This pandemic may be the death of me. Not because of any worries of infection, as I have been safely ensconced at home since March, without venturing out to drinking establishments, beer festivals, wine tastings, dinner parties, or any of the other places where social boozers would congregate.
No, gentle reader, the ever-growing pile of empty wine bottles in the recycling bin has become a teetering monument to solo at-home drinking, and threatens to topple over and bury me in an avalanche of my own debaucherous excess.
Last week was the 7th annual National Red Wine Day, first celebrated in 2014 after being proclaimed by an influential wine journalist, and has grown in popularity each year. In years past, I would mark the occasion by visiting a wine bar with my regular drinking companions for a night of a sampling wines by the glass, accompanied by delightful little tapas plates.
However, in these dreary pandemic times, this year’s National Red Wine Day was a solo affair, save for a few of the regular crowd on the Zoom chat that were celebrating from the isolation of their own homes. I like to take the opportunity to broaden my wine horizons on this auspicious day, by choosing a few of the less-popular grapes that do not have the market dominance of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, and the like.
Armed with several bottles from my friendly neighbourhood wine shop, I set myself to the task at hand of enjoying a few of the lesser known red wines, starting with a short pour from a bottle of Tannat, courtesy of Moon Curser Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, an adventurous BC winery that grows several varietals that are uncommon in North America.
For those not familiar with the varietal, Tannat is a red grape with origins in southwestern France, first planted on the slopes of the Pyrenees mountain range that separate France and Spain. The Tannat grape was brought to Uruguay by Basque settlers in the 19th century, and found a seemingly perfect terroir, becoming the most-planted vine in Uruguay.
As you might have guessed from the name, Tannat is a very tannic wine, so it is usually blended with Cab Sauv or Cab Franc to soften up the tannins. While France and Uruguay still account for the largest plantings, the Tannat grape also thrives in Australia and South Africa, and is starting to grow in popularity in cooler climes like Oregon and the Okanagan Valley of BC.
The glass of Tannat I enjoyed from Moon Curser Vineyards in BC was bursting with raspberry, blackberry, and fig flavours on the palate, followed by a vanilla finish from the long time spent aging in oak. The mouthfeel was full-bodied and luxuriant, leaving me with a subtle smile, knowing that I would be enjoying the entire bottle solo over the next few days.
In the spirit of National Red Wine Day, I uncorked a few more bottles and dutifully poured single servings into my tasting glasses, with my favourite being a Dolcetto from the Stag’s Hollow Vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, a winery I have visited many times over the years on weekend getaways to BC.
The Dolcetto grape hails from the famed Piedmont wine region of Italy, which I toured by train back in the pre-pandemic era, stopping in small towns for winery tours on a decadent summer vacation that now seems like a lifetime ago. Unlike the Tannat grape I started off this adventure with, Dolcetto wines are typically consumed within 3 years of release, as their bright fruit-forward notes will slowly fade if aged for too long in the bottle.
Dolcetto is very much an easy drinking and friendly wine, pouring into my glass with a vibrant purple hue with juicy note of plum and blueberry on the nose, followed by violet and dark chocolate on the tongue. This style of wine typically only sits in oak for 6 months or so before bottling, and is typically released from the cellar after less than a year in the bottle.
Red Wine Day may have passed us by for another year, but nothing is stopping you from making every day a red wine day. Ask your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant for help picking out a few uncommon varietals and broaden your wine horizons!