Back to School: Unusual Varietals

September 2015

The best part about my job is introducing people to new wineries – and even new varietals – that they’ve never heard of. There are a lot of unusual wines being made all over Oregon that are extraordinary.

Ever heard of Tannat or Muscadet or Auxerrois? All of these are being made in small batches here in Oregon by wonderfully obsessed winemakers dedicated to bringing unusual varietals to your table.

So to honor the back-to-school season, we’ve dedicated our September selections at Cellar 503 to learning about unusual varietals.

Our reds this month are the 2013 Baco Noir from Girardet and a 2012 blend of Primitivo and Petite Sirah from LaBrasseur. Philippe Girardet was the first winemaker to introduce Oregon to the deep and dense Baco Noir, a French/American hybrid that’s been called "America's most patriotic wine".

As for LaBrasseur's blend, the Primitivo is an Italian varietal that the scientists tell us might be the genetic forefather of Zinfandel. And Petite Sirah (not Syrah!) is originally a French varietal that is now primarily grown in California, Australia, and Israel -- but has started appearing in southern Oregon. Combined, these two make for a dark, inky, spicy wine.

As for whites, we're featuring the 2014 Arneis from Helioterra and the 2013 Melon de Bourgogne from Roots Wine Company.

From the Piedmont region of Italy, Arneis is a difficult grape to grow. In fact, the name itself means "little rascal" in Piedmontese. Nearly extinct by the 1970s, this dry and aromatic white has been making a comeback -- and has found a home in Oregon's Ribbon Ridge.

The French consider Melon de Bourgogne the perfect wine to pair with seafood, so it fits in nicely here in Oregon. Curiously, there used to be a lot of Melon grown in Oregon, but it was all mislabeled "Pinot Blanc". When scientists at UC Davis discovered that in the 1980s, Oregon winemakers ripped almost all of it out. We're lucky that we've got our hands on a little of what's left!

I hope you enjoy these unusual varietals as much as I did in finding them!