Untraditional and Rare Wines
For my picks this month, I've focused on rare wines that are outstanding in their field, yet aren’t classic. I've picked several wines that are renowned for being great, but not known for being typical examples of what their respective regions are famous for. For example, Chardonnay from Northern Italy isn't a category that a lot of people seek out, but in the hands of a master winemaker, it can be a mind-blowing revelation. I've hunted down some other striking oddities that are every bit as deserving of inclusion in collections, if only because they're exciting and trend-bucking outliers whose quality outshines their neighbors.
Jackson's Somm Picks
Yes, Italian Chardonnay. Not a category you thought we'd be promoting. Honestly, not a category that blows a lot of minds across the world on a regular basis. But when it comes to Miani, don't let the grape throw you for a loop. This is special stuff. Enzo Pontoni is a winemaker who's shrouded in legend in the Friuli region. When you take the ingredients that commonly produce a special wine – low yields, old vines, miniscule production, gentle handling of the fruit – and put them together, you can have something nice. But when it's all coalesced by someone like Enzo, possessed of extremely high standards and razor-sharp intellect, you get a winery like Miani. This Chardonnay is exceptionally textured, crystalline and rich, yet very dry.
This is an iconic Australian winery that's using its prime Victoria vineyard land and expertise to produce a Bordeaux-style red blend. Now, Bordeaux blends aren’t unusual in the Australian wine scene, but in particular, to find one of this richness and weight in Victoria, and specifically in the cool-climate, maritime Yarra Valley… now that's a bit atypical. The Yarra Valley is most known for its standout Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but this Dry Red No.1 is a great example of why you can't ever count out Cabernet. In a similar fashion to Margaret River, this wine relies on proximity to the ocean and mild temperatures to produce a Cabernet-based wine that carries the ripeness of Australia with the elegance of Bordeaux. The 2016 vintage was a good one for Yarra and you'll find great length of finish and richness here. It received 97 points from famed Aussie wine taster James Halliday and this glowing write-up: "Profoundly juicy and rich, yet kept under tight control by the web of ripe tannins, oak part of the structure and texture but not flavour per se. It's a wine that you can sit with for a prolonged examination and discussion, and still not cover all its characteristics or ask all the questions."
Château Musar has long been considered a great winery by the likes of Michael Broadbent and other great tasters. The bare fact that it's in Lebanon, far outside of the normal milieu in which European wines enter the public consciousness, is reason for intrigue. But the proof is in the product here. Old Cabernet Sauvignon vines form the core of the blend and they're supported by small touches of Cinsault and Carignan. Let a critic tell you better than I can: “People used to be snooty about wine from Lebanon, even though there have been vineyards there for 6,000 years. But its reputation spread and people came to love that rich, dark, spicy, leathery, peppery, perfumed wine with aptly, a hint of cedar. The Musar 2005 is already delicious with all the qualities listed above.” - Simon Hoggart
I never thought I'd have the chance to sell Massandra. Yet here we are. In a time of occupation, upheaval and war, let me direct your attention to a rare treasure with a fascinating story that I can barely do justice to in this short format. Massandra isn't just a winery, it's a wine cellar (pictured). One of the largest in the world. Massandra was founded by Tsar Nicholas II as a place to store his summer wines. It has a deep history of producing wines from all styles: dry, sweet, still, sparkling, red and white. This is a postwar 1948 mimicry of Tokaj wine, before EU law protected the name designation for the eponymous Hungarian wine region. It's an oddity but an exciting, rare wine. Bottles like this can't legally be produced any more and being that Tokaj was a very understood quantity at the time, the level of sweetness and accuracy to the real deal was most likely spot-on. This is a curiosity, a history lesson and a delicious sweet wine all rolled into one.
Here's quite a curiosity. Marc, or an aged grape brandy, made by one of Burgundy's most iconic and celebrated winemakers. Bottles of Marc from the top domaines make the rounds every couple years, but after working in wine for more than a decade, I never see them crop up too often. Comte Vogüé is a storied producer based in Chambolle-Musigny, whose Bonnes Mares and Musigny bottlings have continuously kept them at the top of many collectors' covet-lists. This is a fiery and intense brandy, but one made from Grand Cru fruit and aged patiently in barrel in Vogüé’s cellars. It's a wonderful pairing for soft cheeses like the classic Burgundian Époisses, which defies most wine pairings.
This is one of the more obscure sommelier selections I've put forward in a while, but that's my job. Pretty much anyone can tell you that Château Latour is great, or that Grand Cru Burgundy is expensive. Yet it's sometimes in the margins that we find moments of inspiration and discovery and hopefully you can find something here among these rare wines that sparks your imagination. Cheers and happy drinking!
Discover more of Jackson’s vinous gems here: