I don't know when it all started, but grapes, like underemployed Hollywood actors, suddenly seem desperate for publicity. There's Malbec World Day, International Sauvignon Blanc Day, National Moscato Day and International Chardonnay Day. There are festivals and symposiums devoted to zinfandel, grenache and pinot noir. Years ago, Paul Grieco, a Toronto-born, New York-based restaurateur, launched a by-the-glass promotion at his Terroir wine bars that he billed the "Summer of Riesling," a cause since embraced at restaurants around the world.
Worthy varietals all. But I have a bone to pick with the blossoming grape lobby. As with International Bacon Day, virtually all the celebrations draw our attention to things already widely known to be beautiful. Heck, there are more than 1,000 wine-grape varieties in commercial circulation. Must we sing the praises of only the Top 40? Where, for example, is Nero di Troia Day? Why not a symposium on unsung lagrein? How about a Summer of Jacquère? That I'd like to see.
In the interest of equal time, I'm leading off with a trio of those humble varieties, released last week in Ontario Vintages stores. I'm particularly fond of nero di Troia, a firm, spicy red grown almost exclusively in northern Puglia, Italy's stiletto heel. The vine's name derives from the village of Troia, which, as mythological lore would have it, was founded by Diomedes, a hero of Virgil's Aeneid, who was among the Greeks hiding in the Trojan horse, and we all know what happened to Troy after that.
Producers around Troia could use a Trojan horse in the battle for consumer attention. A few years ago, many began using the Italian word nero ("black") in place of uva ("grape") to give their local uva di Troia a more fashionable ring. It had worked for the nearby Sicilians, whose nero d'Avola is now a prominent signature of the island. It's not nearly as shrewd as hiring a PR firm to concoct Nero di Troia Day, but it's a start.
Rivera Il Falcone Riserva 2007 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.95
This is a blend of 70-per-cent nero di Troia and 30-per-cent montepulciano, the latter a major grape of the Abruzzo region. It's full-bodied and deeply flavoured, with a core of plum jam accented by vigorous spice. The tannins are still firm, giving the wine impressive structure. It should cellar well for up to eight more years or pair nicely with steak tonight. $24.45 in Que.
Kaltern Caldaro Lagrein 2011 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
A native of Italy's northern Alto Adige and Trentino zones, lagrein tends to produce full-bodied, purple-coloured, boisterously fruity reds. Think of Argentine malbec and you'll get the picture. This one is relatively soft and savoury, with juicy plum and herbs in the foreground and notes of leather and black olive somewhere in back. Try it with barbecued ribs or heavily charred beef. Available in Ont.
Jean Perrier & Fils Savoie Cuvée Gastronomie Apremont 2011 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $16.95
A prominent variety of Savoie in eastern France, jacquère makes light, crisp whites perfect for summer imbibing. Here it's true to form, yielding a dry, slightly sour, juicy profile, with hints of white peach, citrus and mineral. Jacquère is a classic for cheese fondue. Available in Ont.
Cuvée du Vatican Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $38.95
Smooth at the start, this big red tightens up toward the dry finish, offering luscious red fruit and notes of herb and dark-roast coffee along the way. A smart choice for roasts, it hails from a great vintage and should age gracefully for another decade or more. $49 in B.C., $36.75 in Que.
Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (California)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $74.95
I first visited Groth in the early 1990s and have been a fan ever since. The wines are expensive but that's to be expected with high-end Napa reds. The 2009 cabernet sauvignon shows excellent varietal character, with juicy black currant, cherry and dark chocolate supported by a nuance of earth. Perfect for red-meat roasts. Available in Ont.
SpierHead Pinot Gris 2012 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.90
Aged entirely in stainless steel, this medium-bodied white comes with a whisper of sweetness well-balanced by crisp acidity. Fresh and vibrant, it hints at lemon and red apple and finishes with a nuance of chalk. Fine for medium-weight fish, with or without a dusting of chili-pepper spice. Available at private wine stores and VQA stores in British Columbia and at the winery, spierheadwinery.com.
Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010 (Australia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $29.95
As can be expected from Wolf Blass, this is a mouthful, brimming with tropical fruit and peach, with a toasty edge and pleasantly Burgundian yeastiness. It is excellent for rich fish dishes. $24.07 in Man.
Domaine Serge Dagueneau & Filles Tradition Pouilly-Fumé 2011 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $28.95
Light-bodied, silky and elegant, this Loire Valley sauvignon blanc dances back and forth between grass, lemon, flowers and stone. Ideal for light fare such as grilled fish and main-course salads. $29.99 in B.C.
Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Argentina)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Very dry, Catena's full-bodied 2010 plays to the red-Bordeaux style, with a perceptible herbal note likely owing to a small dose of cabernet franc in the blend. It's smooth, with flavours of plum, berries and chocolate. Steak is in order. $21.99 in B.C., $21.75 in Que., $24.99 in N.B., $22.99 in N.S.