In her most recent book, “Wine Grapes”, Jancis Robinson MW describes 1,368 distinct grape varieties. This, however, is not an exhaustive list, as there are over 2,000 varietals in Italy alone. How many different wines have you enjoyed? How many countries’ wines have you tasted? Have you tried Madeleine Angevine, for example? This poetically named grape, which originates in France’s Loire Valley, is popular in England, Washington State … and Kyrgyzstan! Or Rubin Golodrigi, a native grape of the Ukraine? Not to worry… neither have I!
Georgia, the likely the birthplace of wine, has evidence of viniculture dating back 7,000 years. From there, winemaking spread around the world. We all know that there is wine produced in France, Italy, and Australia, but grapes are vinified in some very unusual places. From French Polynesia to Thailand to Sweden, these regions produce wine, often with their own unique grapes.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in resurrecting long-forgotten varieties. Spain’s Miguel Torres winery has been on a mission to bring back some near-extinct grapes in Catalán. The grape Querol is their most recent project; as of late 2013, Torres has approximately 10-15 hectares of what they believe to be the only known planting of this varietal in the world. Others are also researching long lost grapes, many of which disappeared in the late 1800’s when phylloxera ravaged the vineyards of Europe.
Every glass has the potential to carry us to another corner of the world with just one sip. While it is fun to learn about all these interesting grape varieties, the likelihood is that the only way to taste them will be to travel to the region from which they come. Perhaps, with a little commercial success, we will start seeing a few more of these wines for sale at our local wine stores. Greece, for example, is a leading example of a region that is bringing back indigenous grapes and marketing them to the world; Assyrtiko, Xinomavro and Moschofilero are all more available now than they were 10 years ago. And they are delicious!
Here’s hoping that indigenous grape varieties are not only protected, but encouraged. After all, how boring would a wine world be if we all drank was Australian Chardonnay and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon? Don’t be afraid to try something new – something with an unpronounceable name! If you happen to see one of these off-beat wines, give it a chance. It might very well become your favourite!