Grapes are truly products of their environment. They reflect the character of the soil in which they are set, and they are absolute recorders of weather history throughout their journey from flower to fruit.
Everything that a grape experiences in its maturing cycle is in its being. And along with a grape's sensitivity is also a penchant for just trying to get along. An easygoing nature has allowed the fruit to find a way to flourish on just about every continent.
Grapes in North America have been an always-here circumstance. The earliest European explorers of our land, the Norse, named this large plot of ground Vinland around 1000 BC. Just coming ashore, they had to chop their way through dense grapevines to see what wonderful things lay beyond the shore. They found more grapevines. They were not amused.
Almost from the moment of our nation's founding, America was awash in the same grape varietals so prevalent in Europe. Despite the political potboiler we soon created (and have continued to this very day), our country fashioned itself into Europe Lite. Our winemaking efforts were not as sophisticated as those of the motherlands, but our products were promising. And we did not have some pompous windbag monarch, along with his silly court, telling us what to plant and where.
But even with our great freedoms and our fertile land under magnificent skies, there are grape varietals that simply like their Old World homes better than the glorious outdoors of the U.S. of A. While cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah have all acclimated to life stateside, some other grape cousins are just as happy to stay in their home, thank you very much.
The wineries located in Spain’s extreme northwestern area, Rias Baixas (ree-uhz BUY-shuhz), work with one white grape, and they all handle the grape in pretty much the same way. So, there are subtlly, but not majorly, different bouquet and taste sensations. If you’ve had one albariño wine, you have indeed pretty much had them all.
But it is a wine you will enjoy, very much. One of the staple foods in the Rias Baixas cuisine is scallops, and this wine pairs beautifully with the dish. By the same token, we here in New Orleans are also known for fresh seafood, and this wine pairs beautifully with cooler versions of our specialties. Think crab cocktail, shrimp cocktail (neither with red cocktail sauce, but with lemon and maybe a bit of garlic), ceviche and oysters.
Albariño features citrus, lime, vanilla, honey, and peach bouquets and flavors. No wood is used in fermentation so the freshness and crispness of the fruit is immediately apparent.
This is the major grape used in the production of sherry in the Jerez region of Spain. It is a white grape and is low in acid and sugar. Palomino, while related to the Listán grape in France and the Franzdruif in South Africa, is almost always used in making fortified wines, which are wines that have distilled spirits added to the mix. Interestingly, DNA research has shown that the ubiquitous mission grape, used in California’s early winemaking as introduced by the Spanish, is a relative of the palomino.
Where palomino really shines is in the solera process of making sherry. A solera is a row of 600-liter American oak barrels stacked four or five barrels high and multiple rows deep. The new wine is put into the top row of barrels. As wine is needed, it is taken from the bottom barrel. Replenishment for the bottom barrel is taken from the barrel just above it, and so on. The wine from the top eventually ends up passing through five barrels until it is ready for packaging.
But all the sherry needed for market is not just taken from the bottom row. Mixing takes place from all the rows. For this reason, and now you know the rest of the story, sherry never contains a vintage designation because the wine from any given year cannot be determined in the final blend.
Can there be a better name for a wine grape? Okay, maybe the southern U.S. white grape called blanc du bois, but that’s the only one close.
Bacchus is primarily a German creation, a cross between the riesling and Müller-Thurgau grapes. The grape is low in acidity but boasts high yields in difficult growing conditions, particularly in areas where full ripening of riesling does not occur.
Due to its not-always-successful flavor profiles, the grape is in decline in Germany’s cold-weather areas, which includes most everywhere in the vast country.
The other red grape in Tuscany, Italy besides sangiovese. There is also a white version which is primarily used in the neighboring area of Umbria on the Italian peninsula.
Canaiolo is thought to have been the main grape in Tuscany during the 18th century, noted for its ability to partially dry out and yet not rot. In that way, more interesting bouquets and flavors could be imparted to the wines, which sangiovese, today’s dominant grape of this region, could not develop, given the vinification techniques of that era.
Canaiolo as a species is still suffering from the effects of the unsuccessful grafting procedures onto American rootstocks following the phylloxera epidemic (root louse infestation) of the late 19th century. There are ongoing efforts to reclaim the grape’s heritage and allow it to return in a key and historic role in the making of the wines of Chianti.
There are over 5,000 species of grapes worldwide that are capable of making commercially acceptable wines. If you have tried some, and found several you like, excellent. But you really should also try some others. You never know what the result will be. You may just like what you discover.