Monday, February 7, 2022

Exploring Obscure Grapes Has Its Rewards

Break out of your comfort zone with an exotic exploration of unique grapes.

A number of years ago I decided to join the Wine Century Club. To join, you must document tasting at least 100 different grape varieties. Luckily for me, I was able to review my blog, which I’ve been publishing since 2009, and was able to generate a list of more than 150 grapes that I’d tasted. I was quite proud when my certificate (finally!) arrived.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog and that goes for many things, including sporting events and grapes. Finding and tasting a new grape is the equivalent of hacking your way through the Amazon jungle to find the ruins of an ancient civilization. OK, maybe it’s not quite the same, but it certainly is cool. We recently went exploring and discovered two fine wines sporting exotic grapes.

If it weren’t for the loss of life and property, I’d be applauding volcanic eruptions. That smoke and brimstone means more volcanic soil, causing the grapevines to struggle and produce truly sublime wine. A case in point is Italy’s Mount Etna. Mount Etna is an active volcano and it erupted last year. It is one of the world’s most active volcanos and injured 10 people and a CNN news crew in 2017.

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Mt. Etna also has some very unique grapes, including Carricante and Catarratto, which were blended in the Etna Bianco DOC Ayunta 2019 Piante/Sparse we recently tried. Carricante is the native and main grape in Etna white wines. White wines are less than 10% of the production of the Etna DOC, so this wine is a rarity. Catarratto is the most popular white wine in Sicily but traditionally plays just a supporting role in Etna white wines. The wine is golden in color and a bit lean. It has good acidity, fresh minerality on the nose, and subtle pear and chalk notes. Wine from high-altitude vines and volcanic soil is always unique and always a treat. The SRP is $32.99.

On the red side of the tasting table was Weingut Leo Hillinger 2019 Small Hill Red, from Austria’s Burgenland region. Burgenland is famed for its red wines and is in contrast to the rest of the country where white wines, particularly Gruner Veltliner, rule. St. Laurent is a highly aromatic dark-skinned grape. It is believed to have resulted from a crossing of Pinot Noir and an unknown second parent. St. Laurent also played a role in another grape we love: Zweigelt, which is a cross between St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

This is a velvety-smooth red wine which we could easily drink all day. It has ample blackberry flavors with juicy red cherries and just a dusting of earth. The tannins are polished. Quite a steal at $14.99.

Both wines were purchased at Great Grapes in Cary. Thanks to Arthur and Mary Barham for joining the fun.

If you’ve gotten in a rut, drinking the same old grapes, we encourage you to explore the wide and wild world of grapes.

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