Columnist Jean-Sébastien Morin provides some wine choices with lots of appeal.
Classic grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are now grown in most wine regions of the world having radiated out from their respective ancestral homes of Bordeaux and Burgundy in France on a large scale in the mid 20th century.
The ubiquity of these varieties, and others such as Merlot, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, has led the wine industry to refer to them as ‘international grape varieties”. In the span of a few decades, varieties that had long histories of being associated with specific regions in Europe were now deemed to be part of the global wine heritage.
These international grape varieties represent a large portion of the volume of wine made each year worldwide and are classics for a reason. They grow reasonably well in various climates and tend to produce good wines when grown and vinified competently.
That is not to say that they are monolithic. Given the fact that they are grown in a multitude of climate and regions, they are available in almost limitless variations – Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia will be significantly different from Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley of Washington State. Shiraz and Syrah are in fact the same grape variety. Some countries that tend to produce it in a riper, jammier style, like Australia, generally refer to it as Shiraz whereas counties that tend to produce it in a savoury, peppery style, like France, tend to refer to it as Syrah with the producers of some countries using both spelling depending on the style of the wine they are making.
But what does the wine world look like outside the realm of these international grapes? Varieties that are specific to a country or wine region are often referred to as “indigenous.” Some countries are treasure troves of indigenous grape varieties. Italy and Portugal for example, both boast hundreds of indigenous grape varieties including many that have been cultivated for centuries. Some are more of a curiosity and are difficult to find outside of the few villages where they are grown, but some are reasonably easy to find and are an interesting source of fine wines. They can offer great value for the price given that they don’t always have the “star power” or brand recognition of international grape varieties to command high prices. Indeed, for the wine explorer or collector, wines made from indigenous grape varieties are worth seeking out as they can offer interesting taste profiles and good value. You may not fall in love with each one you try, but there is something special about finding a new favourite off the beaten path.
Another strategy for finding interesting wines at advantageous prices involves keeping an eye on the status of designated wine regions or “appellations” as they are better known. It requires a bit more work but if you are interested in wine, reading up on it won’t be much of a chore and will only serve to heighten your appreciation for these finds. A case study for this strategy is the Cairanne appellation of the Rhone Valley in France.
Many different levels of appellations exist in the Rhone Valley. Simple Côte du Rhône made in a large area North of Avignon, Côtes du Rhône Villages made around 95 specific villages with better soils and growing conditions, 20 of which have the privilege of adding their name on the label after “Côte du Rhône Village” in view of their recognized quality. Such an example is “Côtes du Rhône Villages – Cairanne.” What is interesting in this instance is that the “Côte du Rhône Village – Cairanne” appellation was recently promoted to the highest tier of Rhone Valley appellations, the crus du Côte du Rhône. This top tier includes much pricier appellations such as Châteauneufdu-Pape and Gigondas that are deemed to be special enough that they are allowed to drop the Côtes du Rhône reference altogether and claim their specific origin front and center. 2014 is the last vintage when
wines made in Cairanne were released as Côtes du Rhône Villages. When the 2015 vintage is release later this year, it will most likely command a higher price.
In countries with qualityoriented wine laws and regulations, appellation seeking to move up to the next tier, have to operate at the quality level of the superior tier for several years before they can qualify to be promoted. This is why a little knowledge about what appellations are looking to “move up” can help pinpoint sources of wines punching well above their weight for several years. These days, most of the organizations responsible for regulating appellations of a given region share detailed information on the web and a bit of sleuthing can go a long way.
Jean-Sébastien Morin is a category manager with P.E.I. Liquor. He is an accredited sommelier, wine writer, educator, and wine judge. His love of wine was born in the late 1980s, while studying and working in Europe. Inspired Grapes aims to transmit Morin’s passion for wine while never forgetting that the pleasure of a glass of wine often resides in the moment and the company in which it is shared. To reach, Morin email firstname.lastname@example.org.