Wine from A to Z

Here’s a little test for you: take the alphabet and try and find a wine grape beginning with each letter.  So, A for Albariño, B for Barbera and so on.

How did you do?  I managed 24 out of 26.  And the 2 gaps?  No! Not ‘X’!  Amazingly, there are 3 varieties beginning with that letter – Xinomavro, the high quality Greek red grape I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, Xarel-lo from Spain, part of the blend used for many Cavas and Xynisteri, a white variety widely grown in Cyprus.

The other letter that often proves so difficult in A – Z lists is Z.  But, of course, Z is easy with wine grapes: Zinfandel.  Although not if you listen to leading wine writer Jancis Robinson MW.  She prefers its original, Croatian, name, Tribidrag, and it’s also known as Primitivo in Italy.  But, even excluding Zinfandel, the ‘Oxford Companion to Wine’ lists 11 other wine grapes that start with Z.  I opened a bottle of one of them recently and we really enjoyed it.

ZweigeltSepp Moser’s Organic Zweigelt (Grape and Grind, Bristol, £11.99) is a quite light-bodied red – the same weight in the mouth as a good Beaujolais – and, in many ways could be opened as an alternative to that wine.  Indeed, the label suggests serving it slightly chilled and as an accompaniment to, among other things, grilled fish dishes.  I agree that, with its low tannin, it would work very well with fish – perhaps a robust fish stew, too.

The wine shows attractive, slightly bitter cherry fruit and a pleasant peppery edge – altogether very drinkable – our bottle disappeared well before the end of our dinner.

And the 2 letters I missed?  ‘Q’ and ‘Y’.  So, if you know a wine grape beginning with either letter, do let me know so that I can complete the set.



Austria’s Revival

Wine lovers with long memories may be wary of Austrian wine.  The so-called ‘anti-freeze’ scandal of the 1980s has cast a long shadow.  For those readers who are puzzled by my opening comments, the problem was that a few of that country’s producers illegally added diethylene glycol (not anti-freeze, but with a chemically similar sounding name) to their wines to increase their sweetness.  The addition apparently caused no harm to anyone drinking the wines but it shouldn’t have happened and it proved far from harmless to the Austrian wine industry, which was devastated with sales collapsing both at home and abroad.

It has taken decades to rebuild but now, 30 years later and backed by some of the strictest wine laws in the world, Austria is re-emerging as a producer of high quality wines at generally affordable prices.  The local speciality is Grüner Veltliner, a grape that is becoming quite fashionable (with good reason) and there are some delicious Rieslings available, too, both dry, in the style of Alsace, and wonderfully sweet.  But a combination of changes in consumers’ taste and a bit of global warming has meant that Austrian reds, at one time, a tiny part of their output, have become much more important.  And that’s a good thing if a bottle I opened recently is a typical example:

ZweigeltHans Igler’s Zweigelt Classic (Wine Society, £9.50) is quite light-bodied but full of flavour – blackberries, black pepper and a subtle hint of wood.  The Zweigelt grape (another local speciality) gives it good, refreshing acidity and attractive soft tannins.  Good for drinking now (decant an hour or so in advance) or keep another couple of years.

As someone who remembers the Austrian wines of the 1980s and the scandal that followed, it’s been good to see their re-emergence onto the international scene over the past few years.  Austria today produces a range of reliable, good quality and good values wines – still mainly white but now their reds are clearly worth looking at, too.