The Great Grape Alphabet
In continuation of our wine journey here are six varieties beginning with N. This alphabetical and blissful voyage through the ampelographic wonderland is supported by diverse examples from our wine portfolio.
Je negrette rien (“I have no negrette”) – Edith Pif (the little nose).
Fronton and Villaudric are embraced in the Côtes du Frontonnais. We are due north of Toulouse here and just west of Gaillac between the Tarn and the Garonne. The unique Négrette grape grows here. The story is that the Knights Templar brought the vines back from Cyprus almost 900 hundred years ago and called it Négrette because of its dark skin. Fronton is one of the oldest vineyards in France. It was the Romans who planted the first vines on the terraces overlooking the Tarn Valley. But it was only in the 12th century that the Négrette appeared, the variety which was to write Fronton’s history.
At this time, the vines belonged to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. They were the ones who, on one of their crusades, discovered and brought back a local grape from Cyprus, the Mavro (which means black in Greek), out of which the Cypriots used to make a wine to “increase their valour.” The Knights introduced this grape to their commanderies in the Occident, including that of Fronton. Over the years, the Mavro became the Négrette and is the origin of the typicity of Fronton wines, the only area in France where this variety has become perfectly and durably acclimatised.
When Calisstus II, 160th Pope after St Peter, came to consecrate the church in Fronton on 19th July 1191, he was so enthusiastic about the wine that he demanded that its praises be sung on parchment.
Much later, the two neighbouring parishes of Fronton and Villaudric quarrelled over the supremacy of their soils. The story goes that in 1621, during the siege of Montauban, Louis XIII and Richelieu, having each taken quarters in one of the two towns, sent each other a gift of the respective wines.
Négrette makes good, quick-maturing wines, quite low in acidity, but with a pronounced and particular flavour of almonds, white pepper, cherries, rhubarb and liquorice. The wines are given structure by the addition of Syrah, the Cabernets and Gamay in various quantities. The wines reflect their terroir: the soil is poor, a red stone called rouget with a base of iron and quartz; you can sense their earthy digestibility, and taste the significant concentration of minerals.
Chateau Le Roc makes Fronton wines which are medium-bodied, with notes of red berries, cherry, a hint of violet and a touch of spice. The Classique version has a delightful scent of parma violets, peonies and shows red fruits on the palate, dried herbs and white pepper.
For Négrette in its purest form we have Chateau Plaisance’s Alabets from 40 year old vines on deep cold soils containing a high proportion of clay that allows for a slower ripening of the grape. The wine is bottled without filtration or fining. Dark cherries, stone-fruit and lovely integrated spice. The other cuvées mingle Négrette with Syrah, Cabernet Franc or Gamay, and tend to reveal notes of rhubarb and liquorice. The fruit is always juicy, the tannins are present but refined. Time to break out some grilled country bread rubbed with garlic and tomato and the best Bayonne ham.
Quick definition: Negrettes? I’ve had a few.
Nerello Mascalese is the undisputed prince of the vine varieties growing on the mystic Mungibeddu, the Etna volcano. The unique flavours of the wines derive from the soils, rich in ashes, mineral salts and sand as well as the climatic conditions, characterized by strong temperature fluctuations between day and night, and finally to human activity: plant-growing techniques and farming methods preserving the old and traditional bush-training system, with supports of chestnut wood.
In 1968, Nerello Mascalese became the main ingredient of the DOC denomination of Etna Rosso in which it represents a good 80%, with the remaining 20% composed of Nerello Cappuccio. It is used, to a lesser extent, also in the DOC of Alcamo, Contea di Sclafani, Faro, Marsala and Sambuca di Sicilia, besides those of Calabresi di Lamezia and Sant’Anna di Isola di Capo Rizzuto. It is a late ripening grape, generally reaching maturity during the second and the third weeks of October; the grapes undergo a long skin maceration, which in turn leads to age-worthy wines.
