Several months ago I had the opportunity to meet Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont Hotel when we were seated at the same table during the NY/Texas Gridiron challenge.  Hunter impressed me with his passion for wine, his knowledge of wine, and his commitment to giving lesser known grapes their due. A few months passed and my intrigue about putting together a tasting for “wines off the beaten path” did not wane, so last week I grabbed a group of wine loving friends and we ventured to the Fairmont.  It’s always exciting when you look over a list of wines and have to research the grapes, the vineyards and the geography just so you can have some baseline knowledge.  It’s what makes wine geeks tick and I was anticipating this tasting like a kid waiting for Christmas. 

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We started with the white wine line-up.  Our first pour was the 08 Txomin Etxaniz, Hondarribi Zuri, Getariako Txakolina.  It was bright in the glass with citrus and pear flavors.  There was almost a fizz to it making it a great patio wine on a hot Texas day.  This was one of my favorites of the tasting.  The second wine was the 09 Tollo, Pecorino, Terre di Chieti from Italy, which was described as one of the group as “the non-Chardonnay Chardonnay lover’s wine.”  It coated your mouth and had almost a honeysuckle taste to it with lots of nutmeg and pear flavors, but with minerality that made it really interesting versus being overwhelmed with oak.

The third wine was the 07 Ottella di Lodovico Montresor, Trebbiano di Lugana, which had some chalkiness due to its terrior with citrus, lemon and floral notes.  I could see this wine pairing well with fish, but it wasn’t something that I would drink on its own if I were looking for a crisp glass of white on a hot summer day. I did, however, enjoy the drama associated with this wine.  Apparently the experts and wine books cannot agree on what grape this truly is as recent studies have debated if it is actually Verdicchio Bianco vs. Trebbianco.

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We then moved into the line-up of reds.  Our first wine was also from the same region as the aperitif that began the tasting.  The 08 Gorrondona, Hondarribi Beltz, Aldape Vineyard, Bizkaiko Txakolina was earthy with almost a silt taste. It was a tart fizzy wine.  You could taste the red fruits and it paired well with the goat cheese on the lovely cheese tray provided by Chef Andre Natera.   I am a big fan of Heitz reds, so I was eagerly anticipating trying the 07 Heitz, Grignolino, Napa Valley.  What a change from the big, bold flavors that I was used to in Heitz wines.  This was much more subtle with orange notes, rose petals and berries. 

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The final wine was a Texas wine.  The 09 Sandstone, VII, Touriga Nacional, Mason County, Texas, was my least favorite. Granted, it was better than many of the Texas wines that I have tasted, but Hunter mentioned that he decanted this wine three hours before we got there.  It was still tannic and needed more time.  I tasted port, berries and jam and an almost tarlike essence.  I want to support these wines based on my geography and advocate the “Go Local” movement through my position on the steering committee of Chefs for Farmers, but our Texas wine producers must raise the bar to make wines that invite an even competition.  This week I’m going to a Texas Hill Country Wineries Road Show tasting and I hope to find a few “diamonds in the rough” when these wines are previewed for the press.

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When we were wrapping up, Hunter told me about an Albarino that he just secured that is produced from vines that are over 200 years old. It’s on my “must try” list and I know that I’m going to be back to continue my “off the beaten path” education.  It’s much more fun doing it this way than reading a wine book to research a region.

Photos courtesy of James Freeman