An A–Z of Lesser Known Red Wine Grapes (Part 3)

Most of us enjoy a glass or two of red wine, whether it be
Posted 26th September 2012        

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Most of us enjoy a glass or two of red wine, whether it be a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Pinot Noir or a Syrah/Shiraz. However, do you ever yearn to try a red wine which is a little bit different? How do you go about trying a new red wine style in a more informed way than simply closing your eyes and reaching for a random bottle from the off licence shelf?

Hopefully, our ongoing browse through the world of lesser known red wine grapes will help give you the confidence to try something new. Alternatively, it might just enlighten you to which less well known grapes are included in some well known red wine styles.

If you have visited Tuscany in Italy you will almost certainly have come across reds from the Chianti region. Chianti wines are produced using the Sangiovese grape but this grape has another name in a different part of Tuscany. In the Scansano region of southern Tuscany Sangiovese is known as Morellino and you may see Morellino di Scansano red wines for sale. Like Chianti, these reds are full of cherry characteristics and are light bodied with soft tannins, although they tend to be less refined than wines from the Chianti region.

Negrette is a red wine grape found in the Cotes du Frontonnais appellation in south west France. According to the appellation rules it must make up between half and almost three quarters of the wine. Negrette wines have a raspberry aroma and a silky texture and are often blended with Syrah and Fer and occasionally Cabernet. Negrette reds are best drunk young.

Two southern Italy red wine grapes you may come across are Negroamaro and Nero d’Avola. Negroamaro is concentrated in Puglia and is something of an acquired taste but is worth the effort. The wine is extremely dark coloured and full-bodied with hints of farmyard and the contents of the medicine cupboard. However, some of the better producers soften the edge with some Malvasia Nera. The Sicilian grape Nera d’Avola is becoming increasingly fashionable. The wine is dark coloured and full bodied with a soft texture and ages well.

Petit Verdot used to be a major player in Bordeaux until producers got fed up with its habit of ripening so late. These days its use is largely restricted to blends from the Medoc and Margaux, where it is still valued for its appealing violet aroma and for its structure and colour. However, as Petit Verdot falls out of favour in Bordeaux it is being embraced by enthusiastic producers in California, Chile, Australia and Bulgaria where it is used as both a varietal and a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon.

For years Petite Sirah was grown in California under the mistaken impression that it was a variation of the Syrah grape. In reality its origins come from a cross between Syrah and a French vine known as Peloursin and over time the name Petite Sirah was used as a catch all for a variety of different red wine grape vines which were all planted closely together in California. These days most Petite Sirah in California is Durif and Petite Sirah is now an official synonym for the Durif grape. The wines are dark and meaty with intense blackberry characteristics. It’s a powerful red wine which ages well and has also proved to be a good blending partner for Zinfandel.

Primitivo is another southern Italy red wine grape which is catching the eye of fashion conscious wine drinkers. Concentrated in Puglia it produces big, highly alcoholic red wines. If you like Californian Zinfandel give it a try – it has been established thanks to DNA fingerprinting that Primitivo and Zinfandel are one and the same grape although no-one has yet been able to work out how the grape arrived in Italy. Look out for Primitivo wines from Australia and Chile where producers are experimenting with it.

Italy has a host of little known red wine grapes and another example is Sagrantino. This grape is grown in the area around Perugia in Umbria and the resulting wines are intense with strong tannins and characteristics of cherry and smoke. If you see a bottle of Montefalco DOCG it will contain a red wine produced largely from the Sagrantino grape.

Austrian red wines are not exactly fashionable but it is worth seeking out reds from Thermenregion and southern Burgenland which are likely to contain the Sankt Laurent grape. This is an early flowering grape which is claimed to be a Pinot Noir seedling, although some dispute this claim. However, it does have many Pinot Noir characteristics as well as many similarities to Gamay. The wines are soft and cherryish and best drunk young.

Image by Zyance.

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