Vine talk: Obscure grape varieties set to go global

Tue Sep 14, 2010 10:18am EDT
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(Robert Whitley is the publisher and managing editor of the wine website Wine Review Online and the host of an online radio show "Whitley on Wine." The opinions expressed are his own)

By Robert Whitley

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - California winemaker Randall Grahm often calls them his "lovable orphans," or a similar term of endearment. He is speaking of the obscure grape varieties of the world that are his passion.

The wines of Bonny Doon have long been a road map of sorts for curious wine enthusiasts, crafted as they often are from grapes no one ever heard of outside of the old country -- mostly the south of France, Italy, and remote regions of Spain.

This is where indigenous grapes stand against the tide of the so-called "international" grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc - that seem to be crowding the landscape with each passing vintage.

Every once in a while a wine made from indigenous grapes goes global. Witness the popularity of Albarino from Spain's Rias Baixas, a white wine that was virtually unknown 20 years ago.

More recently Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Argentine Malbec have produced a global following. There is a common thread throughout: affordability, accessibility and quality. The best wines made from those grapes grown in those places are simply delicious.

These once-obscure gems are no longer secrets. It's now time for the curious to move on, for the world of wine is chock full of other hidden treasures. Just to name a few:

Blanquette or Cremant de Limoux are sparkling wines from an area of the Languedoc around the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, where legend holds that the method for producing sparkling wine was formulated by the monks, who shared their secret with Dom Perignon as he made the pilgrimage from the Abbey of Hautvillers in France's Champagne region to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.   Continued...