makes Italy's popular Chianti.
4th - Cabernet Franc, Steele, Writer's Block label, 2002, $15. A favorite of the man who made it, Jeb Steele

These were rated exceptional.

3rd - Petite Sirah, Guenoc, Lake County, 1996, $16. Outlawed in the Rhone where it was created. Makes a robust red in California.
2nd - Mourvedre, Deaver, Amador County, 2000, $26. Another Rhone with muscle.
1st - Barbera, Deaver, Amador County, 2003, $25. This grape seems to be making better wine in the Sierra Foothills than in its native Italy. Drink now OR later, when it's even more charming.


*Only one Napa Valley wine in the bunch. Maybe the land is too valuable to experiment with exotics?

*The Best Buy was the $12 Lemberger. The Best Wine was the $25 Barbera. Certainly worth trying.


And A Parting Wine Smile

Sign in a local wine bar: "Work is the curse of the drinking class!"


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


Copyright © 2006, Fred McMillin. All rights reserved.


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This page created August 2006

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