Melanie Hoffman

I especially enjoy opening the wine list at a restaurant and seeing wines beyond the basic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

It’s nice that less common varietals like Mouvedre, Petite Sirah and Trousseau Gris are showing up more and more on these lists. Granted I do live in the heart of wine country, but I believe chefs and wine buyers are opening their eyes to wine oddities.

This week’s focus is on the uncommon gems that I have found along the way.

Oak Knoll Winery, 2006 Pinot Gris, $14.00 ~ Aromas of lemon, mint and cantaloupe. Fresh apples develop in the next sniff with added notes of custard. Clean palate features more lemon and fig flavors. Mid-palate shows pear and vanilla, with a hint of rosemary. Juicy Mandarin orange finish.

A delicious picnic wine: creamy cheeses, firm smoky cheeses, fresh sourdough baguette, sweet hot mustard, cured meats, toasted nuts and olives.

Markham Vineyards, 2006 Rosé of Pinot Noir, $15.00 ~ Floral fruity nose of pomegranate, strawberry jam and fresh raspberries. Palate follows nose with more juicy raspberries and a subtle essence of honey. This dry rosé is balanced; nice fruit and acid. Long lingering blood orange finish.

A perfect first course wine: Mixed baby lettuces with Chevril goat cheese, pomegranate seeds and toasted pumpkin seeds in a balsamic vingarette.

Venge Vineyards, 2003 Late Harvest Zinfandel, $32.00 ~ Upfront smoke and molasses in the nose. Added black currants, dark chocolate and vanilla aromas. Dominant blueberry jam in the end of the bouquet. Palate follows nose with more smooth blueberry flavors. Not overly sweet, but just enough. Blackberry and espresso bean finish.

Pair this wine with sweet and tangy grilled baby back ribs and a side of cole slaw with pineapple bits, always one of my favorites.