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Ask a Somm: Which Wines Have the Most Umami?

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine.


At San Francisco hit Rich Table, wine director Dominique Henderson curates a list of small-production, under-the-radar wines from both near and far—near being California, far being Europe, with a few outliers sprinkled in. She's also especially keen on less-manipulated and organic selects primed to pair with chefs Evan and Sarah Rich's California fare. Below, Henderson considers umami flavors in wine.

Q: "I've noticed that sometimes wines, especially oxidized wines, taste nutty, almost like umami. Can you recommend some wines that bring the umami?"

Henderson: In my line of work, I’m lucky to taste through so many different wines, but there are only so many bright, vibrant flavors you can try, so more savory, oxidative wines are a nice change. These wines don't just contain fruit or earth flavors, but some very interesting qualities in-between. These are the kinds of wines I tend to seek out on my nights off because they’re unlike anything else. If you're looking for wines that tastes of umami, here's what I would suggest:

2013 Cantina Giardino 'T'ara rà,'' Campania Greco, Italy ($36): All of Cantina Giardino’s whites are made in this style. The Greco is my favorite, as it has those oxidative qualities. But those flavors are offset with ripe stone fruit, and a full, luscious mouthfeel that matches with summer fare, like melon and grilled veggies. Everything is done by hand using organic viticulture without filtration. This is a beautifully aromatic wine, and a great entry into the world of natural white whites.

2015 Dirty & Rowdy 'Familiar', Blanc, California ($30): A blend of seven or so white grapesmainly chenin blanc, pinot blanc and chardonnaythis is the only white you will see from Dirty & Rowdy until 2017. It is produced through native fermentation with zero winemaking additions. The wine is 12 percent skin-fermented, 82 percent whole cluster, direct to press, bottled unfiltered and unfined, with minimal effective sulfites. This wine is bright, fresh, and tart, with great underlying dusty tones and salted Meyer lemon. It’s great for pairing with rich dishes like eggs and cream sauces, or oysters and seafood. It’s also a great wine for someone who is just starting to get into this type of wine.

2010 Salinia Wine Company, 'St Marigold' Chardonnay, Sonoma, California ($60/500ml): This is by far one of the most interesting California wines I've tasting in a very long time. This wine is reminiscent of sherry, and carries a salty, rich nuttiness and an intense, long-lasting finish. There is a sweetness to this wine like overripe fruit, but the sweetness balances nicely with the wine's oxidative quality. For this bottle, the grapes come from the Charles Heintz Vineyard on Sonoma Coast, and are kept in barrel and spend about five and a half years in the corner of the winemaker’s cellar without being touched or topped off.  The wine is then bottled in a small format bottle, as it is meant to be drunk in small quantities. Think of this as an after dinner wine with cheese, or apertivo with salted nuts or chips. This is a special wine that has been made in only two vintages (2007/2010).

2014 Collecapretta 'Il Mosso di Casa Mattioli', Umbria, Italy ($34): This wine is for the umami-loving bubbles fan. This malvasia bianca is made in méthode ancestrale, where wine is bottled before primary fermentation has finished, without adding any sugar or secondary yeasts, and is bottled unfiltered. These wines tend to be a bit more rustic than, say, a Prosecco, but offer aromas like salted peanut, jasmine, and keffir lime, and have small, tiny bubbles. I love this style of wine as an appertif or even at the end of the meal as a palate cleaner. It can also pair wonderfully with spicy food.

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Rich Table

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