Wines Only from the Source

Original expressions of unique varieties that deserve your attention

 


Our world of wine roughly breaks down into three distinct categories. The vast majority of wines are produced using a handful of international varieties that are produced around the globe, I don't know how much of the market these wines control, but I bet nine out of ten bottles sold is not far from the truth. A second set of wines are well-known, and produced in significant quantities in specific regions, and these probably count for nine of the next ten bottles sold, leaving about one percent of the market free for the final category of wines.

So Much to Discover

Here we find the oddballs and outcasts, the grapes that are so particular that you can only find them in this or that corner of the world. These are grapes that often get the cold shoulder from even knowledgeable wine drinkers, and not because they don't produce good wines. These grapes and the wines they produce are generally ignored because they are not easy to understand, and are often produced in ways that are designed to offer pleasure at the table rather than impress at some grand tasting event. 

These wines aren't always big, and are rarely pointy, but they represent the diversity and patrimony of an entire industry. They are so important on so many levels that we must pay more attention to them. We have to save them, to help the wineries that are trying to stave off their extinction. These are wines that have no equal and no comparison. They are authentic, unique, and a part of the fabric of a culture that is receding out of view. They represent the true source of wine for so many, and today I'd like to take a look at a few.

Picotendre

So what brought around these thoughts of the obscure you might ask? It was a visit today to the Valle d'Aosta where I met with Nicco and Jean Louis Merlet, a father and son team trying to preserve the vinous history of the region. The local superstar here in this small valley in Northwestern Italy happens to be a variety of Nebbiolo known locally as Picotendre or Picotendro. Grown on ancient terraces around the town of Donnas, cut from the steep and severe slopes of the local hills, Picotendre historically was blended with a little of the indigenous Gros Vien and the local Freisa to supply the regional market. Today few people choose to farm these slopes; one look will tell you why.

Discover the wines of Valle d'Aosta

Valle d'Aosta

It's ridiculously difficult to farm here with vines that are living in the shadow of the edge of viability, making the prospect of a successful commercial venture even more unlikely, but still here they are. People are making a go of it and continuing to produce unique, expressive wines and hoping that we take notice before the will to do so has moved on. Today more and more of these vineyards are being abandoned as younger generations move away from the land. It's time to change the dynamic. Go out and find a bottle of Donnas Rouge, Arnad-Motjovet, or Chambave for a taste of mountain wine that really is like no other.
 

Fer Servardou

Fer Servadou may not be as challenging to farm as Picotendre, but it very nearly disappeared from the wine world in the 1960s as the local demand for this surprisingly friendly grape tailed off. Grown almost exclusively in the Marcillac region of Southwest France, Fer, as the grape is commonly known, has not captured the imagination of wine drinkers on a global scale, even as the wines of neighboring regions have broken through our collective consciousness. Slowly, and through the persistence and conviction of a handful of growers, the wines of Marcillac have staged a comeback of sorts. From a handful of hectares to close to 200 today, these are not mass produced wines by any stretch of the imagination, but they are a lovely reminder of the diversity this corner of France once enjoyed.

Marcillac

I've had both red and rose versions of Marcillac, each very attractive in their own right, though the rose in particular was distinctive. Rather powerful for a rose and full of brambly, rusty, lightly peppery red fruit that carries a rustic edge, this is a truly attractive expression of rose perfect for a country picnic. The red versions are quite similar if obviously more intense with flavors based on red fruit, excellent acidity and subtle if slightly wiry and dry tannins all wrapped in dried herb and mineral notes. These are exciting wines that never will win accolades from the pundits, though they often win the dead soldier award, a reference to the first bottle emptied at a dinner or tasting, when they make appearances.

Dicscover the wines of Marcillac

Maturana Tinta

Once an important part of the blend of Rioja, Maturana would have been wiped out completely without the arrival of phylloxera in the region. Rediscovered in a small vineyard in Navarrette and rescued by the University of Rioja's grape rescue project, Maturana has emerged as an interesting addition to the wine lover's landscape over the past decade, though they remain difficult to track down. These are powerful wines, in contrast to the elegance one expects in Rioja. The name refers to the fact that these grapes mature late, as opposed to the early-maturing Tempranillo, whose name can be roughly translated as the little early one.

Discover Maturana Tinta

Rioja

Rioja is the home of Maturana Tinta, and you'll find most if not all examples are produced by Rioja Bodegas, but the wines remind me of something quite completely different. Bark and rich, structured and packed with black currant, black cherry and herbal aromas, it seems like a close cousin of Carmenere, yet one that is bigger and broader than the ones we typically encounter from Chile. I love Carmenere, though when they get very ripe and are made in this powerful style they often lose their herbaceousness and morph into a more international style. Not so with Maturana. Here we find power, richness and an incredibly appealing herbal savoriness. It's a wine that needs to be experienced in order to be understood, and unlike Picotendre and Fer Servadou, we have a wine that may very well turn into a critic's darling!

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,004

    Speaking of off the beaten path grapes from Rioja, the less-well-known Graciano makes really nice reds as well. Usually found in Rioja blends, there are some varietal bottles making their way to the US now. We finished one off last night, from Rio Madre (a label I bet was created just for the US market) and at $10 or so, this is a pleasure-giving bargain.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:18 PM


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