The Buying Guide: Off the Wall (Absolutely Worth a Shot)

By / Wine + Drinks / April 6th, 2022 / Like

All wines listed are recommended by our experienced panel of tasters. Each wine is rated based on its varietal character, representation of style and/or region, balance and price-quality ratio. Readers should assess these, and all wines, using the same criteria. Browse our experts’ tasting notes to find the wines that may appeal to your taste or pique your interest to try something new. After all, one of the best parts about wine is the discovery. The prices listed are approximate retail prices and will likely vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A large number of these wines can be purchased across Canada and the USA, so check with your local private wine store or liquor board for availability

Excerpt from The Buying Guide originally appearing in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.

Our tasters are Tony Aspler (TA), Gurvinder Bhatia (GB), Michelle Bouffard (MB), Michaela Morris (MM), Tim Pawsey (TP), Christopher Sealy (CS) and Donatella Dicca (DD).


OFF THE WALL
(Absolutely worth a shot):


Unique, distinct, interesting wines from lesser-known grape varieties or regions that are worth tasting because they are that good. Don’t bypass them because they may be unfamiliar or judge them by the first taste. These are well made wines and your palate deserves to give them a shot even if it takes a little time to get to know them.

Sandhill Sovereign Opal Okanagan Valley VQA, 2019, British Columbia Canada ($17)

A uniquely Canadian wine and a rarity, this variety is a cross of Golden Muscat and Marechal Foch. Believed to be the only planting in Canada, it comes from the pioneering Casorso Family Vineyard in South Kelowna, where many of the vines date from 1981. Aromas of orchard and stone fruits lead to a luscious palate of tropical tones, citrus and nectarine. Nicely balanced fruit and acidity. Truly a glass of Okanagan sunshine! (TP)


Zsirai Furmint, 2017, Tokaji Hungary ($27)

Such an interesting and well made wine showing hay, mineral, laser focus and a briny saltiness. The two sisters, Petra and Kata, have carried on what their father began and are bringing attention back to a region that is not new to wine production, but quality and development was stagnated from decades of communist rule. The purity and elegance of Zsirai’s wines are showing the quality that is once again being grown and bringing attention back to this historic region. Start shucking the oysters. (GB)


Moon Curser Arneis Okanagan Valley VQA, 2020, British Columbia Canada ($27)

A hard-to-find variety in the Okanagan, fruit comes from the winery’s estate vineyard on Osoyoos’ East Bench at the foot of Anarchist Mountain. Floral and herbal notes precede a well-textured, mouth-filling palate of apple and pear with kiwi hints, mineral and spice undertones through a lengthy, gently edgy close hinting at brine. Well balanced with forward fruit kept well in check by a streak of acidity. Liable to induce cravings for at least a dozen fresh oysters on the half shell, scallops with cream sauce or a slice of Manchego or well-aged Cheddar. (TP)

Domaine Alzipratu Corse-Calvi AOC ‘Fiumeseccu’, 2019, Corsica France ($30)

This wine is combined elements of Niellucciu,

Sciaccarello, Grenache and Syrah. If you never had Mediterranean Island wine, this could be the wine to break that bubble. Sourced from granitic soils on the north edge of Corsica. Expect sun-kissed fruit aroma, vibrant in the way red Kool-Aid comes across, with a dash of sea salt. There is a sense of garrigue as the environment is rather an extension of South France. The palate is supple with joyful ripe red berry fruit and more garrigue-esque flavours. It is not at all ‘heavy’. Be ready for a slap of acidity – it all there keeping the fruit in check. This is a wine of place. France has many faces – this one is a hybrid of cultures – Spanish, French and Italian – all in one great island red. (CS)

Grey Gardens Skin Fermented White Niagara Peninsula VQA, 2019, Ontario Canada ($373.80/12-bottle case)

Private label from Toronto’s Grey Gardens restaurant goes public. This skin contact Pinot Gris is appropriately brassy in hue with orange, strawberry and subtle tea notes on a leesy backdrop. A modest 10.5% alcohol makes this extra easy to drink as does the refreshing prickle on the finish. Available by the case only through Tawse winery’s online store. $5.50/bottle goes towards the Encamp-ment Support Network which assists people living in encampments in Toronto. (MM)


Prieler Weisburgunder Liethaberg DAC, 2017, Burgenland Austria ($37)

This wine exhibits a very fine aromatic profile of yellow-golden apple, peach skin and apricot with a lick of citrus and wet stone. Lees add a depth of pear and nuttiness. Palate opens with richness, more of that orchard and stone fruit, with pear nectar to add. Complex and seriously good. Weissburgunder aka Pinot Blanc is a ‘clonal variation’ of Pinot Noir. Some examples don’t live up to the presumed reputation of lineage. In the hands of Prieler, this grape presents a sublime expression that we should look out for. (CS)

