Painting the world red
Monday 21st October 2013, 10:00AM BST.
From tarrango to Tanat, Richard Allisette’s journey through the lesser-known red grape varieties takes him around the world in many sips…
THE more wines made from the nero d’avola grape I drink, the more I like it – yet even 10 years ago few people outside Sicily had heard of it, let alone drunk it.
Even Oz Clarke in his excellent book Grapes and Wines, published in 2008, gives it a scant five lines.
But if you are looking for a soft, full-bodied everyday red for not much more than a fiver, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for it.
It’s found in Sicily virtually exclusively, though one or two producers in California and Australia are starting to experiment with it.
In style it is dark-coloured with soft, spicy fruit and should be enjoyed by wine drinkers who enjoy shiraz and Argentinian malbec – in fact, some pundits reckon it could be the next malbec. The cheaper versions (around £5/£6) will almost certainly be unoaked and make an excellent everyday red. Nero d’avola is usually found on its own, though a few producers add it to shiraz and merlot to increase the acidity a little. More serious stuff is made, usually with the help of oak-aging and, provided the wine has enough fruit to support it, they are certainly worth trying.
Price is usually a good indicator – more than £10 a bottle is likely to mean it has been oaked.
This is one of those grapes you have probably drunk without realising it. Petit verdot is used in Bordeaux to add colour, structure and perfume (violets) to the normal blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc – though the label on the bottle is unlikely to give you much information. Chateau Margaux, for instance, uses anything up to 10% of petit verdot in its blend, but you need to do a little research to find out how much in each vintage. In Bordeaux it is not often used on its own but I have tasted excellent petit verdot from Argentina, Chile and Australia.
This is a bit of a Marmite grape – one you love or hate. Normally found in north-east Italy, and possibly Greece, it makes deep-coloured acidic, grassy wines that remind me a little of Loire reds made in cooler years. Plums and damsons are the most normal flavours found in refosco and its high acidity level makes it a good wine to cut through a rich, meaty, slow-cooked casserole.
You will often see the word tannin mentioned in wine tasting notes – it’s that dryness you get in red wine (particularly when the wine is young) and that puckers your cheeks when it is at its most extreme. Well, it’s no surprise that the grape tannat is pretty high in tannin. And yet it’s worth persevering with because it makes some of the most undervalued red wine in the world – Madiran.
And when made by someone such as Alain Brumont it would be one of my first choices for a desert-island wine.
But Madiran demands patience. I have bottles well over 20 years old in my cellar and I’m not touching them yet. However, don’t despair if you want to try the grape. Brumont, for instance, makes an excellent drinkable young red by blending merlot with tannat.
But to try the grape on its own you will need to seek out wines from Uruguay, because in the same way that Argentina has made malbec its USP, Uruguay has picked up the tannat mantle. Expect a big, rich wine, still with a certain amount of tannin but softer than its French counterpart.
Found only in Australia to my knowledge, where it was ‘invented’ in 1965 by crossing the touriga grape with sultana. It makes a Beaujolais look-alike, full of crunchy juicy fruit. It is one of those reds best served cool. Undoubtedly the best-known tarrango is made by Brown Brothers in Victoria.