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Stone's Throw Winery's rare varietal will make you grin

After being introduced to grignolino, a grape variety particular to the Monferrato zone of Italy's northeastern Piedmont region, I couldn't get enough. Was it the unusual rust color of this young wine? Perhaps the tantalizing spiciness on the tongue or the satisfyingly lingering taste.

Maybe I was wowed by the rarity of this wine that was also enjoyed a century ago by the region's rich and poor folks alike before the wine fell into disfavor as acres of grignolino were replaced with barbera, that other staple of the region, which grew in popularity, especially once vintners began aging it oak (and robbing it of its most distinctive qualities). The fact that it is much more finicky and difficult to grow than barbera hasn't helped, either. Soon, grignolino was oft-derided as an old-fashioned, peasant wine.

But at country fairs and local enotecas and coops in the Monferrato, you can buy grignolino everywhere. On a recent trip I picked up organic grignolinos, single-vineyard ones and other examples. I drank it at every opportunity; even in Rome, where it's about as typical as Sprecher Amber.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that American winemakers were trying their hands at grignolino. Imagine further my surprise at learning that Wisconsin's own Stone's Throw Winery, in Door County, also makes a grignolino.

"Yes, our grignolino grapes come from a small (1.5 acre) vineyard in California's Santa Clara county. The vines are 50 to 60 years old," says Stones Throw's Russell Turco. "We finish the wine in French and American oak barrels and have a very limited amount output."

There are less than 100 acres of grignolino planted in California these days.

Although he, like your author, has some of that rust-colored Piemontese blood coursing through his veins, Turco knows that its provenance isn't enough to sell grignolino to the world at large, especially a world caught in a "merlot or cabernet?" rut.

"Grignolino works well with duck, pheasant and loves a pork chop from the grill. We call it ''Grin,' for when you drink enough of it that's precisely what you do!"

For more on grignolino and Stones Throw Winery -- which also makes a barbera, sangiovese and other wines -- call (877) 706-3577 or visit www.stonesthrowwinery.com. You can find Stone's Throw wines at V. Richard's, Discount Liquor, Otto's, Sendik's, Grasch's, Outpost, Grapes and Grain and other local shops. The grignolino isn't everywhere here, so you may have to ask for it. And if you're in Door County, stop in for some.

If you want to visit the winery, it is located dead center in Door County, at the intersection of county roads A and E, 4.5 miles east of Route 42.

Can American ruche (pronounced roo-KAY) and freisa (FRAY-zee-ah) be far behind? Let's hope not.

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