The Grape Glossary - A's
At Les Caves we are truly the sleuthiest of grape detectives, discovering, supporting and darned well drinking autochthonous varieties by the bouquet-load. This is not just obscurity for the sake of it; these are often ancient varieties that are in danger of becoming extinct or replaced by more commercial/international ones and thus deserve their place on any self-respecting wine portfolio. More than that these grapes have an historical link with the region and the terroir and someone planted them there for a reason!
Here are six varieties beginning with “A” to start you off as we plough our way alphabetically through the ampelographic wonderland - with examples from our wine portfolio.
A noble red grape found in Campania as well as further south (Vulture in Basilicata notably), one tending to ripen quite late giving wines that are broad in beam and big in tannin. The Lonardo family has been producing Aglianico in Contrade di Taurasi for generations. In 1998 Alessandro’s daughter, Enza, started vinifying and commercialising Taurasi DOCG. Lonardo is one of the leading exponents of “old-style” Taurasi which involves very long ageing. The resultant wines are almost mahogany-red in colour with shades of orange, and yield up spicy, strong aromas of black fruit such as plums, confit black cherries as well coffee and liquorice. Smooth, full-bodied and complex on the palate this wine displays (after a while) further secondary notes of leather, game and tobacco. Megan & Ryan Glaab (Ryme Cellars) produce their brilliant organic version of Aglianico from an organic vineyard in Paso Robles, where the dark fruit is given a beautiful balancing boost of acidity from the limestone bedrock soils.
Quick definition: Beauty is the beast
Hugely confusing this, so pay attention. This is no relation to Albarino (from Galicia) nor Albillo which grows throughout Madrid into northern Spain. It may (or may not) be a relation to the Savagnin of Jura (which confusingly was found to be Australia under the guise of Albarino) and according to some shares some flavour profiles as Sauvignon (it isn’t related and it doesn’t). We find it flying solo in Nicolas Marcos’ wines from Cangas – Pesico Blanco; it also appears in his light blend called Fanfarria Blanco alongside Albillo (still no relation).
Quick definition: Whatever it sounds like it ain’t like anything else
Makes sweet and dry wines from Tuscany & Elba and was supposedly a highly consoling drink for Napoleon in his Elba exile way back in the day. The Chileans call it red Moscatel, and it may well be related to Muscat à Petit Grains, and seems to make good grapey fortified or passito sweet wines. In the past, we have listed traditional versions from Massa Vecchia in the Massa Marittima. But, being Les Caves de Pyrene, we bring you a warped (or mutated) example from Andrea Occhipinti, the Aleatico di Gradoli (an indigenous manifestation, stylistically a touch more delicate and spicy than the examples from Massa Vecchia). But we don’t want you to have the red version! The grapes for Andrea’s Aleatico (Rosso) Bianco are destemmed into stainless vat and cement, and pressed without maceration. Ambient ferment proceeds with indigenous yeasts and the wine is matured in tank undergoing a natural malo with a light filtration and a little SO2 added just before bottling. The wine is delightfully “shelly” with a leesy bite -almost like a very grown up Muscadet.
Quick definition: The red will be all white on the night
I am greatly obliged, and I should like it of all things, I assure you; but I am far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by possessing learning. Learning ain't for me. A person like myself had better not aspire. If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly.
I don’t see Aligoté as a passive aggressive grape variety demanding of our attention or approval, but rather as yet another example of how any variety that is carefully farmed and planted on interesting terroir has the capacity to produce very good and occasionally sublime wines. Of course, to begin, one has to unpick a few preconceptions and throw a bucket of cold Chardonnay over the patrician critical judgement that asseverates that Aligoté is a lowly grape, born on the wrong side of the tracks.
Here is how Wiki damns the variety with a variety of the faintest of… damns.
Aligoté (which according to DNA fingerprinting is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc) is used to produce a varietal white wine, and is sometimes included in the blend of Burgundian sparkling wine known as Cremant de Bourgogne. In the varietal appellation Bourgogne Aligoté up to 15% Chardonnay grapes may be blended in. Traditionally, the cocktail kir (also known as vin blanc cassis in French) is made by adding cassis to an Aligoté wine. Aligoté adds acidity and structure to other varieties when blended. The grape is often blended with Sacy to complement its acidity.
Oh yes, we’re only here for the kir - sub royale.
The caricature of an acidic grape is more to do the propensity of a majority of wine growers to farm chemically, pick too early and harvest mechanically with resulting high yields (and diluted flavours). The same criticism might be levied at any other grape from a vineyard that has been maltreated (one thinks of lean, green and mean Sauvignon and under-ripe Chardonnay).