Casale del Giglio Biancolella, Lazio IGT ‘Faro della Guardia’, 2019, Lazio Italy ($40)

The obscure but lovely Biancolella grape was born on Campania’s island of Ischia. It now grows in the neighbouring region of Lazio exclusively on the island of Ponza. Clearly it thrives in Mediterranean seaside climes where it bears a salty backbone proudly. Pink grapefruit and apricot are inflected with thyme and flint. Rich and round, this glides smoothly across the palate leaving a piney, sappy wake. (MM)

Fratelli Alessandria Verduno Pelaverga DOC ‘Speziale’, 2019, Piedmont Italy ($40)

Verduno may be one of Barolo’s lesser-known villages, but it has a secret weapon up its sleeve: the charming and joyful Pelaverga grape. Fratelli Alessandria makes one of the finest examples. Uber fresh raspberry accent-ed by white pepper and rose with ginger and cinnamon joining in on the lithesome palate. Very fine, almost barely-there tannins. This is a super red to pair with exotic ethnic cuisine. (MM)


Moon Curser Dead of Night Okanagan Valley VQA, 2017, British Columbia Canada ($43)

Known for growing varieties considered ‘off the wall’ for the Okanagan, Moon Curser has contributed greatly to the reality of the region’s actual ability to grow a diverse range of grapes versus the general perception of what should be possible. This blend of Syrah and Tannat is juicy, meaty, firmly tannic with an abundance of black fruit, peppery notes and an appealing tartness. It is balanced and interesting, structured yet very approachable. Cheers to nonconformity. All I need now is a bison ribeye. (GB)


Henry Marionnet Touraine AOC
‘Renaissance’, 2019, Loire France ($44)

The back label asks: what did they drink in the 16th century during the Renaissance? Marionnet proposes a wine from ungrafted vines and no added sulfur. This is made from Gamay, on its own rootstock of course. It’s clean but thrillingly wild, like diving headfirst into a tangle of summer berries and flowers you’d find growing in the forest. Sumptuous and fresh with a ton of personality. (MM)

Quinta das Cerejeiras Grande Reserva Óbidos DOC, 2016, Lisboa Portugal ($47)

For the Burgundy lover who thinks they have everything… From the obscure denomination of Óbidos, this blend of Chardonnay, Arinto and Vital is partially fermentation in French oak barrels. The nose offers lemon curd on buttered toast with grilled almonds, wood spice and pineapple. It suggests a big rich white, but this is by no means fat. In fact, the palate is searing and steely and nuanced by a briny, salted almond kiss. (MM)


Gulfi Nerojbleo Terre Siciliane IGT, 2017, Sicily Italy ($52)


Nero d’Avola is the main red grape of Sicily and has the ability to make stunning wines, but for many years it was misunderstood because too many producers tried to over-ripen it or mask it with too much oak or overpower it with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. Nero d’Avola does have the ability to translate the character of the sites in which it is grown, much like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo and Gulfi was one of the first producers to show the versatility of the grape. The wine’s aromas are filled with a purity of crushed red fruit, spice and fresh herbs which carry through to the palate. The tannins are juicy yet firm and the wine possess an incredible freshness and mouth-watering salinity. Versatile enough for seafood or red meat and everything in between. (DD)


Gulfi Carricante Terre Siciliane IGT
‘Carjcanti’, 2016, Sicily Italy ($62)

Italian white wines are often underestimated, but the incredible freshness, depth and complexity of this wine should change those minds. This is fresh and juicy with stature, complexity and multi-layers of apple, citrus, mint and herbs, firm acidity with a long and juicy finish. Delicious when young, but has the ability to age for several years like a great Riesling. A great wine with shellfish and white meat, but also versatile enough for a multitude of globally-inspired cuisines and possesses enough structure to pair nicely with a steak. (DD)

Birichino Mourvedre Old Vines-Vignes Centenaires Lime Kiln Valley AVA
‘Enz Vineyard’, 2019, Central Coast California USA ($82)

Wow, wow, what a delightful wine, elegant, refreshing, pure cherry and plum fruit flavours, juicy, grippy tannins, perfect balance between acidity, fruit and structure, leaning to bright and crushable with fresh, stony mineral that collectively all enhance the wine’s drinkability and enjoyment. Once again, the wines of Birichino prove that a wine doesn’t have to punch you in the face to be significant and great. (GB)


Prieler Blaufrankisch Liethaberg DAC, 2015, Burgenland Austria ($88)

A wine still showing youthful plum, black and blue currant, with licorice, roasted fennel seed and light scented herbs of the garden. The oak integration gives a nice lift to all of this before moving into the palate of blue fruit and forest berry to herbal energy. Feels like fresh black kale and chard with clove or cardamom – a very fine and polished expression of this grape from one of the more energetic protagonists of the region. If you want an adventure away from Burgundy and Beaujolais – take this trip along the Danube to East Austria. (CS)

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Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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