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Bitter and Black in Mendocino

Spain, France and Italy are full of varieties you’ve never heard of, but that make great wines at great prices. That’s Europe’s secret. Tradition and wine laws, which are so often criticized for impeding progress, are also the secret ingredient that makes Europe beat the crap out of the New World when it comes to wines that sell for under $20 by preserving a diversity of varieites.

Despite our corporate driven wine culture, that wants to force every producer into the chardonnay-sauvignon blanc-pinot noir-cabernet-merlot club, there is a growing cacophony of other voices. Stalwarts continue to slug it out with varieties like zinfandel, syrah and others, whose slow sales (unexplainable quality-wise) can only be based on consumer ignorance fueled by the monotone marketing by the mega-wine factories.

Despite the wine white noise pumped out by the mass wine marketing machine there are a few small producers that can make their voices heard. I can’t think of a better example than Mendocino’s Chiarito Vineyard, where winegrower John Chiarito (pictured on the right) has chosen the road less taken, in the USA anyway, and is making wines from some of southern Italy’s best varieties. Chiarito is making some excellent wines out of varieties most Americans have never heard of, much less tasted. The Chiarito Negroamaro ( the bitter black in the title) is explosively fruity, yet with a compelling earthy touch that makes it very interesting to drink. Their Nero d’Avola ratchets all of the above up a notch combined with a bright, racy freshness.

The Chiarito wines are not cheap, which is understandable as the pioneers take all the arrows, but perhaps their wines, along with other producers, will lead our industry down the road of making exciting wines at moderate prices from varieties more suited to their vineyards than the narrow choices pursued by corporate wineries and their marketing departments.

The Chiarito wines may not be bargains, but just maybe they’ll lead the way there.