’til the cows come home
Monday 26th August 2013, 10:00AM BST.
Their names might be weird, but these wines are wonderful. Our wine man Richard Allisette continues his A to Z examination of the lesser-known white-wine grape varieties. Glass of garganega, anyone?
IT’S not very often that I thank the dairy industry for helping the wine trade, but this week I must.
One of the longest-serving wines in our shop is called Colombelle. We have been selling it for around 25 years and it remains as popular as ever. It is made by one of France’s most forward-thinking co-operatives of growers – Plaimont, down in Gascony. And yet few people have even heard of the grape it’s made from and which gives it its name…
In the past, it was used mainly in the production of Armagnac and Cognac because when it was made into still wine, it was pretty awful. So growers distilled the grape must into a spirit that was actually quite pleasant to drink. But sales of spirits went into decline and the growers in Gascony were really saved by the dairy industry. They found that by fermenting the grape must at cool temperatures (around 14 degrees or less), the freshness and flavour could be retained – flavour that was lost when the must was fermented at around the more normal 28 degrees or above. And initially it was equipment used to keep milk cool that achieved this.
Colombard is a fresh, aromatic variety that reminds me a little of sauvignon blanc. It is never going to make really great wine – its forte is very drinkable, fresh Vin de Pays, available for little more than a fiver. A few other countries have experimented with the grape, but Gascony still does it best.
This is one of the great trilogy of white-wine grapes found growing near Naples, the others being fiano and greco di tufo. All three are worth looking out for, particularly if you are a seafood lover, as they are ideally suited to fish and shellfish. Falanghina to me is a little like a very good pinot grigio, with flavours of just-ripe pears but with a crisp, dry finish. It is also made into a sweet wine, but this is not often seen outside its homeland.
Found up in Piedmonte in north-west Italy, it makes an interesting alternative to pinot grigio with delicate flavours of pears and aniseed. Worth trying, though not often seen in the UK. Deltetto makes the best I have come across.
One of my favourite grape varieties of southern Italy and getting better all the time. It reaches its apogee near the town of Avellino, around an hour’s drive from Naples (10 minutes if you’re Italian). The wines are quite weighty, with flavours of flowers and spice, and are a great choice with spicy seafood or white-meat dishes – something like chillied squid or crab Siciliana. There is some good fiano being grown in Puglia now, particularly where the vineyards are coastal and cooled by the sea. It can get clumsy and overblown if the grapes become over-ripe.
Initially found in Hungary and used for sweet wines, a number of high-class dry whites are being made now in Hungary and neighbouring Austria. Flavours invoke a smoky lime-zest-and-pear and are remarkably complex for the price asked. Not easy to find, but definitely worth trying.
If ever I have to pick grapes, I will choose to do so near the town of Soave in the Veneto, north-east Italy. Soave is made from garganega, but best of all for the pickers, it is grown on high trellises so there’s no back-breaking bending during harvest here. Soave used to be a synonym for insipid, dry white plonk, but these days some of Italy’s best white wines are made in the area.
At its best, it has flavours of almonds, greengage and citrus, all wrapped in a delicate frame of freshness. As ever, look for individual growers to get the best wines. These usually have the word classico on the label, indicating the grapes were grown in the hills. Hillside vineyards cool down at night, retaining the freshness and acidity vital to great white wine.
If you have come across the Spanish grape albarino and enjoyed it, it’s worth looking out for godello, a Spanish grape thought to be the same as Portugal’s verdelho. It has albarino’s characteristic peachy/apricotty fruit but with a slightly silkier edge to it – almost as though viognier has been added to the blend. Also like albarino, it finishes crisp and dry and is a perfect seafood wine. The best come from Valdeorras in north-west Spain.