In the last edition of Tahoe Weekly, I began an exploration of the concept of second fiddles, which are unique and tasty alternatives to certain country’s signature wines. They are made from different grapes than their better-known counterparts or from the same, but in drastically different styles and are often even more unique and yummy than the signatures at greater bargains.
I featured examples from so-called New World countries such as New Zealand and Argentina, and this week features older regions.
Let’s start in a country rarely explored by American wine lovers. Hungary is most well-known for intense desert wines called Tokaji (pronounced toe-kie), which are created by a long and labor/resource-intensive winemaking process from primarily the Furmint grape. Tokaji’s second fiddle is also made from Furmint grapes but in a bone-dry style. These wines are just coming to popularity in the U.S. and are therefore mainly available at large wine stores, but are so worth the search. At once rich and refreshing with brisk acidity, stone fruits and spice-box accents, they complement pork and chicken dishes, as well as a myriad of appetizers.
For decades South Africa has tried to convince the rest of the world that Pinotage consistently produces palatable wine. The occasional success notwithstanding, the world has disagreed vehemently. South Africa’s second fiddle of Cabernet Sauvignon, however, sits 180 degrees from Pinotage in that with little promotional push it wows oenophiles everywhere. These Cabs are classics with Cassis, dark berries, fine tannins and an earthy soul. It is another wine a little hard to find but full of rewards.
Germany will forever be connected to Riesling and rightly so. Especially in the Mosel and neighboring regions, Riesling rocks and rules. A little southwest, however, lies the Pfalz region, which features other classic whites such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Muscat and some lovely Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder as it is known in Germany. The best of these are quite dry, fleshy and downright delicious. Look for the Villa Wolf label because its creator Dr. Loosen is a magician with these grapes and the values are downright amazing.
When it comes to Italy, we will be a little broader in relation to the wing-men wines that complement the myriad Sangioveses. An easy guide is to look for the specialty reds from lesser-known regions, especially the underrated and value-priced wines. These include, but are certainly not limited to: Aglianico from Campania, Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese from Sicily, Negramaro from Apulia and Montepulciano from Abbruzzo.
Remember, as with all things wine, when exploring second fiddles, let fun be your muse and joy be your guidepost. Cheers.