Wine Time, Exploring non-traditional grape varieties.

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Grenache – it is thought Grenache originated in Spain, and surprisingly it is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world.  In Spain alone there used to be over 400,000 hectares of Grenache, which was reduced to approximately 200,000 hectares when varieties such as Tempranillo grew in popularity. France now leads, with approximately 250,000 hectares.

One of the most famous wines in the world, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape produced from vineyards of a specific region in France, is predominantly made from Grenache – as are other famous wines from Rioja in Spain, which are again a Grenache blend, typically with Tempranillo.

Grenache has typically been used as a blender, bringing fruitiness and body, without the added tannin. A popular blend in Australia is GSM – Grenache, Shiraz and Mouverde. While it is not common to see a straight Grenache, there are a few straight varietals out of South Australia that reward deliciously with ageing. Grenache is also popular for making Rosé and fortified wines.

Barbera is an Italian variety enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The everyday drinking wine in Italy is typically Chianti, but look for the Barbera; it offers something a little more interesting.  

This grape has a beautiful deep rich colour, low tannin and high acid. Traditionally, the high acid has made it not-so-popular, but the combination of low yielding vines coupled with storage in French oak results in lower acidity and the resulting wine being well worth the effort. It is a wine to be drunk young and is rich, yet light bodied – an unusual combination.   

Plantings of Barbera are growing worldwide. It is the third most planted variety in Italy and is also found in Argentina, California and is building in popularity in Australia.

I really didn’t take Zinfandel seriously for many years, as the only time I’d ever had it was in parts of the US, where wine drinking was not that common, so all you could really get was this insipid pale sweet drink that was called Zinfandel. I didn’t think much of it at all. It wasn’t until much more recently when I tried a deep red medium bodied Zinfandel from Rutherglen in Victoria that I realised there was so much more to this varietal than I had experienced.  

The real home of Zinfandel is California, where it has been grown since the 1800s and thrives in the warm climate. It has proven to be a versatile variety, being used for “white” Zin, Sparkling Zin, blended, and lovely big reds. Zinfandel from California’s old vines have complexity and are well worth checking out.

Zinfandel isn’t very widely grown, with 50,000 acres in the US and 20,000 acres in Italy, and a small amount elsewhere.  Zinfandel and the Italian Primitivo are the same varietal, with its origins in Croatia and as vines do, they have adapted to their respective environmental conditions and have developed personalities of their own.  

These three varieties are worth seeking out, particularly as we head into the cooler months. 

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