The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw
It’s not December 31 quite yet but it is never too early to make a few resolutions. If you are looking for a bit of inspiration, and want to do something good for the wine industry, then here’s a suggestion as to how you can make the wine world a better place.
Be courageous – choose indigenous grapes.
By indigenous grapes I mean grape varieties that have a history firmly entrenched in a particular region, having been grown there for a long period of time. While travelling the world’s wine regions over the last few years, I have seen old vine sylvaner in Alsace ripped out to make room for pinot gris. One hundred year old carignan in the Languedoc replaced with syrah. I could go on but the list is long and littered with dead vines.
While in some cases replacing the vines made sense, and made for better wine, in most cases it was simply a question of economics. Grape growers can get more money with well-known grapes, even if they are less well suited to that climate and soil type.
The reason they are doing this is because consumers, especially in North America, tend to drink the same grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay etc… And this makes me sad. With each indigenous varietal that is replaced, another thread of the wonderfully complex tapestry that is the world’s wine culture becomes a touch less colourful (read – the wines are less good.)
In many wine producing countries, people tend to drink locally as opposed to internationally. They drink wines from their own region, or if they branch out, from their own country. We are fortunate here in Canada to have a choice of wines from all over the world.
But with choice comes responsibility. Wine stores, whether they be government controlled monopolies or privately owned, might take a chance on a wine once but if it doesn’t sell, the wine will not be reordered.
So this leads me to you, the wine lover.
These wines might be made with unfamiliar grapes, or come from places you have never heard of, but that’s what so interesting about wine. Will you like everything? Not necessarily, but exposing your palate to different textures, flavours and aromas will merely expand your wine horizons. And my bet is that you will discover wines that you absolutely love.
The tide is starting to turn. In many of these regions, especially with younger winemakers, they are looking at their own indigenous varieties with more respect. I have seen winemakers searching out these old vines and protecting them rather than replanting them. They have started to understand that these grapes are not only part of their heritage, but what makes them distinctive.
So in 2015, forsake the familiar and make one out of every three bottles you buy something you’ve never tried before. Give the wine a chance. Try and understand it. You will be helping the wine industry, and you will make yourself a better and more knowledgeable drinker.
If you need some suggestions, then here are a few wines currently available in BC, Ontario or Quebec that you can try. As I mentioned sylvaner, try the 2011 from René Muré. Works as an exceptional aperitif as well as with lighter seafood. Another white in a similar vein comes from Greece and Domaine Gerovassiliou. The 2013 Assyrtiko/Malagousia is a beautiful example two indigenous grapes working hand in hand. The rare freisa grape gets a solo show in the juicy, earthy tobacco leaf layered Borgogno Langhe 2012 Freisa from Piedmonte. Pair with charcuterie and sip throughout the night. Of course, if you really want to support indigenous wines, pick up a bottle of sherry and support not only native grapes, but method as well. Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, a Manzanilla from Sanlucar De Barrameda is 100% palomino fino grape, and a bone dry tangy, salty, nutty sipper to signal festivities.
Looking for a really interesting white with body to spare? Elisabetta Foradori’s 2012 Manzoni Bianco will satisfy the most curious white wine drinker. Made with extended skin contact, which is unusual for white wines, it combines body and aromatics like few wines I have tasted this year. Similarly, Mastroberardino’s 2012 Greco Di Tufo showcases the stony, waxy power of the greco grape, by way of the volcanic soils throughout Campania. And Telmo Rodriguez 2013 Basa Blanco combines the familiar – sauvignon blanc – with the curious – verdejo and viura – in this herbal, citrus-driven, linear white.
On the red side, the choice for indigenous grapes is just as interesting. Hailing from the region of Marcillac in France’s southwest, Lionel Osmin’s 2012 Mansois offers up delicate fruit and lots of exotic spice with fine, razor-sharp tannins.
One of my favourite reds from the past year is Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68. From Sicily’s DOCG appellation of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, it combines delicate fruit with beautiful acidity. Sicilian Beaujolais!
And if you are looking for a bigger red wine, try a blend of alfrocheiro, tinta roriz and touriga national. Alvaro Castro’s 2011 Dao is a beautiful example of how the region can produce finessed, yet very powerful wines. Rustic winter stews and casseroles were made to be served alongside a wine like Tilenus 2010 Envejecido En Roble, from Bierzo, Spain. The mencia grape’s wild and succulent black fruit and firm tannins might become a new cold weather favourite.
Happy holidays and new year folks!
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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