When it comes to choosing wines we tend to play safe and select the classic grape varieties or regions. Beyond classic regions, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Bordeaux, Burgundy and grape varieties, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and here in Spain Tempranillo, there are many other fascinating grapes to discover from lesser known regions.
Recently I wrote about Phylloxera which during the late 19th century devastated most of the vineyards of Europe. As the vineyards were replanted many lesser known grapes nearly became extinct. However, in many regions indigenous grape varieties are being rediscovered or recuperated and with improved vineyard management and modern winemaking we are able to enjoy many wines made from these grape varieties.
In Galicia the white Godello is growing in popularity. Only 50 years ago it was nearly extinct but now some world class whites are being made from this grape. Another grape is Mencia, from Bierzo and Ribera Sacra. A good Mencia will have cranberry, cherry and violet aromas with a compote of black fruits, sweet spices and firm tannins on the palate.
The French grape Gamay is used to make the wines of Beaujolais. This grape has had a boom and bust history. Its image has been tarnished by the success of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which still exists but nothing like it was before. Nowadays, a new generation of winemakers are revitalising the Gamay grape. It is known for it delightfully pronounced noses of ripe red and dark berries in addition to floral and minerals aromas. A well made Gamay will be balanced with a lively acidity and dark fruits with spice on the palate.
Grüner Veltliner is the best known grape from Austria. It is an aromatic grape variety that has citrus and stone fruit aromas with floral notes, often a hint of honey, and a touch of white pepper. Only twenty years ago it will little known outside its native Austria but this is no longer the case as you can find excellent wines made from this grape in New Zealand
Chenin Blanc is a grape that in the hands of a skilful winemaker can make stunningly good wines. Its home is in the Loire Valley of France, where the wines of Vouvray are made from 100% Chenin. Both dry and medium dry wines are produced. A good Vouvray ‘Demi Sec’ will have lovely apricot, peach and floral aromas, on the palate it is semi sweet with citrus, white stone fruits and a hint of honey supported by a crisp acidity that balances the sweetness.
Portugal has a vast selection of lesser known grapes to discover. If you think that in the Douro has more than 100 registered grape varieties many are mixed in the same vineyard. Look out for Touriga Nacional, a red grape that is the main component of many of the best red wines.
Austria is home to some very fine reds made from the Zweigelt grape variety. Not easy to pronounce but it is notable for its crisp acidity, red and black fruit characters, hint of peppery spice and fine tannins.
Finally Torrontés from the Salta region of Northern Argentina. In recent years Malbec has become phenomenally popular overshadowing this deliciously aromatic grape making white wines notable for their floral and citrus aromas and flavours. Add this grape along with the others to your list of grapes to discover.