Cabernet and Chardonnay. Chardonnay and Cabernet. Maybe something really exotic like Syrah. Many, perhaps most, wine drinkers seldom leave the security of familiar varieties. They know what they like and like what they know. Why risk anything new?
Well, because there are worlds of flavor out there that you miss if you don’t experiment. There are 10,000 varieties of grapes from which people make make wine, not to mention clones and a vast diversity of winemaking styles. They are not all good or distinctive but many of the lesser known varieties are worth drinking and some are extraordinary.
One relatively unfamiliar wine worth seeking out is Dornfelder, a German grape created in the early 20th century from two inferior grape varieties, a good example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. It is an early ripener, well-suited to the cold weather of Germany.
The nose on the Siegrist Dornfelder hits you with clove and cranberry with dark fruit undertones and floral hints. The palate initially shows tart, black cherry that evolves into cranberry and spice. With a just-shy-of-medium body and a tart, spicy finish that lingers briefly driven more by ample acidity than the soft, barely discernible tannins, this wine is somewhat lean and angular in structure, but with a texture that remains delicate nevertheless. The oak influence is very subtle. It will satisfy more with food than as a sipper. But for fans of old-world winemaking this will satisfy your craving.
Not as hearty or earthy as other examples of this varietal and lacking tannic structure, it will not stand up to a rich beef dish. But while sipping this wine, I starting fantasizing about German sausage with clove in the spice mix or a veal schnitzel. A pork roast or poultry with a savory (not sweet) sauce would also be ideal.
Siegrist is a member of the VDP, the German association committed to quality wine. Their Dornfelder is not extraordinary but it represents clean, crisp, cold weather winemaking from an established, quality producer.
Good: Interesting, clove-saturated nose
Bad: Lean structure that will not appeal to fans of big reds
Distinctive: An intriguing varietal, seldom seen in the U.S.