An A–Z of Lesser Known Red Wine Grapes (Part 2)

Red wine enthusiasts will know all about the major international grapes such as Cabernet
Posted 24th August 2012        

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Red wine enthusiasts will know all about the major international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz/Syrah. Many will know of the red wine grapes associated with the main wine producing countries such as Tempranillo, the primary grape behind Rioja reds and Sangiovese, the grape responsible for Chianti.

However, there are many other lesser known red wine grape varieties in countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Some are obscure and rightfully so whilst others form part or all of some popular red wine styles but remain in the background thanks to labelling which emphasises the regional classification.

We shall resume our A-Z journey through less well known red wine grapes with Corvina, an Italian grape behind the popular light red wine styles of Valpolicella and Bardolino. Like many other Italian grapes it can produce poor quality wines if over cropped but with careful producers and vines planted in the best conditions it can result in interesting and enjoyable red wines with aromas of cherry and flowers. Corvina is also used to make amarone and recioto wines.

Germany is perhaps better known for white rather than red wine but the Dornfelder grape produces some enjoyable fruity reds from the Pfalz, Wurttemberg and Rheinhessen regions. The grape is the result of several vine crossings and has also spawned new grapes from crossings itself. Dornfelder is also used by producers in England where it is often blended with Pinot Noir.

Dr Durif created his namesake Durif grape in the late 19th century and at first it was grown in the south of France, favoured for its resistance to mildew. These days it has almost disappeared from France but has reared its head in Australia, where it produces a dry and solid warm-climate red and in California where it has been proven that it is in fact the same grape as Petite Sirah and produces a dark, tannic red wine with a savoury character and intense blackberry characteristics.

Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais, including Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Crus. It produces a lovely light red wine with tons of character and is usually low in both tannin and alcohol. It has a sweet shop aroma with hints of banana, pear drops, cherries, raspberries and black pepper. Gamay is usually best drunk young although some of the best Beaujolais Crus can be aged for up to 10 years.

If you enjoy Italian reds look out for the Lagrein grape. It comes from the Trentino-Alto Adige region and produces an interesting deep-coloured red wine with characteristics of sour plums, grass, bitter cherries and dark chocolate and low tannins.

Lambrusco is another Italian red wine grape which has been much maligned over the years in its mass-produced versions. True Lambrusco is dry and low in tannins with strawberry characteristics and a bitter aftertaste. Ignore any Lambrusco that comes with a screw top – true Lambrusco comes in bottles with a cork and a DOC label. There are actually four Lambrusco DOCs which relate to blends of the various sub-varieties of the Lambrusco grape. Unfortunately it is not always easy to find true Lambrusco outside its home area of Modena in Emilia-Romagna and it can be expensive but if you spot a bottle it is worth giving it a try.

If you are visiting Spain and want to try an alternative Spanish red wine to Rioja look out for young reds produced from the Mencia grape. It is found primarily in north western Spain but also features in Bierzo, Ribeiro and Valdeorra. The wine is fresh, light and acidic with plenty of tannins and characteristics of raspberry and blackcurrant leaf.

The Meunier, or Pinot Meunier, grape is probably a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape. It is commonly used in small amounts in the Champagne blend but its primary home otherwise is Germany where it is known as Mullerebe, Schwarzriesling and Muller-Traube. The wine is a light red colour with high acidity and a smoky flavour.

If you enjoy red wine made from the French grape Mourvedre look out for Monastrell reds from Spain. Monastrell is the Spanish name for Mourvedre and in reality is the true name of the grape as its origins are in Spain not France. Monastrell plantings are concentrated in the Jumilla and Yecla regions of Spain and the grape is used for both varietal and blended reds with quality improving all the time.

Montepulciano is a familiar but confusing name associated with Italian red wines. The town of Montepulciano in Tuscany is responsible for the fine wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which is made from the Sangiovese grape. The Montepulciano grape is best known for producing Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, usually a value for money rounded, plummy red wine with good tannins and acidity.

Image by die.tine.

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