Wine Weirdos!

Now when I say wine weirdos I’m not talking about those strange people that are often seen on cooking programs, breathlessly squawking about a bouquet of chrysanthemums spiraling out of the glass or behaving like some kind of cartoon character to talk about wine, no, I’m talking about weird & wonderful grape varieties!

There are around 1,368 known grape varieties in existence all have which have been documented in a fantastic new book by the three J’s – Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW & José Vouillamoz. This brick like tome is well worth the rather hefty price tag and is the perfect gift for any wine geek, not exactly a page turner though, its a great reference and will offer some great insights into your favourite grapes family tree.

Obviously it would be an epic task to run through the lot and many of the major grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are so well known that they have become brands in their own right, even being used as names (classy).

ImageThe below tasting was held by West London Wine School’s enigmatic & engaging head tutor Jimmy Smith, introducing the wines he likened them to our very own Boris Johnson, a bit wacky and really appealing to the British sense of fun and eccentricity. While we might not take these grapes as seriously as some of the ‘noble’ varieties, they have a character all their own and people really seemed to be interested & excited to try these wines (the tasting was sold out!). I did find this hugely encouraging considering how often we all tend to go for that safe bet Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc when faced with a wall of wine, maybe us brits are rather more adventurous than we are given credit for (at least when it comes to our booze!).

Below are details and tasting notes on the wines that we tried, nearly all are available from one of my favorite merchants – The Wine Society (if you’re not a member, get signed up, they are one of the best). More and more interesting wines are generally available though, most independent merchants will have a great selection and on the high street Marks & Spencer seem to be leading the way.

Happy hunting!

Adega de Monção, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 2011 (Voted Best Value Wine of the Tasting)

Alvarinho, Trajadura  – £5.95 (Wine Society)Image

This co-operative is based in the far north of Portugal near the Spanish border in a region which is dominated by the Alvarinho variety. This is a model operation, with good modern infrastructure and good management, and takes the vast majority of fruit grown in the area.
The 2011 vintage has been chosen as one of the 2012 Fifty Great Portuguese Wines, chosen this year by Julia Harding MW. This is no mean feat in a tasting which is often dominated by expensive icon wines.

The wine “Adega de Monção” is a blend of Alvarinho with Trajadura. There is a small amount of CO2 in the wine, and it has a ripe, aromatic nose but it is bone dry on the palate. The wines from this northerly sub-region are generally considered to be a little more ripe and complex than the classic Vinho Verde style. The wine is relative low in alcohol (only 11%).

There is a slight sprits to this wine, on the nose this is light fresh, touch of apple, lime and a light mineral note giving it some weight. More of the same in the mouth, clean with some lovely refreshing acidity making it slightly prickly but very refreshing. 88pts

Jurançon Sec, Chant des Vignes, Domaine Cauhapé, France, 2011 

Gros Manseng – £8.75 (Wine Society)Domaine Cauhape

Domaine Cauhapé is one of the most important producers in the Jurançon—an ancient wine region at the foot of the majestic Pyrenees in south-western France. The wines made here are widely acclaimed and considered as the benchmark for the rest of the appellation—and winemaker Henri Ramonteau does not hesitate to tell visitors that his late-harvest wines once bested a bottle of DRC Montrachet at a blind tasting. The parallel here is not so much an equality of flavor – the native grapes of the Jurançon are in a league of their own — but an equality of rank and nobility.
Legend has it that the future king Henri IV was welcomed into the world with a drop of sweet Jurançon wine on his lips.

Two categories—dry and sweet. Most dry wines, like our “Chant de Vignes” selection, are made from the local grape Gros Manseng. It’s an incredibly versatile white wine—aromatic and almost viscous on the tongue, yet super-mineral and dry. In each sip, flavors tease between mineral and caramel; between saline and sapid; between floral and sautéed.

Green and rather creamy on the nose with a saline note but also some rather taught green apple and under ripe peach. In the mouth there are some bitter green apple skin and a slight nuttiness that lingers on the finish. 89pts

Golden Valley, Croatia, 2011
Graševina – £8.99 (M&S)Marks & Spencer Grasevena

Graševina may be better known as Welschriesling but it really does work well in Croatia where it is the most widely planted white grape variety. This example made for Marks & Spencer by award winning wine maker Vlado Krauthaker in the Požega (Golden) Vally, part of the Kutjevo wine region is a great expression of the variety.

Light on the attack this gains in intensity and has some very lovely rich peach, apricot fruit, slightly herbal with a mineral laced length. 88pts

Auxerrois, Château de Schengen, Luxembourg, 2010
Auxerrois – £11.50 (Wine Society)Château de Schengen Auxerrois

Located in the picturesque village of Schengen, the Domaine “Thill “was formerly a family-owned estate created more than 80 years ago. It is now managed by the “Caves Bernard Massard” but has kept the authentic character of the terroirs around Schengen.

In a region that is much appreciated for the charm and authentic character of its gently undulating hills, the Luxembourg vineyards belong to one of the most northerly and oldest wine growing regions of Europe.
Situated on the slopes running down to the Moselle river which acts as a natural border between Luxembourg and Germany, the vineyards lie in a gentle micro-climate influenced by the river and an ideal south-westerly orientation.

The 1235 hectares (3052 acres) of vines are divided into two areas: the canton of Remich with deep and rich soils and that of Grevenmacher, on slowly eroding clay soils. The former produces generous and fleshy wines; the latter is distinguished by the mineral character and finesse of its wines.

The estate covers 12 ha (over 29.50 acres) of vines, well located in and around Schengen and divided into some 25 different plots.

