Iron Curtain Wines @ European Deli Market: For years, I’ve been driving by the European Deli Market where Modoc Road runs into Hollister Avenue in Noleta, and always wondered what obscure Old World treasures it held inside. When I heard they had an array of Eastern European wines, I was soon parking my bicycle outside to fill my backpack with the most promising bottles I could find.

Though some use familiar grapes, such as pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, I aimed for grapes I had never (or rarely) heard of, so as to capture the native flavors of countries that lived for decades behind the Iron Wall. But I also avoided off-dry and semi-sweet wines, trying to find the mostly dry styles I prefer.

The results, ranging in price from just $8 to $11, were quite impressive. I’d expected at least some dusty funkiness or some bland flavors, as might occur from regions without the latest technology that must ship wines across the world, only to sit on grocery store shelves for years. There was none of that.  

The bottle of Marani, from Georgia’s saperavi grape, showed cedar, black cherry fruit, and leather on the nose, very Old World. The Casa Panciu, from Romania’s băbească neagă, had softer fruits of strawberry and red plum, with touches of cola and caramel, more New World in style. And the Armenia wine (the brand appears to be the country’s name), made from 95 percent areni and five percent hakhtanak, was bright and refreshing, as well, if slightly less interesting than the others.

4422 Hollister Avenue; (805) 964-6600


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