Nerello Mascalese tends towards a ruby red colour, with subtle grenadine shades; aromas of red berry fruits, with delicate notes of dried flowers, spicy hints, and effusions of vanilla and tobacco, with a persistent trace of liquorice; These are generally full-bodied, dry, tannic, persistent and harmonious wines that deserve some pretty meaty food.
Up on ashy Etna, Anna Martens and the bloke whose name we can never remember, are making some impressively pure wines. The whole-bunch-fermented Palmento is a joyously fruity quaffer made in their 250 year old traditional Sicilian palmento. Jeudi 15 sits in the middle of the trio – Nerello Mascalese, part whole bunch, part destemmed, stirred gently rather than “pigeaged”, is a semi-wild-child but still very approachable, but Vino di Anna Rosso ramps up the palate volume. Still wonderfully drinkable – a dark red fruits Nerello from a single vineyard old vines selection with driving tannic power and acid precision along with crushed rock and wild herbs. Liquid vulcanicity. There are also an arrange of qvevri wines.
Salvo Foti makes a couple of striking Nerello reds at his Etna winery. I Vigneri (pure Nerello Mascalese) is a pure delight, tonic, juicy and driven, floral and cherry with some fruit sweetness on the nose, coupled with Etna’s distinctive spice and some gentle tobacco notes. This is wine of the place…as unencumbered and as representative and as local as it gets. Vinupetra (wine of stone) is a blend of Nerellos and some Francisci from centenarian vines, 70% destemmed grapes, the rest whole, fermented at ambient temperature for a long time. Like the I Vigneri it has great energy, an amalgam of smoky fruit, stone-crunch and bristling acidity.
Nerello also grows on the steep slopes above the straits of Messina in the vineyards of Palari. The primary wine to be featured from Palari is Faro. Faro has a ruby colour with a hint of purple. The nose is beautifully knit, black cherry to the fore and lightly smoky nuances shimmering in the background. It is remarkably elegant with a complete lack of over-ripeness that characterises many southern Italian reds. The Rosso del Soprano, a blend of the two Nerellos as mentioned and aged in used oak barrels, tastes like the offspring of a meaty Pinot Noir and sun-drenched Grenache. On the nose a mix of berry smells (squashed strawberries) and a touch of earthiness tending towards mushroom, on the palate gentle warmth unfolding to reveal subtle hints of spice, pepper and liquorice. As with the Faro there is a lightness of touch – these fruits may have roasted under a Mediterranean sun, but they are seasoned by the earth and stones.
Quick definition: The Nebbiolo of Sicily.
Nero di Troia
The Uva di Troia, legend has it, were brought to Apulia by Diomedes. Having journeyed up the Ofanto river, the exiled hero anchored his ship with a number of stones he’d brought with him from the city of Troy. He used these as markers to delineate the territory of the Diomedean fields. The Greek prince has also brought with him vine shoots, which he planted along the Ofanto, giving birth to Uva di Troia, or Trojan grapes. This legend has contributed to the creation of many different names for this grape variety, whose aliases include Uva di Canosa, Barletanna, Nero di Troia, Troiano, Uva di Barletta and Uva della Marina (with thanks to Mario Busso).
The grape is currently grown in the province between Bari and Barletta and along the Apulian coastline. Today Nero di Troia is a supple wine bursting with fresh aromas of violets, black berries and hints of star anise. On the palate it has good acidity and tannins that are lively but never astringent and allow a certain ageing potential.
Antica Enotria has 12 hectares of vineyard just a few kilometres from the Gulf of Manfredonia. These have been cultivated organically since 1993. The older vineyards are trained to the traditional local Puglia pergola. We have a baby cuvée which is a blend of predominantly Nero di Troia (plus a little Montepulciano and Sangiovese) from exposed calcareous-clay soils. The wine is fermented in tank with native yeasts for eight days and matured in the same vessel. Deep ruby red colour and violet nuances with a characteristic bouquet of cherries and forest berries. On the palate this wine is soft, dry, with nice tannins and a good freshness.
Quick definition: Trojan grape worker.
