We’re Toasting: Unexpected Wines

Originally published in “West Hawaii Today”

I drink a glass of wine every day. It’s my passion, profession and often obsession. Each day I select the ideal bottle that’s juice that will speak to me, telling the story of the land, the winemaker, the vintage, the soil. Some days I like the classics, like my go-to Chardonnay or Cabernet. Some days I look for something out of the ordinary. Here are a few that fall into the latter, like international varieties from unexpected places and nontraditional options that will make you swoon.

Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir fruit

I just returned from a trip to Chile, tasting wine in the northern regions of Leyda, San Antonio, and Casablanca. Historically Chile has been known for producing robust reds from Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and their signature Carmenere. However, in the cool-climate regions of the north, driven winemakers, like Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte, are proving the quality of Chilean Pinot Noir, producing elevated, elegant, character-driven wine. Produced biodynamically, respecting the land, Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir ($25) highlights earthy, mineralic layers of wild thyme, crushed stone, and eucalyptus melding into cranberry and pomegranate.

One of my favorite things about living in Hawaii is tasting the ocean in the air on early morning walks on the beach. Briny, sea salt filled wind welcomes each day. Picpoul de Pinet, the favorite white of Languedoc, France, highlights this salinity in their wildflower, soft herb, and juicy grapefruit filled wines, thanks to the influence of the Mediterranean Sea on the vineyards. Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet ($15) harmoniously ties these characteristics together in a lip-smacking wine with crisp acidity.

Northern New Mexico’s high elevation vineyards produce some of the most lively sparkling wines in the country. Scorching days match with frigid nights (often seeing 50+-degree temperature swings from day to night,) developing ripe Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit during the day while slowing the ripening process, locking in freshness at night. The leading producer, Gruet, captures the essence of this terroir in their classic method Gruet Blanc de Noir ($26) and Brut Rose ($25).

Bodega Garzon vineyards in Uruguay

Traditionally highly tannic, powerful, intense Tannat is tamed by producers in Uruguay, delicately handling the robust variety to produce expressive, velvety wines with approachability. Bodega Marichal ($18) and Bodega Garzon ($20) each highlight the leather, tobacco, and savory meaty qualities of the grape, pairing perfectly with roasted beef or pork belly.