Category Archives: Wine Grapes

Crete – for the Adventurous

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If, like me, you’re always looking to be adventurous (with regard to wine, of course!), searching out different tastes and, especially, for unusual grape varieties, a good place to start is surely Greece.   Look back at the blogs I wrote after my wife and I visited the country last October and you’ll read about the delightful reds we tasted made from Xinomavro and the almost unpronounceable Agioritiko.  And then there were the stunning, crisp Assyrtiko whites, the best of which come from the spectacular volcanic island of Santorini.  But, it’s another of the Greek islands, Crete, that has, perhaps, an even wider range of native local grapes. 

We went there – although that was a few years back – and found that almost every restaurant offered bottles made from Vilana, Vidiano, Mandilari, Liatiko or Kotsifali – the first 2 local white varieties, the others red.  All provided pleasant drinking, especially when teamed with the local food, although I might have been favourably influenced by the local scenery and ambiance, too!  But I did note down a couple of names that I thought stood out from the rest and were worth seeking out back in the UK, although it has taken me until recently to follow up on my good intention.

Vidiano

I found Douloufakis’ Dafnios Vidiano in Maltby & Greek (£14.50), although, for my American readers, the label shows that it is also imported by Diamond Importers of Chicago.  A lovely rich and food-friendly unoaked white with delicate orange and apricot nose and palate – a little like a good Viognier.

And we still have a bottle of the same producer’s Liatiko red (also Maltby & Greek, £16) on our wine rack.  I wonder if that will show as well on a cool, wet winter day in the UK as it did on a lovely warm evening in Crete?  Glancing out of my window, we may not have long to wait before finding out.  Watch this space and I’ll let you know.

 

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What Kind of Chardonnay?

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ChardonnayAsk many wine lovers to name their favourite white wine grape and they will reply unhesitatingly ‘Chardonnay’.  Yet, you’ll also find plenty who take precisely the opposite view; so much so that I have been persuaded to run an ‘Anything but Chardonnay’ course at Stoke Lodge Centre next spring.  So, why the extreme difference of views?

The answer is simple: Chardonnay is so versatile in where it grows and so amenable to different treatments in the winery that you can fairly say that no two examples are the same. 

Taste Chardonnay from a cool climate, like Chablis for example, and you get crisp, citrus or green apple flavours.  A little warmer, perhaps around Pouilly Fuissé, and that turns into ripe pear or peach.  Further south in France or in parts of Australia and California that are warmer still will give quite tropical flavours – pineapple or melon. 

And all that variety before the winemaker gets to work.  Chardonnay is quite a favourite with winemakers as they often see it as a blank canvas, ready to be manipulated into just the sort of wine that they, or their customers, want.  For example, they can put it through malolactic fermentation (a process that softens the harsher acids and creates a creamy, buttery texture) or they can leave the wine on the lees for a while to add richness or, then again, they can use oak barrels – new or older – to add woody, spicy flavours.  And, of course, they can put it through a 2nd fermentation and make Champagne or sparkling wine.

Or, they can do none of these; ferment and mature in stainless steel tanks and simply let the delicious, ripe fruit shine through. 

Vire ClessePierre Ponnelle’s Viré Clessé from southern Burgundy (Majestic, £13.99) is a perfect example of this ‘less is more’ approach.  Delightfully fresh and clean with attractive citrus and peach flavours; no oak, just very pure fruit and excellent length. 

I’d recommend it to Chardonnay lovers and haters alike – but, as you’ve seen, it’s just one of many possible styles of wine from this most versatile of all grapes.  If this one isn’t to your taste, don’t give up on the variety, just keep looking.

Why No Grape Names?

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“Why don’t the French put grape names on their wine labels?  It’s so confusing.”  A familiar comment – and one I heard again at a tasting I ran recently. 

I can fully understand the view; grape names (or the 20 or so most popular ones, at least) are recognised by most customers buying wine and they know what to expect when they pick up a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay or a Pinot Grigio.  But, when they’re faced with a wine labelled ‘Chiroubles’ or ‘Cairanne’, things aren’t so straightforward.  Sadly, there’s no easy solution.2013-11-18 10.29.53

These – and many other French (and Italian and Spanish) wines – are labelled after the place they come from, not the grape (or grapes) they’re made from.  There’s a good reason for this: in most of the traditional winemaking areas of Europe, there’s a very strong attachment to the land (as anyone who has ever been stuck in a traffic jam behind a French farmers’ protest will confirm!)  So, it’s not just the grape variety that is important, it’s the soil, the climate, the slope of the land, the traditions of the area – all contribute to the taste in the bottle.  The French call this ‘terroir’.  And, given that, why would they single out just the grape name to put on the label when it’s the place and all it offers that makes the wine what it is?

Compare that to much of the New World, where things are very different: particularly in Australia, it’s quite normal to blend grapes grown in different areas, even different States.  So, without the same link to a place, why not use the grape name to sell your wine?  The fact that it’s easier for customers is simply a bonus – one that’s been the foundation of the great New World wine success story over the last 30 years or so.

It may seem strange, but I can’t see the French changing anytime soon.  Terroir is vital to them and so it will remain.  For the rest of us, it’s just a case of learning which grapes make which wine (or, sometimes, checking the back label). 

(For those who are interested, the Chiroubles I mentioned earlier uses the Gamay grape, whereas the Cairanne is likely to be a mixture including Grenache, Syrah – aka Shiraz – and probably several other local varieties).