Posted 21st November 2012        

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Our exploration of lesser known red wine grapes is almost at an end. Hopefully you will have been encouraged to seek out an unfamiliar red wine or two and will have found your red wine drinking experience enhanced as a result. Even if you found yourself underwhelmed by a Primitivo or a Chambourcin it may give you the motivation to avoid your usual Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz in favour of something different.

We can continue our discovery of the less well known red wine grapes with a Russian grape called Saperavi. Russian reds may take some proactive seeking out unless you are visiting the country but this low-yielding grape with its dark skin and lighter pink flesh is worth a try. The resulting wine is acidic and deeply coloured with lots of tannin so needs aging but it is being tipped by wine writers such as Oz Clarke as a classic grape of the future.

Sangiovese is not exactly an unfamiliar red wine grape but it is perhaps better known as the primary grape in the famous Italian wine Chianti. Tuscany is the centre of Sangiovese production and the grape, with its herb and bitter cherry characteristics, is the mainstay of not only reds produced in the Chianti region but also of other super-Tuscan reds such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Red wines produced using Sangiovese can be found elsewhere in Italy and indeed elsewhere in the world – producers in the USA, Australia and Central and South America are experimenting with the grape.

Schiava and Schioppettino are two Italian red wine grapes which produce pleasant, light wines. Schiava is concentrated in the Trentino-Alto Adige region where it makes a slightly smoky red wine with strawberry characteristics. It is the primary grape in the blend produced under the DOC Santa Maddalena classification. Schioppettino comes from the Friuli region and the resulting reds have characteristics of pepper and raspberries. If you happen to be visiting the region you may find a sparkling version popular amongst locals.

Tannat is a French red wine grape which is becoming increasingly popular in South America. In France, Tannat is concentrated in the Basque region and is usually part of a blend with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is known for its high tannin levels and the resulting wines, even the blends, can be tough if the grape isn’t handled well. Growers in Uruguay have embraced the grape and producers have worked hard to increase the quality of the wines which are now showing ripe tannins and refined blackberry characteristics.

The Tarrango grape is the result of a crossing in Australia in the 1960s of Touriga and Sultana. The resulting red wine is similar to that produced in the Beaujolais region of France – i.e. low in tannin but with plenty of colour and acidity. The best examples of reds from this grape are produced in the hot, arid conditions of Australia’s Riverland region.

Portugal has many indigenous red wine grapes but many wine experts and amateurs argue that Touriga Nacional is the country’s greatest red wine grape. However, wonderful as its aromas of violets and leather and flavours of dark fruits are, its aggressive tannins mean it is best blended with other grapes to produce a softer wine so it is most often found as part of a blend with a variety of other Portuguese red wine grapes. Touriga Nacional is also the grape which contributes the most to the star quality of the great Ports of the Douro Valley. In maturing, the grape takes on wonderful rich mulberry and blackberry characteristics whilst maintaining its hints of black pepper and perfume of violets.

Another Portuguese variety is Vinhao. This is the primary grape in red Vinho Verde wines which are currently enjoying a revival, thanks to the global clamour for red wines. However, red Vinho Verde may not fit in with the current trend for soft, ripe, sun-kissed New World reds – red Vinho Verde is very high in acidity and is a bit of a wildcat amongst reds, not to everyone’s taste.

Zweigelt is the most planted red wine grape in Austria. Despite being regarded as a workhouse grape due to its high yields and ease of growth the resulting wines are interesting and enjoyable. The best are surprisingly rich and bursting with fruit characteristics of cherries alongside an appealing tingle of pepper. The wines are for drinking young although the best will take a few years of aging in the bottle.

So ends our A-Z journey through the less well known red wine grapes. Hopefully it has been informative and has demonstrated that there are a whole host of interesting and enjoyable reds available if you only look beyond the obvious.
Image by Zyance.

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