Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011

If you consider only the mass market Pinot Grigio that fill most store shelves, Italy produces some of the most mundane wine out there. However, if you look past Pinot Grigio and are willing to wander into the weirdly named, hard to pronounce varieties – you will find some of the best values in all of white wine. This month’s white falls into the latter category. Vernaccia is a grape that grows all over central Italy, but this particular wine is from San Gimignano of Tuscany. It’s a famous region that has been producing highly regarded wines since the 13th century. So historical is this hill town that it was one of the first to be awarded a DOC, and then later upgraded to DOCG status.

Young Vernaccia typically tastes very crisp and light, with a lingering sense of bitterness. Now, bitterness may not sound like a good thing but trust me, it’s necessary. Without it, you would end up with cloying sweetness and no character (see Pinot Grigio). What’s extra special about this wine is that it has 5 years in the bottle to develop character. It’s not super old, but it’s starting to reveal more character and richness mid-palate. It’s a delicious wine that is both complex and easy drinking.

Quick Tasting Notes: ​Aged on lees in stainless steel tanks, and then allowed to rest in bottle for at least one month prior to release. This intensely aromatic white displays notes of apple and rose petal, while the crisp, dry palate boasts bright flavors of almond, wild flowers, and grapefruit. True to type, the finish is subtly bitter.

Vera de Estenas Bobal

Not sure about you folks, but I’ve had enough over-oaked grenache from Spain. This wine represents a change of pace from the typical mass produced wines that the region of Utiel-Requena is known for. For one thing, the vines are fairly old, up to 100 years in some spots. Instead of metallic tanks, the wine ages in giant concrete pits which adds an elegance and vibrancy to the wine. Chill this stuff down slightly, and it’s going to pair with just about anything.

Important to note is also that this is a Jose Pastor Selection wine. If you don’t know this distributor, he brings in some amazingly cool wines from Spain. They tend to be from more naturally oriented producers. I especially like his Canary Island wine, which should be arriving into Joy in the near future.

Quick Tasting Notes: “This Bobal is medium-bodied and shows a mix of bright black and red fruits, spice, and minerals, while maintaining moderate alcohol and high acidity. The result is a red wine that’s friendly with a wide variety of meats, specially game.

Equilibrio 4 Monastrell

“Equilibrio 4 spends 4 months in oak and is made from 100% Monastrell, the grape is better known as Mourvedre when it’s grown in France mainly in the Rhone valley where it is blended to make wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape. The rustic full bodied grape is originally from Spain and the arid region of Jumilla suits the growing of this grape. The wine is very flavoursome with blackberry and red fruit followed by a juicy mouthfeel. There is also a hint of perfume and wet gravel the wine has good length and a lingering finish. If you’re normally a lover of Cabernet Sauvignon this is definitely a great alternative. Bodega Sierra Norte are a new company set up by a family with three generations of winemaking experience, they follow traditional values with modern technology producing outstanding wines from the region.”

Quick Tasting Notes: “A cherry-red colour with a garnet rim and ruby glints. A complex nose with a harmonious mingling of black fruit and sweet spices, together with vanilla notes. On swirling, red berry fruit aromas gradually come through with hints of forest floor and damp earth. “

Foncalieu “Old Vine” Carignan

Carignan is an interesting grape for a few reasons. The first, is that you rarely see it by itself. The French, the Spanish, and the Italians usually blend the variety with other grapes like Grenache. Carignan is capable of very high yields – making it a profitable variety. In fact, it was the most widely planted grape in France for decades. In California, Italian immigrants in the early 1900’s planted huge amounts of Carignan where it was often blended with Zinfandel. Like many high-yielding grapes, the wines made from these vines were mostly unremarkable. In France, they even uprooted most of the Carignan vineyards… but not all of them.

This brings us to the second reason why Carignan is interesting. Some of the vineyards in California and France still exist, and now that the vines are much older, the quality is extremely high. Once the vines hit a certain age, the yield is naturally reduced. Lower yields means more intensity and character. Such is the case with this month’s wine, the Foncalieu “Vieilles Vignes” Carignan. (If you don’t know, Vieilles Vignes translates into Old Vines). This wine is a great example of what Carignan can do when the vines are able to reach maturity.

Quick Tasting Notes: “Red fruit and garrigue aromas with hints of smoke. Dry, medium-bodied and structured yet elegant with red fresh fruit and spice notes. Enjoy with duck breast, lamb skewers with rosemary or eggplant.”

Bodegas Bhilar Lagrimas de Garnacha

Navarra is one of the most underrated regions in all of Spain, which isn’t surprising considering it’s found just north of the prized Rioja region. Lagrimas de Garnacha, which translates to Tears of Grenache is produced by up-and-coming winemaker David Sampedro. Unlike many other wines in this price point, David chooses to vinify with minimal intervention, ecological farming methods, and following biodynamic processes in the vineyard.

This Garnacha is grown in St Martin de Unx near Baja Montana of Navarra. The far northerly vineyard is unique in that it is influenced by the Atlantic, giving the wine an elegance and ample acidity to contrast the ripe, cherry fruit character of the varietal. This wine is also much, much less oak-forward than similarly priced Spanish wine. There is a vibrancy in this wine that is uncommon to say the least!

Quick Tasting Notes: Aromas and flavors of fresh redcurrant, cherry ( lots of it!) and raspberry, with a touch of minerality on the finish. The wine is fresh and vibrant. It could be chilled to just under room temperature. This red would pair great with grilled shrimp and garlic, or even a rich, spicy dish like Chorizo and potatoes.