Cocktail Hour: Unusual grapes
I am not one that does New Year’s resolutions. Over the years I have learned that I rarely, if ever, stick to them.
However, there is one resolution I do every year that I actually able to stick to. Every year I strive to try something new and expand my horizons in the beverage world.
We are in a golden age of producers that are using a combination of historical knowledge, technological advances and brilliant creativity to provide us with exceptional products. We just have to be daring enough to let these creations into our lives.
The following are grapes that I have resolved myself to experience this year, or are grapes that I have experienced, but they're off the beaten track — and brilliant.
Xinomavro(pronounced Ksee no’ ma vro): An excellent red grape for those looking for distinct flavors, rich tannins and long aging potential. Grown primarily in northern Greece, Xinomavro (meaning "acid-black") is a superb red that is not for the faint of heart. It possesses more than a few tannins that, when integrated right, can offer excellent structure and complexity. On the nose, this grape offers up aromas of red fruits such as gooseberry with hints of olives, spices and dried tomatoes. In the mouth, the wine can offer up more of the Mediterranean flavors such as oregano, sun-dried tomato along with olives and dark fruits. The finish is strong and long with the tannins doing their duty of adding structure and complexity. When done correctly, Xinomavro can resemble the classic and highly acclaimed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Hard to find, but good examples of Xinomavro are definitely worth seeking out.
Aglianico(ahl-YAH-nee-koe): Another dark grape from Greece that is not for the faint of heart. While this originated in Greece, it was brought by Greek settlers to southern Italy and is now predominately grown there. In ancient times, it was the main grape used in the famous Falernian wines of Rome (think first-growth wines of the day). It is now regarded as being the oldest grape variety still used by consumers today. The wines tend to be quite full-bodied with high tannins and high acidity — another red designed for hearty meals. When young, this grape is a bit tannic and wild, typically needing a few years to be tamed. Over time, the tannins get integrated and the fruit comes to the forefront. Much like humans, there is a sweet spot in the maturation process. At the right time, everything is clicking and the result is a well-balanced and very complex wine. Its trademark flavors are typically plum and chocolate.
Pedro Ximenez: PX is a white wine grown in many regions throughout Spain. Usually PX is used to make "liquid gold." Technically a sherry, but very different than any other styled sherry. When done in dessert wine fashion, the result is an intensely sweet, dark dessert wine. It is made by drying the grapes under the hot Spanish sun, which will concentrate the sweetness. The liquid is then a thick, black liquid with heavy notes of raisins and molasses. After being placed in barrel and fortified, PX becomes a formidable wine. My first experience with PX was years ago while attending a wine dinner at Olde Village Hallin Lanesboro. Served with homemade vanilla ice-cream, it was truly a match made in heaven!
Melon de Bourgogne: This grape originated in the French wine region of Burgundy, where it had a reputation as making crisp and simple white wines. While the wine had its fans, in the early 1700s the farmers of Burgundy were realizing that chardonnay was going to make them rich. Not wanting the precious chardonnay to be defiled by nearby Melon de Bourgogne, the French government ordered the destruction of Melon de Bourgogne vineyards in Burgundy. After this order, it would have been probable that Melon de Bourgogne would be lost to the ravages of history. However, the spinsters of fate had other ideas. In 1709, the vineyards around Nantes in the western Loire valley had experienced a winter so devastating that nearly all of the vines there had died. After that winter, the growers in the Loire Valley were in search of a new variety of grape to grow. Since then, Melon de Bourgogne has been ubiquitous in the production of the light dry wine Muscadet. The Melon de Bourgogne is so associated with the wine region Muscadet that most now simply call the grape Muscadet. The wine is light, dry and crisp and is quite possibly the perfect wine to serve with north Atlantic seafood. While best known in Muscadet, good examples of Melon de Bourgogne can also be found in Oregon under the name of Melon. Oregon Melon is very hard to find, but good examples of Muscadet are around and are delicious with seafood or a warm summer night.
Ari Kolas is co-owner of Apollo Wine & Spirits.