Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Obscurity and Risk or Nobility and Safety (Quinta Do Espirito Santo)

What’s your favorite wine? An Aussie Shiraz? A French Chardonnay? Maybe an Argentinean Malbec? Or maybe, like an acquaintance of mine, you prefer the super obscure German Dornfelder. If it is Dornfelder your heart seeks then you are either lying or know something that the rest of us don’t. True I have only tried one Dornfelder, there is after all only one available in British Colombia, but it is hard to hold much enthusiasm for a grape who’s strongest most enchanting attribute is often ascribed to its dark colour.* But this is not meant to be a diatribe about the potential merits or short comings of one of Germany’s most widely planted black grapes.

Aren't the Nobles Fancy?
As wine drinkers we often look for a wine made from a specific grape, with a little twisting of the arm we might be talked into trying a blend that is not wholly made from our grape of choice. There are roughly 7 Noble Grapes(popular grapes), these being the grapes that we all know and love: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling**, there are however, by many estimates, well over 3000 wine producing grape varieties in total. That means there are roughly 2,993 grape varieties that no one has tried or cares to try. The classic French varieties, that is to say the Noble varieties, have managed to take more than their fair share of the market, and with good reason: the French were amongst the first if not the very first country in modern history to put great emphasis on quality rather than quantity. But if I can buy chicken from China and tea from Russia then why should I exclusively buy wine made from grapes who emigrated from France to pretty much every nation in the world, I want variety I want spice!***

While many European countries are ripping up their local grape vines in favour of planting the more Noble varieties there are a few countries standing up for their historical grapes no matter what the cost. Italy has managed to fare pretty well, in a market obsessed with popularity it grows grapes the rest of the world has never heard of and doesn’t want to hear of! Luckily for Italy the regions have an established reputation and will sell because they are known and tasty, but when was the last time you heard of a Californian Nebbiolo,**** or an Australian Vernaccia (Italian grape varieties). Unfortunately Italy is planting more and more non-native varieties cause that’s what the market demands.

I have said this time and time again, I repeat myself so much in the hopes that someone will offer me a plane ticket to this wonderful place, I love and admire Portuguese wine. This is the shining star of countries that is holding on to it’s viniferous history with great pride! Not only are the grapes of Portugal incredibly obscure they are also incredibly difficult to pronounce, and the Portuguese don’t give a damn. Why should they? Their wine is delicious and they know it, if the export market dries up it just leaves more for them to fill their gullets with.

Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rioja, Portugal: these are all regions that produce excellent wine, with good or outstanding reputations. If you were to go to any wine store and ask for a Cab, Shiraz or Chardonnay you would not have any of these regions wines recommended to you(probably). It’s not that these grapes are amiss in these regions rather all these regions are famous for producing blended wine. Why the world got stuck on single varietal wines is beyond me, you don’t walk into a cake shop and ask for a cake made solely from flour!

I picture a world where wine enthusiasts are greeted at their local wine shop with a friendly offer of assistance. In that very same dream wine drinkers never respond ‘Yes, I’m looking for a Malbec’ instead, and this would be music to my ears: ‘Yes, I’m looking for a full red with a mix of fruit and spice that would pair well with roast beef.’ When the conversation moves past popularity we have the opportunity to try all sorts of amazing textures and flavours. And you can help countries with failing economies by drinking their delicious yet obscure wine, think of yourself as a philanthropist next time you opt for obscurity.

Producer: Espirito Santo
Wine: Quinta Do Espirito Santo (Quinta means estate Do means of or something to that effect... I think)
Region: Estremadura, Portugal
Grapes: Tinta Roriz and Castelao (Tinta Roriz isn't actually that obscure it's also know as Tempranillo which is debatably Noble, Castelao is relatively obscure)
Vintage: 2007
Price: $20
Alc: 15%

Notes: I was on the edge with this one I thought it was Very Nice but may be Awesome in a couple years time when some of the earthy characteristics develop more. Beautiful aroma and flavours of plum, blackberry, raspberry, tobacco, coffee, hints of mushroom with a long finish. I highly recommend this rather obscure blend of grapes assembled in this wine bottle!

You may find yourself saying: Josh you just spent the past 750 words defending native varieties and grapes we had never heard of yet you began by ridiculing Dornfelder!

To which I respond: Dornfelder is not native to anywhere it was created by specialists in 1955, I guess technically it’s native to Germany.

*I have read two descriptions of Dornfelder in recent history: “There’s a certain honesty about Dornfelder: it doesn’t pretend to be more than well coloured…” Grapes & Wine by Oz Clark. “Because of its deep-coloured wines and its ability to give very high yields, it is perceived to be a grape with great potential”1 Exploring the World of Wine and Spirits, Christopher Fielden.

**This list is by no means set in stone, just the first 7 grapes commonly referred to as Noble that popped into my head. There is no real list and if there were it would be highly contentious.

***I may pick on France too much, this time I’m not actually trying to pick on France but almost all international or Noble varieties come from France, I couldn’t avoid at least mentioning that.

****Kind of a poor example there are small plantings of Nebbiolo in California but you get the just of it.

1Make no mistake high yields are not a good thing for wine quality only quantity, it would seem it’s great potential is to create a lot of bland yet dark, red wine.