Auxerrois : 7 %
Pinot Blanc : 15 %
Riesling : 43 %
Pinot Gris : 24 %
Gewürztraminer : 3 %
Others : 8 %

Delicate and flighty on the nose with good minerality, touch of lime fruit, slightly floral – understated and classy.
Light and refreshing in the mouth with a touch of C02, delicacy runs through this making it refreshing but rather light. If it was a boxer it would be a super light bantam weight, rather like it though.

Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine Sylvain Pataille, France, 2011
Aligote – £11.50 (Wine Society)Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine Sylvain Pataille

The BIVB slams Aligoté—splash it with cassis, it advises!

Sylvain Pataille is a fully qualified oenologist- the man to whom growers turn for technical advice in the cellar- consulting for about 15 domaines. Only just in his thirties, he has managed to create from scratch a domaine of almost 13 hectares (nearly all rented) based on the undervalued soils of the village of Marsannay. Because Marsannay has been something of a Cinderella appellation it has become a hot spot for young growers with ambition who can take advantage of the lower land prices. Prices may be low but there is serious terroir in this ignored village, sandwiched between the great vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin and the southern reaches of Dijon.
Indeed in ‘la belle époque’, the wines of Marsannay were very highly prized in Dijon and Paris, with vineyards such as Sylvain’s ‘Clos du Roy’ much sought after and a real hidden gem, I tried this recently and it was fantastic (and only about £25 a bottle, so cheap for this sort of quality in Burgundy).


The most emotional delivery came from Sylvain Pataille in Marsannay, who is among the few in the Côte d’Or who still grow Aligoté on the hills, co-planted, as it used to be. He LOVES IT.

The nose has has delicacy, needs to be rather teased out of the wine with plenty of swirling then offering light mineral touches and slight almond nuttiness. Much better on the palate where there is balance, gentle acidity, more mineral than fruity this seems to speak of the soil, rather like a decent village level Chablis, should work well with a plethora of dishes. 89pts

Arbois Savagnin, Stéphane Tissot, France, 2008
Savignin – 11.50 (Wine Society)Arbois Savagnin, Stéphane Tissot

This Jura domaine was founded in the early 1960s and is now run by Bénédicte et Stéphane Tissot. It’s biodynamic, certified by Demeter. The domaine now consists of 32 hectares of vines in the Arbois and Côtes de Jura appellations, with parcels in some of the best sites. Perhaps because of the implementation of biodynamie, work here is labour intensive: there are 15 full time employees. Use of sulfur dioxide is minimized.

Nose jumps out and is packed with walnut, white raisins, dried apricot, very sherry in style, smoke, ginger spice, saline – exceptional!
In the mouth there are all the notes that you get on the nose with some really lively acidity that bounces off the nutty, dried fruit, alcohol is in good balance, love it.

 Plantaze Vranac, Montenegro Dry Red, Montenegro, 2009 

Vranac – £6.95 (Wine Society)Plantaze Vranac

Grown on vineyards of shallow skeletal soil around Lake Skardar (almost directly opposite Brindisi on the heel of Italy’s boot across the Adriatic) at 40-70m above sea level, vine age is between 15-30 years and this wine is a great match for cold meats & cheese (wouldn’t advise going on their website though (ouch!)

Packed with smoky black berry fruit, spiced plums, rather opulent.
Rather big palate but very soft black plum & current fruit, lip smacking acidity and well cloaked tannins, dry finish, simple but satisfying.

Torreguaceto ‘Sum,’ Puglia, Italy, 2009 (Voted Best Overall Wine of the Tasting)
Susumaniello – £9.50 (Wine Society)Torreguaceto ‘Sum

Gregory Perrucci, General Manager of Accademia Dei Racemi in Manduria, Italy in the Puglia region.

This grape variety is one of the most ancient grape varieties, dating back to the Roman Times. It was thought to be facing extinction until it was rediscovered in 1998 by this great historian of Puglian vines Gregory Perrucci.

Label designed by his girlfriend Marianna Greco (A Talented Graphic Artist who designs Racemi’s Labels).

Torre Guaceto is a nature reserve and protected area, so while the rest of the surrounding coastline is now home to countless bars, restaurants and hotels, this patch of sand and sea has remained blissfully free from development. This is where Gregory rediscovered “SUM”.

An outstanding nose full of damson, violets, sweet black fruit, rich, deep and very enticing.
Exceptional palate, great density of black fruit but with plenty of acidity to back it up, there are some very lovely black fruits here that have great depth, this wine hugely over delivers at under £10.

Ladairo Barrica, Monterrei, Spain, 2009

75% Mencia, 15% Arauxa & 10% Bastardo – £18.95 (Taste of Galicia)Ladairo Barrica, Monterrei

Monterrei is a little known and relatively new Spanish region that was granted its D.O in 1994 (after losing a provisional D.O in the early 80’s), much of the soil is deep red clay and it is better known for its white wines made from Treixadura & Godello. It is located to the south of the other main Galician wine regions of Rias-Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra & Valdeorras and borders Portugal.

The grape variety Mencia has been slowly gaining a place in my heart over the past few years, mainly due to the fact that when handled well it can offer a fantastic balancing act of power and freshness that you don’t often find in other grape varieties. Also note that Bastardo (brilliant name) is part of the mix, this is another name for the Troussaeu grape variety that hails from Jura in France but also often used in the blend to make Port and the rare Bastardo Madiera.

Real class on the nose here, fruit is dried, prune, fig, very rich, sweet liquorice, coffee, cassis, graphite, blueberry.
On the palate this is rather tight and could do with some extra time in the cellar, there is excellent fruit on the palate but it seems to be rather obscured by the oak which overshadows the palate and really drys this out on the length.

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