Did you know there are more than 10,000 grape varieties worldwide?
Yet most countries produce wine from a select few. For example, in the USA only 9 varietals make up 90% of production and in France 95% of the production comes from 40 grape varieties (when 250 are officially registered with the Ministry of Agriculture).
So are you tired of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon? Ready to try something new?
Look to the countries/regions listed below to explore new or should I say “old” varieties.
Many of these old or indigenous grape varieties had been sidelined due to low yields, disease susceptibility, or just deemed too difficult to cultivate.
However, more and more winemakers have started to reintroduce these interesting and historic varietals for reasons of climate change (e.g. rising alcohol levels in French and certainly Californian wines) but also to express terroir or pride of place, and to rediscover forgotten flavors. Plus these wines are generally better priced than their more popular cousins.
Italy has one of the largest numbers of indigenous/autochthonous grape varieties used to make wine. Officially 350 have authorized status but there are over 500 documented varieties.
Two interesting wines to try are Schioppettino (also known as Ribolla Nera) from Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and Vermentino from the island of Sardinia.
- Schiopettino – a very aromatic, deeply hued red wine, medium-bodied, high in acidity, with flavours of blueberries/blackberries and a peppery note. (Think somewhere between Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Vermentino – a light-bodied white wine, with lots of fruit complexity (pear, white peach, lime, grapefruit), a touch of minerality, and a slightly bitter almond finish. (Think Sauvignon Blanc)
Croatia’s offers two popular indigenous wines Teran (Istria region) and Graševina (Slavonia region)
- Teran – a red wine of deep ruby colour, refreshing acidity, earthy and metallic (iron-rich soil) with flavours of wild berries (related to Italy’s Refosco variety of grapes).
- Graševina – a refreshing white wine (also known as Welschriesling and other names in Central Europe but not related to Riesling) offers floral notes and flavours of apple, citrus, pineapple and melon, as well as fresh herbs and a touch of ginger spice. (Think somewhere between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio)
Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions and two better known indigenous grape varieties are Agiorgitiko (Peloponnese region) and Assyrtiko (originally from the island of Santorini but now grown all over Greece).
- Agiorgitiko (i-your-YEE-ti-ko) – a medium-bodied red wine with flavors of ripe plum, berry, and pepper. (Think somewhere between Merlot or Sangiovese)
- Assyrtiko (a-SEER-ti-ko) – a crisp, white wine with plenty of minerality (from volcanic soils), some floral notes and flavors of lemon, lime, passion fruit, and ginger spice. (Think Sauvignon Blanc)
Portugal is also known for many indigenous varietals and these two are great ambassadors: Tinta Roriz (from Alentejo where it is called ” Aragonês”, Dao, and Douro regions; it is called Tempranillo in Spain) and Alvarinho (grown in Northern Portugal, Vinho Verde region and in Spain’s Galicia).
- Tinta Roriz – a full-bodied red wine, intensely deep in color, aromatic, with blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry flavors and a peppery note. (Think somewhere between Sangiovese or Carignan)
- Alvarinho – a refreshing, floral, white wine with higher acidity, some salinity (proximity to the sea), and flavors of lemon zest, grapefruit, nectarine, and honeydew melon. (Think somewhere between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio)
u get a chance to try some of these suggested off the beaten track wines!
Next: Does the New World offer anything unique in terms of grape varieties? Stay tuned.
“About Exceptional Wine”
Lidija Biro – Ontario, Canada