I am, by temperament, a classicist. My antennae are tuned to the messages that spend eons blipping around the universe until every once in a while they alight down here with us. This is why I got interested in wine, and why my interest in wine is akin to my interest in good books and art, and in certain sorts of people. (It’s also why I often feel like I don’t know how to function in the contemporary world, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Anyway, I take my news old. Several important mentors in my life – older men and women, from professional teachers to professional winemakers and many points in between – are united by what I have sought from them, and what they deliver: something that I sense is ancient, even eternal. Messages from long ago transform along the way, sure; they are honed, refined and altered. But for messages of true value, the development is always so gradual as to be barely noticeable. A strong imprint of the distant past runs throughout.

Wine is really a product of light, the oldest message there is. Light that billions of years ago burst forth from a mysterious core eventually formed planets, water, rock, soil and us. Each of those components is in every wine; the best wines show the process most vividly.

For us as wine drinkers, in the face of all that power, to be wooed by flavor alone seems a rude and ignorant semi-neglect at best. Yet we all do it. We’re most of us pretty blind and silly most of the time.

So, I should more accurately call myself a diverted classicist. Brief glimpses of the eternal are washed away by torrents of noise, shock and distraction, as well as simple desires for comfort and immediate pleasure.

The more principled me seeks in wine the time-tested truth. I burrow as deeply as possible into “classic” regions such as Bordeaux, the Rhine, Chablis, Santorini, Bekaa and the fuzzily demarcated areas of what for a time was called the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These are where Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans determined, over centuries, what worked, what aligned with everything else.

Yes. Good. Principles. Principles good. Yet when the diversions come and principles are tested, a wise man knows when to resist and when to concede.

I’ve recently come across a slew of exciting wines that seem to come out of nowhere. In the match of grape to place, or of process to material, or of adherence to tradition, they bear little history. They probably made very good sense to the vintners who brought them into being, but that sense isn’t one I’m familiar with through my history of tasting, reading, discussing.

These wines are beautiful surprises. They came at me sideways, no warning. Though on the surface they struck me as outliers, non-classical, I wouldn’t share them with you unless I had sensed in them something coherent and true. They are very different from each other, and defy expectations, yet they speak the common language of all meaningful wines and experiences, where an incontestable rightness is evident. On paper they don’t fit. In the real world, they make every bit of sense. I guess that’s a sort of classicism, after all.

Pinot gris is usually fruity and insipid, like its close cousin pinot grigio. But the grape has tremendous potential, and carries enough natural sugar to yield quite massive, dense, powerful wines when farmed and vinified with different goals in mind. Thus it is with Meinklang, a biodynamic producer from Austria’s Burgenland. They make a deliciously juicy-dry sparkling pinot noir, as well as both white and red blends of indigenous varietals that have a spit-shined cleanliness and freshness about them.

Then, there’s their “Graupert” Pinot Gris 2012 ($19). The vines grow completely untended, in an effort to have them “regulate the production of fruit on their own.” Unpruned (“graupert” means “unkempt”), the vines yield more bunches of grapes but with each berry smaller than usual. This leads to a higher skin-to-flesh ratio, and after a late harvest Meinklang lets the skins of the crushed grapes remain in contact with the juice for some time, extracting more color, aromatic complexity and textural heft. It’s overstuffed wine, even oily, with its orange fruit flavors cooked down, giving way to more herbaceous and acacia-tinged aspects. It’s kooky, ambitious, and I dig it.

White wines that ferment after long macerations on their skins are part of a very old tradition, and at this point some of the world’s most highly regarded winemakers – Château Musar, R. López de Heredia, Gravner, Radikon – employ it to varying degrees. Generally known as orange wines, they are a distinct category with a broader spectrum than they’re usually given credit for, and actually express much of the “classical” perspective I referred to at the start.

Yet it’s a huge surprise to encounter a good orange wine from California, and from sweltering Paso Robles no less. Presenting … Vines on the Marycrest’s Viognier 2012 ($22). Viognier! Whatever the opposite of a “desert-island” item is, that’s viognier for me. If I were Noah before the flood, taking all the world’s grapes onto my ark for safekeeping, I’d find a way to tell viognier she wasn’t welcome on board. But I adore this strong, broad-shouldered, intoxicatingly aromatic and bitter beauty.

Vines on the Marycrest winemaker Victor Abascal lets the crushed grapes stay on their skins for 25 days, extracting enormous amounts of earthiness, essences of fruits we’ve never heard of, tannins. The wine’s length and soul-satisfying completeness are astonishing.

Primitivo is, as the name suggests, a Pugliese grape that takes pride in its rusticity. Genetically identical to zinfandel, whose origins (under different names) are in what is now Croatia, the Italian primitivo nonetheless rarely thrills me the way a good California zinfandel will. It’s often dull, overly simplified black-fruit character manages to both underwhelm and overstay its welcome. Primitivo wines are usually cloying and sort of a downer.

So it’s a thrill to drink a primitivo as fun, and as different from every other primitivo that makes it to these shores, as the organic-grape Fatalone Teres Primitivo 2013 ($18). Such a pale red that one could legitimately call it dark pink, it ought to be treated like a rosé: drunk copiously all summer, with a pretty substantial chill on it. A bit of primitivo’s earthiness and balsamic quality peeks out from under a strawberry-flavored hard sucking-candy shell. For this wine, the relatively pale color is due to shorter maceration time (the skins are separated from the juice relatively early). In such a hot climate as Puglia, where overripeness is a constant risk, this makes perfect sense. Hmm: an untraditional primitivo that ought to be the basis of the tradition. What would a classicist make of that?

Argentina has developed a supremely successful wine model by focusing on the soft-textured, bold-flavored, red-fruit-forward malbec. Malbec looms so large over the Argentine wine world that the country’s other wines – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay as well as Bordeaux-style blends, which are often more interesting and long-lived than single-varietal malbec – are for all but a sliver of American enthusiasts an afterthought.

Then, after all those other wines, when you’re pretty sure you get Argentina’s shtick, comes a syrah to blow you away. The Alberti “El Necio” Syrah Reserva 2012 ($16) is a killer. The alcohol is listed at 15 percent, yet lil’ ol’ classical me can’t stop drinking it, and it never comes across as boozy. The “stubborn one,” “El Necio” comes from pre-phylloxera vines that are more than 70 years old: a new style built on old bones.

It has most of what I’m always looking for in true, excellent syrah: the bacon-fat-laden, herby, peppery, dark-purple-fruit savoriness most often found in wines of the northern Rhône. The Alberti is so confusing in this regard – a wine from Mendoza, ground zero of the “New World” flavor profile, tasting like an old-timer from France – that in the store where I work, I placed a few bottles in the Argentina section and a few others in the Rhône. That way, whether you’re looking for lessons from a brave new world or a changeless old one, the right teacher will find you.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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