Everyone knows the ‘big name’ grape varieties – Cabernet, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Sauvignon – and, of course, our very own Pinotage. But how many of you have heard of Mourvedre, Carignan, Roussanne and Barbera? Well now is the time to start.
A bit of history
If you go back into your school days, you probably know that vines were brought over in the 17th Century by some of the French Huguenots who fled religious persecution at the hands of the Catholics. They brought with them cuttings of vines from the areas they came from and planted them here in the Cape. As the industry became more regulated in the last century, it became difficult to get hold of plant material for some of the more obscure varieties, so most wine farms simply planted what they could get hold of, which was generally the well-known grapes.
Diversity is in our nature.
Over the last decade or so, winemakers have got more adventurous and have started to try and use lesser-known varieties as part of their blends – something areas such as the Rhone Valley have done for years. They have also been more comfortable with branching out into Italian and Spanish grape varieties with the result that a whole lot of new types of wine are now available.
One winery which has made a big splash about oddball grape varieties is Bovlei Cellars in Wellington. They’ve recently launched a new range called ‘Mad Hatters’ consisting of 5 red wines (Sangiovese, Barbera, Carignan, Mourvedre and Malbec) and 1 white wine (a blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc). All screwcapped and each one with a different hat, they all retail at R39.95 at Ultra Liquors.
My favourite was actually the white wine – I found the reds to all be enjoyable, soft and juicy, but not showing any massive amounts of varietal character, whilst the white had pleasant stonefruit flavours and a nice citrus acidity. But according to GM Herman le Roux, the main idea behind the range is to expose people to these lesser-known grape varieties at a consumer-friendly price. They’ve backed this up with some of the most sensible, intelligent and accessible tasting notes I’ve seen for some time. You’ll get them on their website soon, but in the meantime, hard copies can be found in-store. If you haven’t come across these varieties before, then this is a great-value way of giving your tastebuds a tweak.
Once you realise that there are a heck of a lot of other varieties out there, you may want to experiment even more. The Foundry Wines is owned by Meerlust winemaker, Chris Williams, and produces tiny amounts of handcrafted wines from lesser-known Rhone varieties. He makes three white wines – Grenache Blanc 2011, Roussanne 2010, Viognier 2009 - all of which show what the varieties can really do when they try. Common factors include rich, intense flavours and a good balance between acidity and oak. My favourite is the Roussanne which shows elegant baked peaches and a delightful dusky complexity. Priced between R98 and R115, you can buy them from independent retailers such as Wine Concepts.
Other makers of unusual varieties – try the Swartland Winery Winemaker’s Select Barbera, Welgegund’s Carignan, Beaumont Mourvedre and Terra del Capo Sangiovese.
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