Really Rare Grapes
Unusual grapes from around the world, or “Rare Finds and B-Sides”!
Part three in our tasting of uncommon grapes, part of the “Global Passport Tasting Series” held at Jet Wine Bar (read about part 1 and part 2), involved an international selection. Bob Barrett, certified expert of wine, has made it his mission in these sessions to find unusual and lesser-known grapes. He certainly succeeded in this tasting; all 5 wines featured rare grapes in superb wines. Also, it was quite chilly the evening of the tasting, but these wines helped us through with their “heat”; all but one had at least 13% ABV.
So, what are these grapes???
Aidani is grown in Greece’s Cyclades Islands, where it is indigenous to Santorini. It is known for its aromatics, as well as moderate alcohol and acidity. Typically it is found as a main component in the dessert wine Vinsanto, which derives its name from Vino Santorini (Wine of (Santorini) or – depending on who you ask - Vino Santo (Holy Wine). Vinsanto and Vino Santo are both made with sun –dried grapes, but Aidani (and Assyrtiko) are required for the Vinsanto appellation.
Why so rare? It is not so rare, but is rare as a single varietal. This seems to be a result of the greater popularity of Assyrtiko, another grape of Santorini, and of Athiri – with which it may be blended.
Wine: 2011 Argyros Aidani, Greece
100% Aidani from 20-30 years-old vines in Episkopi Gonia. Argyros focusses its production on grapes indigenous to Santorini – like the Aidani – hoping to showcase their unique qualities within the Island’s terroir.
This wine has a very unique nose, sort of fermenting straw with herbs. It has superb mineral, and brine from its ocean proximity. The nose and the brine together give it a “dirty” feel. Full body, slight oily mouth with hints of resin. Really enjoyable.
Can I find this in Philly? Special Order. PLCB code 523642, price $27.99
Bukettraube is a cross of Silvaner (itself a cross) and Schiava Grossa – 2 lesser-known grapes in their own right. Silvaner is a high-yield green-skinned grape producing wines with good acidity and low alcohol. Its home is Germany and Alsace. Schiava Grossa is a red-skinned varietal that produces lighter-bodied wines with delicate aromas, fruity flavors, and good acid. It is grown mainly in Italy and Germany.
Together, these result in a low-yield, hybrid grape, that is aromatic, acidic, and lightly fruited – commonly described with “muscat” flavors. Thought the grape’s origin lies in Germany or Alsace, its largest plantings are now in South Africa.
Why so rare? The grapes are low-yield and prone to mildew, and it is thought to have limited life in the bottle – all of which limits Bukkettraube’s commercial viability.
Wine: 2012 Cederberg Bukketraube, South Africa
100% Bukkettraube from 17 year old vines in a “cold climate” in the midst of the Cederberg Mountains. The Nieuwoudt family’s wine farm has the highest altitude vines in South Africa’s Cape, which leads to this tagline: “Wines with Altitude”.
This wine is very aromatic. It has a floral nose like gewürztraminer, but without that grape’s characteristic spice. Bob noted a strong scent of guava. It is fairly full-bodied with light acid. It was described like a “flat riesling”, and definitely shares some flavor profile with that grape – likely due to the silvaner cross. Fruit flavors of guava, peach, and pear. It has a hint of sweetness. This is another great wine and it tasted absolutely amazing with our citrus & oil brined olives, and would be a phenomenal wine for a spicy curry. If there was a contentious wine of the evening it would be this one, as some thought it was “too sweet”.
Can I find this in Philly? Special Order. PLCB code 533360, price $13.99. Soon to be at Jet, by-the-glass, for $8.50
Grape: Mandilaria and Mavrotragano
Mandilaria is indigenous to Santorini, but is also grown on many other Greek islands and goes by many other synonyms. It is a black-skinned grape, which adds ample color to wines. It is drought resistant and normally used for blending.
Mavrotragano is also indigenous to Santorini. It is a thick-skinned and low-yield grape. It matures in stages, and so harvest must occur periodically. It has well-balanced acidity and alcohol, and was traditionally used for sweet wines. The grape is included in The Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered, culturally-significant foods. These foods are rare, and generally have traditional and specific heritage and production.
