The Great Grape Alphabet
Here are six more varieties, beginning with “C”, as we continue to plough our way alphabetically and blissfully through the ampelographic wonderland, supported by diverse examples from our wine portfolio.
Caíño blanco is a white Spanish/Portuguese wine grape variety that is grown in northwest Spain and northern Portugal in the strip between Viñho Verde and Rías Baixas. While DNA profiling has shown that the two grapes are distinct varieties, the evidence has suggested that Caíño blanco maybe an offspring of Albariño from a natural crossing with the red Portuguese wine grape Azal tinto (also known as Caíño Bravo). Terras Gauda, in the O Rosal region of Rias Baixas, has always used a proportion of Caiño – up to 25% in the estate blend, and produces approximately 90% of the Caiño throughout the region. A low yielding grape, the least productive of Galician white grape varieties, with small clusters and grapes, Caiño provides very good structure and body resulting in wine with definition and depth. Naturally high acidity provides freshness and ensures perfect ageing. The grapes for La Mar (Terras Gauda’s showcase Caiño) are harvested in the first week of October with excellent ripeness levels, good malic and tartaric acidity and a wide aromatic profile. In the mouth, the wine displays great complexity with crunchy nectarine flavours seasoned with ginger and pepper, marked mineral tones, the whole ensemble soothed by slick acidity.
Quick definition: One of a Galician Caiño
This is the former ugly duckling that has grown into a black swan with bags of attitude. Dismissed by several leading wine writers, who have since had to drink their words, Carignan has become recognised as perfectly suited to the warmer subregions of the Mediterranean. This hardy grape, trained in gobelet, with root systems that penetrate deep into the bare rocky soils, communicates terroir adeptly, especially in terms of impressions of minerality. If you’re jaded by the Merlot world (and we are, we are) and looking for a “vin d’ici” then Carignan is your man. We’ve chugged it in Chile, argle-gargled it in Argentina, sipped it in Spain and lapped it in the Languedoc-Roussillon, and we can say that the wines from these gnarled vines, in whatever country, deliver great terroir flavour, usually at fantastic value. Although the grape often appears in blends, bolting together Grenache and Syrah, we have some wonderful solo versions – the ancient vines Lo Vielh from Clos du Gravillas; Matassa Rouge from Tom Lubbe (also venerable vines), the Villalobos Carignan Reserva from The Wild Vineyard in Colchagua, and Ampeleia’s delicious cement-fermented and aged Carignano from Toscana.
Quick definition: Carry on up the Catalan Carignan
The word Carricanti refers "to loading up" the cart or the donkey with the copious amounts of grapes this variety can produce when left to its own devices. Carricante is a variety that loves mountainous altitudes and is potentially one of Italy's greatest cultivars. Growing well on the volcanic slopes of Etna, Carricante is a one-zone variety, as it is found only on the slopes of the Etna volcano, in the countryside around towns such as Viagrande, Randazzo, and others. It grows at high altitudes on both the eastern and the southern slopes of the volcano at altitudes of 950-1,050 metres above sea level and is classically trained as albarello (bush vine). Wines from this grape are characterised by very high acidity and very low pH due to high malic acid concentrations. For this reason, it is necessary to ensure malolactic transformation, something that Sicilians already knew in the eighteenth century. Vignerons also tend to harvest as late as possible – often at the end of October to find the ripeness to soften the edges of the wine. Great Carricante is often described as a dry Riesling look-alike, when five to ten years old, it expresses very obvious flinty, diesel-fuel aromas just as Riesling does, very refined and pure in its graceful mineral aromas and racy, lemony flavours, complicated by aniseed, green apple, orange flower, chamomile, and unripe apricot. It is one of only a handful of Italian white wines that age well, benefiting from ten years or even more. Its penetrating aromas, saline flavours, and extremely high acidity. Salvo Foti, who consults for the I Vigneri, makes two versions – Aurora and Vignadomilo and we are looking forward keenly to the offerings from Vino di Anna.
Quick definition: Carrying the can for Etna’s volcanic terroir
Cesanese Comune is almost exclusively planted in the Lazio region of Italy, and has long been associated with the ancient town and comune of Anagni. The Cesanese di Affile DOC is located around the commune of Affile in the province of Rome, though the sub-variety of Cesanese di Affile has migrated north to southern Tuscany. Damiano Ciolli only makes wines from the local Cesanese grape on a total of 4.5ha divided between 2 plots. Olveano is surrounded by three mountains around, including Mount Simburini, which screens cold air from Abruzzo making it quite a windy microclimate which benefits the vines. The red volcanic soils confer delicacy and minerality. The vineyards are farmed organically - only copper and sulphur are used, with compost from local cows mixed in with wild boar compost! He has used some very old vines from his grandfather’s time (0.5 ha) near an orchard to create a massale selection. His “Silene” is the aforementioned Cesanese di Affile and the Cesanese Comune (the “neglected” clone, yielding bigger bunches, used for lightness and freshness). Damiano harvests early to prevent high alcohols even if phenolic maturity is not perfect, preferring to retain acid.
Quick definition: Hail Cesanese, we have come to praise you!
Derives in theory from the Georgian word “chinebuli” meaning “excellent” or “the best” in this instance referring to the grapes superb appearance, colour, and flavour. Indeed, some producers even call the variety “Chinebuli.” Originating in Kartli, but also grown in Kakheti, Chinuri grows well diverse soils and locations, whether in alluvial or stony soils, on steep slopes or the plains. It is high yielding and a medium-late ripener, with budburst in mid-April and maturation in early October. Chinuri is made as a still wine, with moderate alcohol levels and crisp acidity, whether fermented in qvevri or tank. When produced in tank Chinuri has floral and herbal aromas, including hints of mint, pear and other yellow fruits. Chinuri qvevri is tannic and muskier, with flavors of dried pears and apricots laced with a slightly more concentrated herbal complexity. Iago Bitarishvili, one of our favourite Georgian vignerons, makes two versions of it; one with skin contact and one without. Skinless is stomped by foot, whereas skinny is gently crushed before the whole bunches are surrendered to the clay and remain there for three to six months to accrue colour, body and tannin.
Quick definition: Chin-chin skinny Chinuri
Courbu is the name of three related varieties of wine grapes primarily found in South West France. The name, without suffix, can refer to both Petit Courbu and Courbu blanc. Confusingly. Petit Courbu is a white wine grape from Gascony with a long history in the region. It adds body and contributes aromas of citrus and honey to the wines. It is found in Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh, Bearn and Jurançon as well as Saint-Mont. It is also known under the synonym Courbu. It features in Domaine Berthoumieu’s Pacherenc sec which has aromas of acacia and exotic fruits, is full yet fresh on the palate with notes of ripe pear and melon, ginger and cinnamon and in the wines of Clos Lapeyre including the Vitatge Vielh (old vines) and comprises one third of the Evidençia Vin Nature blend. The former has a beaten gold colour with super-ripe aromas of peach and passion-fruit and sweet spice and lovely acidity to keep it fresh in the mouth.
Courbu blanc is found primarily in the Basque areas, such as Irouléguy AOC. It is similar to Petit Courbu, but has darker young leaves. Once again it combines with Gros and Petit Manseng in the white Irouléguys of Cave du Pays Basque and Domaine Arretxea. There is even a soupçon of Courbu in the Mas de Daumas Gassac multi-blend. Not a lot of people know that.
Quick definition: Gascon-ade
So that takes us to next time when we will be exploring part 'D'...stay tuned!
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