Looking off the beaten path

Searching for wines is a little bit like a scavenger hunt at times, and sometimes it calls for looking at the outliers of the wine world for new and exciting finds.

Here in the Yukon, we’re well familiar with French, Italian, American and Australian wines.

More recently Canadian, Argentinian and Chilean wines have become more popular. And we have our share of lovers of German wines as well.

So I’m always scouring the shelves for something a little out of the ordinary that may yield a surprise.

This week I’m going to tell you about a white and a red that have surprised and delighted me. Both come from countries with wine-growing experience that goes back more than 1,000 years, but neither is completely and fully on the radar screen, so it’s fun to find and share them.

Regular readers of this column will know that I have an enthusiasm for Spanish wines, particularly their red blends of traditional Spanish and non-Spanish grapes.

Last week the Yukon Liquor Corp had a hanger tag highlighting a Spanish red, Castillo de Almansa Reserva, 2007, which was recently rated 88 points out of a possible 100.

When a wine gets a rating close to 90 points, I always think it’s worth trying, and the fact that is was priced at $15.25 made it even more appealing!

This tasty and robust wine is a blend of the juice of Spanish grapes Tempranilllo and Monastrell, as well as the Garnacha grape, which is known in France and the U.S. as Grenache.

This past weekend I kayaked on Lake Laberge for an overnight trip with two friends, and poured the wine into a plastic Platypus wine bag from Coast Mountain Sports (about $10.00), which allowed me to leave the glass bottle behind and transport the wine without the risk of breaking glass, or the associated weight or bulk.

The Platypus guys have formulated a special plastic that will not affect the taste of the wine. It is a brilliant invention.

Anyway, we paddled for the afternoon, found our campsite, and pitched our tents. The weather was gray and cool and windy, but the wine, served with freeze-dried beef stroganoff, really hit the spot.

Maybe it’s just being outdoors that makes everything taste so good, but the Castillo de Almansa had enough body to stand up to the creamy, beefy richness of the beef stroganoff, and really worked well with it.

The wine is aged in oak for 12 months, and then given further cellar time. It really opens up with a nice bouquet after about half an hour. I sensed hints of vanilla and slightly dark red fruit, like plums. I think it’s a steal at $15.25.

The second winner I came across was the one Austrian wine in the YLC, the $21.10 Gruner Veltliner Hieder Loss. While a little more expensive than the Castillo de Almansa, it is a stellar wine!

Gruner Veltliner is a white wine grape variety grown primarily in Austria, but also in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It has a reputation for being very food-friendly, and some of the better ones can be aged for some number of years.

These wines come from grapes grown on the steep riverbank vineyards of the Danube River, west of Vienna, and they have a fresh and well-balanced, minerally flavour.

Chilled down, and served with seafood or pasta and a cream sauce, it’s really tasty. I’ve had it with grayling and salmon, and it was delicious with both. It reminds me a little of the better French white Bordeaux wines I have tasted, with a slight peach bouquet (smell) and some citrus and pepper in the taste.

If you’re looking for a nice bottle to bring for a dinner, this would be a welcomed surprise for anyone who enjoys white wines.

Both finds this week are a reminder that there are rewards for scavenger hunting, and looking off the beaten path in the wine world.


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