October 23, 2013

Joe Appel on Wine: When restaurants are passionate about their wine lists, it’s cause for celebration

And when these Portland restaurateurs point to their favorites, it’s time to take note.

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Bryan Flewelling oversees the wine program at the recently revamped Hugo’s, and I’m glad he wrote in since I’m not sure he and I are drawn to the same sorts of wines. (I need to make some time to drink with him.) Not that I disagree with his suggestions, but they show a predilection for bold, unctuous styles, and a kind of refusal to fetishize fineness.

What I do admire about his list is that it’s risky. Hernandez’s Kerner and Blaufrankisch may on paper be unfamiliar to people, but in the glass they’re crowd-pleasers. The wines Flewelling is promoting run the risk of being too strange for some folks, if not in some cases downright divisive. I love that spirit, especially since the potential rewards for taking the plunge are enormous.

He started with the Renato Ratti ‘I Cedri di Villa Pattano’ Monferrato Bianco 2009 ($31, National), a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from an esteemed Barolo producer. “Pietro Ratti originally planted (this vineyard) with the traditional white grape varietal, Cortese (as is traditional in the Barolo region), but decided that Cortese just didn’t make an interesting enough wine. So, he planted Sauvignon Blanc which he subsequently fermented in stainless steel vats. Still not interesting enough.

“He then began oaking his SB because he believed that the flavors oak imparted to his wines gave them a distinctive character not present in other Italian whites. The wine has definitely moved away from the classic green, citrus and tart acid notes of traditional Sauvignon Blancs to evince a broader mouthfeel with toastier citrus notes and generous amounts of minerality. Admittedly, this wine is not in most people’s wheelhouse of expectations when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, but it is an entrance (and, a less pricey one) into the world of oaked Sauvignon Blanc.”

Flewelling clearly has a thing for unconventional Sauvignon Blanc. He wrote of the Sebastien Riffault ‘Les Quarterons’ Sancerre 2010 ($26, Devenish), though without a lot of detail since he knew I’d written about it previously. You can look up my article on Riffault online, but suffice it to say that this naturally produced wine with a minimal 10mg of sulfur added is unlike every other Sancerre you’ve tried. Intense, salty, autumnal and shockingly lush due in part to (rare for Sancerre) malolactic fermentation, it’ll have you shaking your head in wonder and/or dismay.

That oughta give you a thing or two to chew on for a few days. Coming next week, more “sleeper suggestions” from Flewelling, Hernandez and others. Happy rut-escaping....

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at:


Not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold at Rosemont, but distributor information listed in parentheses permits special orders through any Maine retailer.

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