An Ode to Forgotten Grapes

Coming from a part of Europe which is filled with indigenous varieties such as Blatina, Tribidrag, Prokupac, Pecorino, Xinomavro, Vranac and many, many more, I understand and truly enjoy the biodiversity they create in their habitats. These grapes were cultivated for centuries, through various political and religious reigns, winemaking styles and climatic changes. Planting the same old grapes, doing the same old generic winemaking is all fine and dandy, but how much that will matter 20 years from now is highly questionable. Sure, the classics will always be there, nobody is doubting that, but with the wine world expanding by the hour and new grapes being (re)discovered, I find that classic will be considered solely a safe zone to fall back to when things get too crazy or weird. New frontiers will be challenged and getting the best out of unknown varietals will be inspirational for generations to come. You can thank artisanal producers for that.

Wine RVLT’s recent tasting of forgotten varietals sparked inspiration for writing this piece. The owners, Ian & Alvin, keep it real and interesting at all times and this time, for a mere $25, I got a chance to try three proper wines reflecting uniqueness, typicity and rarity.

Partida Creus Vinyater 2015
Penedes, Spain

Concentrated in Penedes, Partida Creus’ duo, Massimo and Antonella, produces super crisp wines. They created their small winery in an industrial warehouse with recycled material, practicing biodynamic viticulture and reviving archaic varietals such as Vinyater, a white grape usually used in blends. Reminded me of a sherry-like cider. Notes of baked apple, sea salt, biscuit, hazelnut and potato chips. Light palate with a medium intense, brisk acidity. A little bit of stony minerality, a hint of steely character and a touch of apple peel bitterness. Great beginning, but this impression fades abruptly on the finish. It’s like a 2.5-hour movie that cuts off with a shitty end because the director figured out that he has better things to do in life.

Gut Oggau Brutal Rose 2017
Burgenland, Austria

A crossing between Zweigelt and Klosterneuburg, Roesler has to be on your list of grapes to try if you like expressive, rich and juicy wines. Because of its strong colour, robust tannins and resistance to frost and fungal disease, it’s friendly both in the vineyard and the winery. This Brutal started out with slightly mousy aromas that dissipated with some aggressive swirling and gave way to underripe wild berry fruit. Superbly smashable stuff, something recommended to drink with a straw from a jar of sunshine. Notes of cranberry, watermelon and pink grapefruit with a dominant sour cherry aftertaste. Gentle tannins, crunchy acidity, loooong finish. Definitely my type of ball game.

Jean-Pierre Robinot Lumiere des Sens 2014
Loire Valley, France

Ah, Jean-Pierre Robinot, the mad scientist of the Loire! These are some of the most electric wines I’ve tried in the cca 10 years of drinking this glorious beverage. If you like to be galvanized on a daily basis and have an open mind, Pineau d’Aunis is your next stop. Also known as Chenin Noir, this ancient grape was once popular with English royalty, but is now used for simple rosés and reds. But this specimen is far from simple. Craaazy nose of black pepper, rose hip, cedar, non-spicy green chilli, Turkish delight and kokum. Ro said the nose reminds her of a super Saiyan curry that would either be hazardous or ambrosial. The palate is sharply spiced with a superb balance, complexity and a long-lasting finish. Exceptional stuff.

BONUS

Broc Cellars Eagle Point Ranch Counoise 2015
Mendocino County, USA

“Coon-wahz”. A grape born and raised in Southern Rhone, but now grown in Languedoc, Provence and California as well. It works best as a blending partner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, giving spice and acidity to wines. When tackled alone, it gives the consumer mixed feelings. Is it complex enough? Is it too acidic? Wow, that’s a lot of spice there, take it easy. Oh, this is nice. At Broc Cellars, it’s grown on rocky, iron-rich soils (600m altitude). Very aromatic with tones of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant juice, black pepper, all black, errrthing. Rather tangy in the mouth as well. Bright acidity, almost one that you’d only expect in a white wine, a good chunk of alcohol (well-balanced though) and a long finish. Nothing overly complex, needs a bit of polishing here and there, but definitely something interesting to try.

Causse Marines Zacm’Orange 2016
VdT, France

Mauzac was discovered waaay back in the 1500s by the monks of Limoux, who basically made the first ever pet-nat out of it. They’d bottle the sweet, semi-fermented juice, freeze it in winter and “warm it up” in spring, allowing yeasts to reawaken and turn into bubbles. Causse Marines still does wine the old school way and that’s best seen in this freak of nature. The first sniff reminded me so much of APA – sharp aromas of unripe grapefruit, resin and meadow grass. Opens up by the minute both on the nose and the palate – dried mandarin orange, oriental tea leaves, wrapped up in a dry, salty finish. Gripping on the first two glasses, then begs for food. Unquestionably a great example of a sturdy style of orange, something that authentically displays the qualities of the outlandish Mauzac, but doesn’t really make you go forward with second helpings.

Grace Gris de Koshu 2016
Yamanashi, Japan

Even though Japan is a fresh wine-producing nation, Koshu has been around for over a thousand years, travelling all the way from the Caucasus over China and finally to Nippon. When winemaking kicked off here, Koshu was used to make cheap, sugary swill from damaged and rotten fruit. It haunted wine lovers for over a century, until Grace came along and changed the game. This tasty specimen reminded me so much of Albarino. Fresh, clean, pristine. It’s like drinking spring water with a few drops of lime beside the sea at 9am, smoking a cigarette and forgetting all life’s bullshit. Medium-bodied and heavily fruit-driven with a touch of green on the aftertaste. Good stuff.

Testalonga ‘El Bandito’ Mangaliza 2017
Swartland, South Africa

You may have heard about Hárslevelü being used in Tokaj, Hungary to produce some of the world’s greatest sweet wines, but how did it get to South Africa? Hungarian viticulturist, Desiderius Pongrácz, relocated to South Africa and became a shaping force in the industry in 1980. He was guilty of planting the majority of Hárslevelü initially and 20+ years afterwards, the great Craig Hawkins took over the stage. Testalonga’s Harslevelu is marked by appealing aromas of bruised apples, wax, dried grass and a hint of nail polish remover (an aroma which I detect in almost all Testalonga wines). Heavy on the palate with an oily texture and sharp tartness. Aftertaste – salty af. Not for everyone, but definitely worth experimenting with.

Domaine Le Roc Des Anges Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Imalaya 2016
Languedoc-Roussillon, France

A grape planted only in France and Spain, Carignan Blanc is not exactly what you’d jump for in a shop. It’s the albino version of its dark-skinned brother Carignan and gives wine of highly interesting character (dare I say Chardonnay). It came from Spain, was transplanted to Algeria and then made its way to the south of France, where a few winemakers are still keeping it alive and well. The bust granite soil here gives a strikingly vibrant wine, aromatically complex and loaded with fresh fruit (my fav, yum). On the first sniff I get some juicy pear, green apple, lime zest and almonds. Opens up on the palate with more floral tones, stone fruit and smoky minerality. Staggering composure which I’d like to come back to a few more times, especially if a loaded fish stew awaits around the corner.

House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at grapenomad@gmail.com.

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