Food & Drink

Uncorking The Unique

When it comes to wine, go off the beaten path for some secret pleasures.

Story by Barry Tunnell

One of the most popular wines I’ve sold recently has been a semi-sweet, traditionally made sparkling wine from the French region of Bugey. Never mind that it smells and tastes shockingly good, like the loveliest blackberry or black cherry you’ve ever experienced. It’s still an unusual wine. It’s just the sort of wine that many might have overlooked a few years ago due to its obscure style, region and blend of grapes. But today, more and more people are discovering wines from grapes they’ve never before heard of, or regions that they may not be able to locate on a map, that are extremely pleasing for both their uniqueness and deliciousness.

Kansas City has never been as thirsty for unique wines as it is today. When our regular guests visit Tannin, the first question is often “what’s new?” Implicit in this question is an inclusive approach to wine. More than ever before, Kansas Citians know that great wine can be made from Assyrtiko grapes that have grown on the Greek island of Santorini for 3,000 years and that great wine can also be made from Trousseau, some of which has been recently transplanted to California from France’s mountainous Jura region.

Of course, household names like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon continue to be responsible for lots of great wines but, for many, great wine is no longer the exclusive realm of a few classic grapes and wine regions. The wine world is a richer and more rewarding place today because of its diversity.

The quality of wine has increased in numerous regions. The very best producers in lesser-known regions who may work with obscure, often local grape varieties are being recognized for their exceptional results.

The wines of Jacques Puffeney of Arbois in France’s mountainous Jura region, for instance, have become highly sought after both because of their uniqueness and because of their expression of what makes wine great.

A few years ago Puffeney’s reds, made from local grapes Poulsard and Trousseau as well as Pinot Noir, were difficult to sell. Now, they’re difficult to find and purchase. Luckily, there are a lot of small producers who continue to make wines that outperform the reputation of their regions and grapes. And there are a lot of adventurous wine drinkers who ensure that there’s a healthy market for these unique wines.

Three Unique (and Delicious) Wines To Seek Out

Renardat-Fâche Methode
Ancestralle Bugey Cerdon, France
*$54 bottle, $12 glass
A sparkling wine made in the old style, or Methode Ancestralle, bottled in its primary fermentation instead of a more common secondary fermentation, hence no added yeast or sugar. The result is a wine of pure fruit pleasure from old vine Gamay and Poulsard grapes that’s bright and refreshing with just a hint of sweetness.

Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko
Santorini, Greece
*$46 bottle, $10 glass
Assytirko has been grown in the volcanic soils of Santorini for millennia. It makes a uniquely textural white wine due to its tough, somewhat tannic character and its ability to retain bright, citrusy acidity in such a warm growing region.

Stolpman Vineyards “Combe”
Trousseau Ballard Canyon, California
*$70 bottle
Trousseau thrives in the French Alps and, so it seems of late, a few cool climate locales in California. Stolpman, better known for their coastal Syrahs, makes a little bit of this super interesting and funky red. It is bright, cloudy and very perfumed (rose petal, red fruits and pepper).

*Prices for wines on Tannin’s list (retail prices should be about half.)

Barry Tunnell is general manager at Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen.