Thursday, 23 April 2009

More Variety Please

It’s not an exaggeration to say that  there was a revolution in wine twenty odd years ago.  Prior to this momentous point, wines were generally branded and sold by where they came from; like Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti and Rioja, with no notion of what the grapes were.  Then the Australians had the simple but brilliant notion of labelling wine according to the variety of grape in the bottle and who cares where it comes from?  All of a sudden we had red wines being sold as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz (ie Syrah) and whites being sold as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and increasingly nowadays, Pinot Grigio.

This is all well and good and has been positive in many ways, but it has also resulted in the wide-scale and irreplaceable loss of hundreds of interesting varieties, as the muscle-bound super-brands conquered swathes of vineyards.  If a grower could sell his Chardonnay grapes to the local merchant or co-op for five times the price of his interesting but unknown Vitis Vinifera Extinctus, then he’s going to grub up his history and plant the Chardonnay.  What Chardonnay was to the early nineties, Sauvignon Blanc was to the early noughties and Pinot Grigio has been for the last few years.  Now then, I’m not knocking Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which in the right hands are very high quality varieties producing some of the finest wines in the world (all great white Burgundy including Chablis is 100% Chardonnay for example), but it’s a real shame that so many other varieties have been slain in their names and that we the public have such a monotonous wine diet.

As a healthy counterweight to this phenomenon there was a movement back in the nineties in Australia and the States they called ABC, which stood for Anything But Chardonnay; this wasn’t meant to be derogatory to the noble Burgundian grape, but instead was trying to get people to try something else.  These days this would apply more to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, but the same principal applies.   So, my mantra this month is to implore you to pick up a bottle of ‘something else’.  There are scores of varieties out there just waiting for you to crack open and have a go at.

Appendix: 4 great white varieties you must try:

1. Gewurztraminer – aromatic variety primarily from Alsace, making wines that are like eating a bowl of lychees.  Small quantities with Asian food is great.
2. Fiano – fantastic variety full of character from southern Italy.  Yum.
3. Albariño – zingy fresh variety terrific with seafood, from Galicia in Spain.
4. Furmint – a tough one to find!  Great Hungarian variety will crackling acidity.  Normally made into the great pudding wine Tokaji, but also makes dry wines.

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