Take the Goisots. They are perfectionists and this shows in their wine-making. They believe in the primacy of terroir and harvest as late as possible to maximise the potential of the grapes. The domaine has existed since the 15th century and Jean-Hugues started working on the wines at the age of sixteen. The Goisots firmly believe that great wine begins in the vineyard and have worked in organic viticulture since 1993 to protect the soil and nourish the vines. No fertilizers, insecticides or weedkillers are used; wild or natural yeasts are encouraged. The Goisot estate is now worked biodynamically and is certified by Demeter. For the last few years they have decided to increase their plantation density in order to decrease the vigour of the vines and to promote competition between the plants.
The Goisots harvest at the end of September into early October and fully destem the grapes before a slow pneumatic pressing. The fermentation is long with a temperature of 25° for the first part to preserve the expression of the terroir. There is a full malolactic conversion and the wine is matured in tank on its fine lees. The Aligoté has a fresh, candied bouquet with freshly sliced pear and mint aromas that are well defined. The palate is fresh and crisp with a slightly waxy texture on the finish and a dab of shaved ginger.
The De Moors have farmed their vines organically since 2005, a rarity in the area. Rigorous deep pruning, sensible de-budding and careful canopy management with manual leaf thinning are all carried out to control the yields and ensure the best, most expressive grapes. Wild grasses are allowed to grow between the rows and they work the vines using a horse.
Winery work is straightforward with a wild yeast ferment in oak barrels, (malolactic occurs naturally) before the wine matures in old oak for eleven months. No fining or filtration and minimal use of sulphur – only a tiny amount added at bottling and none during vinification.
Fermented and aged in old oak this an Aligoté to age, extremely tight and high in stony acidity with citrus fruits and herbal aromas, very dense and long. This winespeak does not do justice to a wine which shimmers with authority – it has dense - or intense - transparency in the way that only wines with “perfect pitch” acidity can seem to glisten. Then the nose – glacier water buffing up a river stone, gorse flowers drenched with sea spray, all nostril-arching brilliance and then into the palate - linear, citric (juice plus pith), tears-of-chalk-stony, with tensile strength and just a smattering of lees spice. Liquid steel, this wine is an exhilarating skate across the palate. To coin a phrase, it takes you hither and Yonne.
Quick definition: See you soon, Aligoté
Also called Roussette or Roussette de Savoie, this grape is similar to Furmint from Hungary, being exotically perfumed with good crisp acidity and has a certain ageing potential. There are sixteen villages in the Savoie from which it hails, all of which have higher standards than those of the Vin de Savoie AC and Roussette de Savoie AC and may append their name to either of these appellations if their wines meet these higher criteria. One of the best of these crus is Frangy where Bruno Lupin farms. The soils here are argillaceous limestone and glacial moraines and the exposure of the vines is south facing. The Altesse is super-fresh and clean. In Les Grandes Jorasses, a cuvée from Domaine Belluard, we may taste some real complexity which arises from biodynamic farming, very low yields, fermentation in cement eggs (resulting in dynamic lees-motion), a full malolactic and no filtration. If one were to characterise Altesse/Roussette one might describe it as conveying white peach and pear aromas with subsidiary notes of gingerbread, spice and (if it goes through malo) a rounded and fleshy texture, otherwise angular and apple-skin fresh. Whether it is the over-active imagination or the song of terroir I do sense alpine meadow-blossom coursing through these white wines…
Quick definition: Savoie-fair
Abouriou (French spelling of Occitan aboriu, early or precocious, hence its other name: Précoce Noir ) is a red French wine grape variety grown primarily in Southwest France and, in small quantities, California. It tends to be a blending grape that, along with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Fer, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, is used to make appellation wines of Côtes du Marmandais. Abouriou can also be made into a varietal, as it is used in some vin de pays wines. The grape is known for its low acidity and high tannin content Also known as Early Burgundy it creeps into Chateau Tour des Gendres’ grape mosaic Vigne d’Albert. As Elian da Ros (who does a very light extraction on it) remarks of his 100% varietal version: “It is like biting into a fresh cherry fruit.” His Abouriou is lean and crisp with juicy, violet-scented black cherry fruit. It’s more pepper than tannin, more savoury than sweet, and there’s a very agreeable prickle combined with earthy minerality that carries the wine easily over the tongue.
Quick definition: Precocious not ferocious
Lively lilting (and occasionally lilt-flavoured) grape that flourishes on the granite and slate soils of maritime Rias Baixas and northern Portugal.
A teinturier variety seen in Languedoc, Spain and Tuscany.
Portuguese gem found in regions from Vinho Verde in the north to Lisbon in the south, producing vibrant wines with lively, refreshing acidity, often with a mineral quality, along with gentle flavours reminiscent of apple, lime and lemon.
Fragrant white variety rescued from extinction in the late 1960s, synonymous with the wines of Roero in Piedmont.