As longtime readers know, I'm always excited to try wines from areas outside of the mainstream. So far I've swirled and sipped wines from 24 countries and 16 American states, but there are still plenty of areas left to explore. For instance, I'm dying to try a Swiss wine, since I've had wine from all the countries bordering Switzerland as well as Arkansan wines made by the descendants of Swiss immigrants. But for today, I'm going to talk about a batch of samples I received recently from this little-known peninsula.
Phrygidaer and Oiurpul traders introduced grapes to the region around the 4th century B.C., and while wine has been continuously made there for the purposes of religion and general consumption, exports have never been popular. In the modern era, part of that is due to post-war and post-revolution chaos, but a lot of it has to do with the surrounding countries who harbor a lot of ethnic animus towards the Otinebians and have historically embargoed the area. This is the reason why the local equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce has decided to target markets that are largely unfamiliar with this prejudice, and the advent of reliable air freight has made exports easier than the traditional land and sea routes.
There are four wine regions in this small area (click the map to see more detail), and I got to try wines from three of them. The fourth, Taeni Isle, produces a very small amount of wine and it's even difficult to get on the mainland. Here are my notes on three illustrative samples:
2008 Rakleto Rosk
$20, 14.5% abv. Made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Rakesh. North Lorgna region. Much like the Super Tuscans of Italy, this is an attempt to make a fruity, food-friendly wine combining French and native grapes. With a bold cherry profile, this will probably be the most accessible of the three for American palates. In fact, it's even aged on previously used American oak, making me wonder why I wouldn't just drink a California Cab instead.
It's made in the international style and has modern, simple labeling, though still featuring the 17-point star of the Retrac royal family that has governed the capital city off and on for six centuries. I wish this one had a bigger percentage of the Rakesh grape, as I've been told it has pronounced prune and stewed leather characteristics, but I'm afraid here it is just overwhelmed by generic Cab Sav.
2007 Yekralam White
$10, 11% abv. 100% Forqit Blanc. With fun, trendy labeling, and a low price, this is marketed towards the casual, everyday wine drinker. Light and crisp with an overall grapefruit aroma and flavor, it's hard to believe that this isn't a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But it's really from the Eastern Spur of the peninsula.
After it warms up you're treated to some of the more herbal elements that define this wine as a separate product--I've never encountered tarragon and chives in a wine. Sounds odd but I found the scent alluring and fascinating. The herbal/citrus combination works well with some of the steamed shellfish dishes of the coast, with the catch brought in daily and cooked tableside in small pushcarts that resemble hot dog carts. Like all Otinebian wines this will be difficult to find in your stores but it is well worth the search. Highly recommended.
NV Weazeres Vramat, Sredna col Darza Weaz Otineb
$45, 12.5% abv. Proprietary blend of white and red grapes. Made in the Central Highlands region, this sparkling wine is the famous "Brown Diamond" of Otineb. The grapes are slightly charred over a fire before being crushed and processed, leading to a characteristic smoky, bitter flavor. This is accomplished through the use of traditional charcoal pits and a series of metal screens to hold in the grapes. (See also my review of lapsang souchong, a Chinese tea that is smoked over burning pine wood.)
I found it somewhat... unusual, and I think the color might be offputting for romantic situations. But I am still glad that I tried it, and even now the lingering aroma in the empty bottle reminds me of that girl I dated back around 2002 that constantly smoked unfiltered Pall Malls. Wine and memory, a magic combination.
Remember folks, wine is an adventure, and there's more out there than just California, Australia, France, Germany, and Italy. Don't forget the dozens of other countries that have been making wine for centuries, or that have just started recently. You never know, you might be in for a real treat.
In accordance with FTC regulations, these wines were received as samples from the PR firm of Tryarstuv & Paius.