Throughout the winemaking world many indigenous grapes have been marketed and consumed strictly in-country and have only recently reached our shores. Let’s go exploring.
First, the backdrop. There are literally thousands of grape varieties cultivated around the world. Italy claims nearly 2,000 and Spain over 600. This glorious proliferation is unnecessarily confusing to those of us already intimidated when confronted with multiple choices at our favorite wine shop. (Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner? How can I appreciate a wine I can’t even pronounce?)
I’ve distilled my examples to a select few, with no criteria other than personal preferences. And I’m going to focus on two countries – Italy and Spain.
In Italy, Tuscany reigns supreme in the minds of Americans, and Sangiovese is still the benchmark for most American consumers. However, wines from other regions are developing a devout following. Let’s explore three grape varieties.
First, in the southeast region of Campania there has been a resurgence in winemaking. The grape variety that has gained significant attention in the United States is the Aglianico (ah-LYAH-nee-koh). These lusty, rustic red wines exhibit great balance with subtle plum flavors and earthy, chocolaty characteristics. I will be traveling to this region shortly.
The second grape is also from Campania, a white grape that merits your attention. The Fiano grape produces a gold-hued wine, with appealing aromas of apples and pears. Full-bodied but crisply acidic, there is real personality here in a well-balanced table wine that drinks well on its own or with light pork or poultry dishes.
There are two other notable Campanian white grapes gaining prominence in wine circles: Falanghina (FA-lan-GHEE-nah) and Greco di Tufo.
I have a personal attachment, both historically and financially, to the Irpinia area and will be travelling there this week. When I return, I’ll report on my vineyard, winery and tasting experiences in Irpinia and a local winery, Cantine Ciani.
Third, the Lagrein grape (lah-GRINE). It is produced in the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the extreme northeastern foothills of the Alps – so extreme that the locals still speak German, a testament to the fact that until 1919, this area was part of Germany. The wines are a voluptuous dark ruby red with a nose of blackberries and plums and well-balanced acidity. These wines pair well with simple red meat dishes.
On to Spain. There are about 20 primary varieties grown in Spain’s numerous regions. The red grape that is most familiar to the American consumer is the Tempranillo, but it is being challenged by the growing popularity of other red grapes, notably Monastrell and Garnacha varieties.
Monastrell, grown in the southeast regions, of which the primary local area is Jumilla, produces wines with aromas of black cherry and blackberry and soft, chewy tannins. These wines are robust, ready to drink upon release and are well-priced in the $10 to $15 range.
Garnacha (a cousin of the French Grenache grown in the Rhone Valley) is deeply colored with velvety textures and flavors suggestive of raspberries, with a distinctively peppery impact. A real fruit bomb, yet with a subtle balance.
There are a number of exotic-sounding Spanish white wines as well. My candidate is the Hondarrabi Zuri grape. This grape is grown in the northern Basque region of Spain. The local wine produced from this grape (in a blend) is called Txakoli. This is a wine that will make your taste buds stand at attention and then leave you salivating for more. Fresh and young, refreshing in body and balance, with aromas of tropical fruit and citrus, this white wine pairs well with most fish dishes.
So there you have it. When you’re putting together your life-list of things to experience, add “Grapes I’ve Never Heard Of.” And then update your bucket-list of “Places to Visit Before I Die” with the locales we’ve explored today.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.