Why so rare? Mandilaria is generally used in blending. Its preference for hot and dry climates naturally limits its geographic extent. Mavrotragano was uprooted to feed Santorini’s burgeoning tourist industry, as well as replaced by Assyrtiko. It was not thought to be commercially viable.
Wine: 2010 Argyros Atlantis Red, Greece
90% Mandilaria and 10% Mavrotragano, aged 6 months in oak. The winery offers this description of the wine: “Full bodied with fine tannins, complex aromas of red fruit, with hints of prune and leather. The mouth is well structured & balanced; it has a velvety palate and a long finish.”
Oddly, I detected neither leather nor prune, and generally disagreed with the winery’s notes. Like the Aidani, this has an interesting and unique nose, likened to “a just-opened paint can”, which I read as beef-stock cubes. It is very savory, and absolutely full of “umami”. It has nice, red fruits through it all. The body is relatively light, and this wine would pair well with food or on its own. Our taster, Dave, thinks it “pairs perfectly with (his) mouth”. A good and interesting red.
Can I find this in Philly? Special Order. PLCB code 538150, price $16.99
Grape: Tinta Barroca
Grown in Portugal, it is commonly planted in Douro where it is an officially recognized grape for the making of port. It is a thinner-skinned varietal known for its high yield, high sugar, and high alcohol. It can withstand colder temperatures than can most other Portuguese grapes, and prefers north-facing slopes.
Why so rare? It is fair to say that the grape is rare in dry, un-fortified wines. These are used in Port wine, where their high-sugar content is useful, and where their propensity for shriveling in the sun and heat is less problematic.
Wine: Muxagat Tinta Barroca, Portugal
100% Tinta Barroca. Biodynamic wine that is cold fermented in cement tanks with indigenous yeasts. Winemakers Mateus Nicolau de Almeida and Teresa Ameztoy are the married couple behind Muxagat. Drawing on Tinta Barroca’s best qualities, these grapes are sourced from north-facing parcels at ca 600 meters altitude, from the cooler, high-altitude Douro sub-region of the Douro Superior. The steep vineyards are near the famous Paleolithic Foz Côa cave engravings.
This is a dry, fuller-bodied wine that is full of leather and deep, red fruit. The nose has a violet note that serves as a foil for the very “animal” and “wild” feel of the wine. Nice mouth feel with a pretty full finish.
Can I find this in Philly? Special Order. PLCB code 532481, price $16.99
Grapes: Callet, Montonegre, and Fogoneu
All of these are native to the Balearic Islands, of which Mallorca is one. The majority of information about these grapes comes from Jancis Robinson, et. al., Wine Grapes. It seems that the three, black-berry grapes are all, in some way, related to each other via cross-breeding. They are often grown in the same plots and subsequently blended in fermentation. Callet is the most widely planted grape on Mallorca – where it is grown exclusively. The black berries are drought-resistant and early-maturing. It produces wines with moderate acid and alcohol. Fogoneu production is focused around Felanitx, the grape is most typically blended. Manto Negro is a thick-skinned, later-ripening, and high-yielding grape that produces high-alcohol wines with fruitiness
Why so rare? Presumably these are rare due to their location in the Balearics, and history of low-quality production.
Wine: 2010 AN/2, Mallorca, Spain
65% old vine Callet, 20% Manto Negro and Fogoneu, 15% Syrah from near the town of Felanitx. Grapes are hand-harvested from fields neither irrigated, nor fertilized. Fermentation is in stainless steel, and the wine is aged 13 months in oak barrels. Anima Negra is run by Pere Ignasi Obrador and Miguel Angel Cerda, who are dedicated to producing indigenous grapes of Mallorca.
This is a full-bodied and lush wine, with fine tannins. It has notes of leather, black licorice, cherry liqueur, and… just-mixed concrete. The “old vines” are apparent in the wine, which is deep and full-flavored.
Can I find this in Philly? Special Order. PLCB code 532495, price $22.99
This proved to be one of our “best” tastings in that all the wines were enjoyed by all the tasters. There were definitely preferences for certain wines, but there was great parity in expressed favorites. Argyros was easily the “winner”, with the Aidani being the overall favorite of about half of our tasters, and the Atlantis Red favored about equally across reds.
Our next tasting is Tuesday, February 18th, when we will be enjoying “High Alcohol Wines”.