I have a bias toward things that diverge from the norm. I’m not biased against the norm; in fact I believe that the norm, in most domains, is an accurate reflection of what has worked well and what people have decided is good.

For example, many generations have decided that French sauvignon blanc reaches its apogee in Sancerre. I’ve tasted quite a few of them, and I agree. But I’m always interested to try sauvignon blanc that comes from elsewhere in France. Tasting the deviants makes me appreciate the norm more – and vice versa.

It’s the yin-yang of experience. One foot in the norm and one foot in that which is not the norm is, in my opinion, the sweet spot of human existence, and wine drinking is no exception.

Maybe everybody shares my bias to a greater or lesser degree. Or maybe not, as I’ve noticed that when it comes to wine drinking, people tend to stick with the known. I’d like to counter that tendency by offering a suggestion for something delicious and novel to try, a category of wines called rancios.

Rancio wines, although new to the Maine market, are very traditional in places like Catalonia and the southwest of France. They are strange wines, to say the least.

A base wine, usually a local white varietal but not always, when finished fermenting, is placed into large glass jars to bake in the summer heat for about a year. Yes, to bake in the summer heat. Intentionally. This baking causes the wine to oxidize, giving the finished wine flavors not typical in unoxidized wines. After it fully oxidizes, it is then transferred to wooden casks where the flavors are further concentrated and enhanced by the wood.


Roughly speaking, you can think of the process of controlled oxidation as the intentional and fast-paced aging of a wine. A winemaker does this when she wants some of the older aromatics and flavors of a wine but doesn’t want to wait 20 years.

Wines like rancios are in the same family tree as sherries and Madeiras. As a result of the oxidation process these wines drop, almost entirely, their primary fruit characteristics. (Primary fruit characteristics are fresh fruit flavors, such as apples, pears, lemons or limes.) New flavors, such as dried fruit peel, salt, roasted nuts, caramel and tobacco, develop in their stead. Easterly Wines distributes all three of the rancios that I know of in Maine. You can find these wines at RSVP on Forest Avenue.

Mas Peyre’s “Le Demon du Midi” is the lightest of the three. It is almost indistinguishable from a fino sherry. Made from the macabeo grape, it’s a light golden straw color and tastes like drinking salted almonds. Enjoy it as an aperitif with nuts, cheese and anchovies or oysters.

Terre des Templiers’ “Hors d’Age” is slightly heartier. Made from brenache noir, of Chateauneuf-du-Pape fame, it is darker in both color and flavor. The aromas are toastier, hinting at tobacco and nuts.

Arnaud de Villeneuve’s “Tabacal” blew my mind, and I like it the best. I first tasted it with a traditional raclette – a classic Swiss cheese dish that’s a cousin to fondue – while sitting in front of a fire during a snowstorm last year. It was insanely good. It is made from the holy trinity of grenache: blanc, gris and noir. It is aged nine years in old rancio casks and then blended with a bit of old, sweet rancio. The addition of sweetness is what really got me. The wine tastes like a seamless flow of dried orange peel into slightly sweet and salty almonds into a leathery sort of tobacco. My best verbal conjurings don’t do it justice.

The other night I drank it with a Moroccan lamb stew my wife made. Words fail. I plan to have some with my pumpkin pie in a few weeks, and I have high expectations. I’m not sure if I can say it’ll be the best thing you can do for yourself this year, but it might sneak its way into the top 10.

If rancio wines are new to you, I highly recommend adventuring into this seemingly divergent category of wine drinking, where you’ll get to enjoy something ancient and novel at the same time.

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns three restaurants in Portland: Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw.

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