The Great Grape Alphabet
At Les Caves we are truly the sleuthiest of grape detectives, discovering, supporting and darned well drinking autochthonous varieties by the bouquet-load. This is not just obscurity for the sake of it; these are often ancient varieties that are in danger of becoming extinct or replaced by more commercial/international ones and thus deserve their place on any self-respecting wine portfolio. More than that, these grapes have a historical link with the region and the terroir, and someone planted them there for a reason!
Here are six varieties beginning with “A” to start you off as we plough our way alphabetically through the ampelographic wonderland - with examples from our wine portfolio.
A noble red grape found in Campania as well as further south (Vulture in Basilicata notably), one tending to ripen quite late giving wines that are broad in beam and big in tannin. The Lonardo family has been producing Aglianico in Contrade di Taurasi for generations. In 1998 Alessandro’s daughter, Enza, started vinifying and commercialising Taurasi DOCG. Lonardo is one of the leading exponents of “old-style” Taurasi which involves very long ageing. The resultant wines are almost mahogany-red in colour with shades of orange, and yield up spicy, strong aromas of black fruit such as plums, confit black cherries as well coffee and liquorice. Smooth, full-bodied and complex on the palate this wine displays (after a while) further secondary notes of leather, game and tobacco. Megan & Ryan Glaab produce their brilliant organic version of Aglianico from an organic vineyard in Paso Robles, where the dark fruit is given a beautiful balancing boost of acidity from the limestone bedrock soils.
Quick definition: Beauty is the beast.
Hugely confusing this, so pay attention. This is no relation to Albarino (from Galicia) nor Albillo which grows throughout Madrid into northern Spain. It may (or may not) be a relation to the Savagnin of Jura (which confusingly was found to be Australia under the guise of Albarino) and according to some shares some flavour profiles as Sauvignon (it isn’t related and it doesn’t). We find it flying solo in Nicolas Marcos’ wines from Cangas – Pesico Blanco; it also appears in his light blend called Fanfarria Blanco alongside Albillo (still no relation).
Quick definition: Whatever it sounds like it ain’t like anything else.
Makes sweet and dry wines from Tuscany & Elba and was supposedly a highly consoling drink for Napoleon in his Elba exile way back in the day. The Chileans call it red Moscatel, and it may well be related to Muscat à Petit Grains, and seems to make good grapey fortified or passito sweet wines. In the past, we have listed traditional versions from Massa Vecchia in the Massa Marittima. But, being Les Caves de Pyrene, we bring you a warped (or mutated) example from Andrea Occhipinti, the Aleatico di Gradoli (an indigenous manifestation, stylistically a touch more delicate and spicy than the examples from Massa Vecchia). But we don’t want you to have the red version! The grapes for Andrea’s Aleatico (Rosso) Bianco are destemmed into stainless vat and cement, and pressed without maceration. Ambient ferment proceeds with indigenous yeasts and the wine is matured in tank undergoing a natural malo with a light filtration and a little SO2 added just before bottling. The wine is delightfully “shelly” with a leesy bite -almost like a very grown up Muscadet.
Quick definition: The red will be all white on the night.
Also called Roussette or Roussette de Savoie, this grape is similar to Furmint from Hungary, being exotically perfumed with good crisp acidity and has a certain ageing potential. There are sixteen villages in the Savoie from which it hails, all of which have higher standards than those of the Vin de Savoie AC and Roussette de Savoie AC and may append their name to either of these appellations if their wines meet these higher criteria. One of the best of these crus is Frangy where Bruno Lupin farms. The soils here are argillaceous limestone and glacial moraines and the exposure of the vines is south facing. The Altesse is super-fresh and clean. The version from Domaine Genoux has tad more ripe citrus-laden weight, but in Les Grandes Jorasses, a cuvée from Domaine Belluard, we may taste some real complexity which arises from biodynamic farming, very low yields, fermentation in cement eggs (resulting in dynamic lees-motion), a full malolactic and no filtration. If one were to characterise Altesse/Roussette one might describe it as conveying white peach and pear aromas with subsidiary notes of gingerbread, spice and (if it goes through malo) a rounded and fleshy texture, otherwise angular and apple-skin fresh. Whether it is the over-active imagination or the song of terroir I do sense alpine meadow-blossom coursing through these white wines…
Quick definition: Savoie-fair.
French spelling of Occitan aboriu, early or precocious - hence its other name: Précoce Noir - is a red French wine grape variety grown primarily in Southwest France and, in small quantities, California. It tends to be a blending grape that, along with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Fer, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, is used to make appellation wines of Côtes du Marmandais. Abouriou can also be made into a varietal, as it is used in some vin de pays wines. The grape is known for its low acidity and high tannin content. Also known as Early Burgundy it creeps into Chateau Tour des Gendres’ grape mosaic Vigne d’Albert. As Elian da Ros (who does a very light extraction on it) remarks of his 100% varietal version: “It is like biting into a fresh cherry fruit.” His Abouriou is lean and crisp with juicy, violet-scented black cherry fruit. It’s more pepper than tannin, more savoury than sweet, and there’s a very agreeable prickle combined with earthy minerality that carries the wine easily over the tongue.
Quick definition: Precocious not ferocious.
Also known as Aidini and Aedani, is predominantly found on Santorini. Rarely, if ever, seen by itself, it is used mostly as a blending variety with Assyrtiko, Athiri and even in Vinsantos. Santorini, being a volcanic eruption, comprises of volcanic soil with traces of metals and iron. Aidani grows best on such volcanic sandy soils. Haridimos Hatzidakis has transformed this grape into something more substantial and satisfying, bringing out flavours of exotic citrus, orange blossom and subtle minerals. A slow pressing with skin contact for 12 hours and then a ferment using native yeasts before ageing in tanks on those lees, elicits some phenolics to balance the latent aromatics.
Quick definition: The other white grape of Santorini.
So that takes us to next time when we will be exploring part 'B'...stay tuned!
If you are interested in discovering more about Les Caves' wine catalogue, contact us directly…
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