Insider Tips of the Century

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pinela . . . Rebula . . . Hadn’t we tasted these Slovenian wine grapes in the alluring 2003 Batic Valentino ($65) dessert wine that had been selected and poured for us by sommeliers Annie Turso and Emilie Garvey, then of New York’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel? Bingo! The recollection managed to push our life lists of wine grape varieties sampled over the 100 mark — and qualified us as two of the more recent inductees of an elite-yet-not-at-all-elitist organization with just 258 members globally.

The Wine Century Club, as we mentioned in our column April 18, admits as members anyone who has tasted at least 100 different wine grape varieties. Since then, founders Steve and Deborah De Long report that the WCC online membership application (at has been downloaded 1,400 times, netting 47 new members. They include wine educators, bloggers, importers, sommeliers and restaurateurs, along with scores of avocational wine enthusiasts in North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia and Australia.

Want to join, too? We tapped some Washington area members via e-mail for their tips on expediting the process of sampling 100 grape varieties:

· Walt Rachele of Westminster, Md., advises joining a wine tasting group, such as the local chapter of the American Wine Society or the Washington-based Wine Tasting Association. He also suggests visiting local wineries and attending as many wine store tastings as possible. He’s a fan of Austrian Blaufrankisch, Swiss Chasselas and Spanish cava (which by law includes Macabeo, Parellada and/or Xarel-lo).

· Bob Gregg of Vienna, after attending tasting classes with his wife, Sonnet, at Whole Foods Market in Falls Church for a year, visited the Vintage Virginia wine festival armed with a game plan that allowed him to sample more than 30 varieties in a single day. (“More than enough to put me over the top — not to mention under the table,” he recalls.)

He is big on Italian Valpolicella (a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes) and Spanish cava. Gregg says he’s noticed more local stores getting savvy about what he terms “the odd-varietal trend” and able to steer customers toward the more obscure wines, such as the 2004 Faunus Cesanese del Piglio ($12), primarily Cesanese grapes, which he describes as “a great pizza-and-burger wine I could drink every day.”

· Mark and Diane Freeland of Baltimore also count themselves as active members of the American Wine Society and love to promote uncommon wine grape varieties because “it is the polar opposite of wine snobbery.” The most interesting among the wines they tasted to qualify for the WCC was Valiant Vineyards Wild Grape ($32 for the 2002), the South Dakota winery’s trademark signature wine, made from Vitis riparia grapes.

· Michael Mangahas of North Potomac recommends as a great summer wine the NV Gatao Vinho Verde ($8 at the Vineyard in McLean), a blend of Azal, Pederna, Trajadura and Avesso grapes. His wife, P.T. Mangahas, cites as one of her favorites the 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia Meritage ($75), a blend of Bordeaux varietals, which she purchased as a birthday gift for Michael.

· After the WCC in April identified Georgetown University professor Henry Richardson to us as the District’s sole member, we learned of a few members who live outside the city limits — such as wineseller Maj Capps, described on Calvert Woodley’s Web site as “the guy you ask about grape varietals no one else has heard of” — or who have moved to the area from elsewhere, such as Calvert Woodley’s William Holby. Although the WCC doesn’t track members’ ages, it’s a good bet that, at 23, Holby is one of the club’s youngest members. One of his favorite discoveries has been the dry, crisp 2004 Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli ($14) from Virginia, a white we’ve enjoyed with lighter salads and seafood.

· Richardson is still, as he puts it, “chipping away on my second century — up to 184” grape varieties tasted, 24 more than in April. His most recent favorite? A Callet from Mallorca, Spain. His passion for discovering new ones is unabated as he enthusiastically reports having just learned that reviews are searchable by all the obscure varietals that Parker and his collaborators have ever discussed.

We warn that the quest to experience new grapes can become addictive, even after you hit the 100-grape milestone. We loved tasting the 2005 Fortitude Frediani Field Blend Napa Valley ($24), a blend of Charbono, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Valdiguie grapes that is full of black cherry, plum and spice flavors, balanced by tannin. Ditto the 2005 Quinta do Crasto Douro ($21), a velvety Portuguese red with a hint of smoke. Both won us over recently for their food friendliness with red meat, not to mention their collective ability to add another grape or two to our life lists. And if Moschofilero isn’t a grape you’ve sampled yet, the 2006 Moschofilero Boutari ($17) is a delicious introduction.

Armed with this week’s insider advice — including checking out other indigenous Slovenian grape varieties such as Malocrn, Ranina and Zelen — you could easily close out the summer by hanging your parchment WCC membership certificate on your wall.

(This column first appeared in The Washington Post.)

Categorized: Wine