According to legend, Neuburger was fished out of the Danube in the 1860's and planted in the Wachau. Not the most exciting legend I’ve heard and probably not a scintilla of truth in it. Neuberger is a cross of Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, and once popular (especially in Wachau), is now decreasing in popularity due to the ubiquity and commercial potential of Gruner Veltliner, as well as the fact that it is also prone to disease such as oidium and peronospora and susceptible to botrytis. It is relatively easy to cultivate and prospers on poor soil types, although it exhibits its best on primary rock.
Neuburger is sometimes described as having “the gusto of a clean Chardonnay, the depth of a dry Chenin Blanc with a bit of the snap of a Muscadet”. It often produces wines that are soft, full bodied and have a balanced, nutty aroma.
Our sole version comes from Judith Beck, one of the new generation of growers doing great things in the Burgenland. She is a member of Respekt and the Pannobile group that seek to maintain high standards of farming and winemaking practice with the objective of carving out a strong cultural identity for their region.
Her Neuburger Bambule! comes from a single vineyard on reddish gravel soils. Manually harvested, it undergoes five days of maceration on skins, is then pressed with wild yeast fermentation in old barriques and aged in the same for a further 12 months, before being bottled without fining, filtration or added sulphur. This is a properly turbid wine in the nowt-taken-out idiom. The acidity is moderate, but the wine thoroughly coats the mouth with its crunchy herb-drenched white flesh-fruit and has urgent energy.
Quick definition: Cloudy with a chance of Neuburgers.
Nielluccio is the principal grape variety used in the production of the AOC red wine Patrimonio, where it must, by law, make up 95% of the blend. There is confusion about the grape's exact origins with some wine experts describing the grape as being indigenous to Corsica, while other theories report that the grape is of Italian origins and possibly even a genetically identical clone of the Tuscan wine grape Sangiovese that came to Corsica from Genoa. Plantings declined for most of the 20th century when French immigrants from North Africa imported cuttings of varieties common in Algerian wine such as Carignan and Cinsault. At the turn of the 21st century, as Corsican winemakers rediscovered "indigenous" Corsican varieties, there was a resurgence in interest in Nielluccio.
Suited to hot, very sunny, dry terroirs the grape tends to produces fruity, full-bodied wines with a good capacity for ageing. Indeed, this is the Corsican grape variety with the most evident tannic structure. When yields are kept low and the ripening is long, Nielluccio can be a noble grape, capable of real complexity. The variety can also be used in the production of high-quality rosés, which take on a powerful, spicy character. Depending on how they are vinified a typical Nielluccio red will be a full-bodied wine of a deep red colour, supple and rich, said to have “un nez de fourrure de lièvre et de règlisse”: a nose of “hare-fur” (a term used to describe its subtle gamey bouquet) and liquorice. These wines also have scents of red berries, violets, spices and apricots.
Clos Culombu situated between the Gulf of Calvi and the Montegrossu mountains, whose peaks reach 2000 metres. Vineyards are planted in granitic areas. The Clos Culombu has 50% Nielluccio, the remainder being Sciaccarello, Syrah and Grenache. This wine seems some maceration, pigeages and oak-ageing and has complex nose of red fruits, spice, jam and liquorice this medium-bodied fills the mouth with rich fruit flavours and reveals a good tannic structure. The lovely, surprisingly fresh, finish displays the classic aroma of fleur de maquis (garrigue herbs such as bay and laurel)
Antoine Arena’s Morta Maio vineyard was planted in 2001 with only Niellucciu. There is just a single cuvée from this parcel, the Patrimonio “Morta Maio” Rouge. This is often the most approachable of his reds when young—dark, earthy, chewy and juicy. Morta Maio translates as “The eldest myrtle.” Morta = myrtle in Corsican, the shrub that makes up the bulk of the maquis in Patrimonio. (In other parts of Corsica they spell Morta as Murtha, where you can see more of the resemblance to the word myrtle). Maio = The eldest, or the oldest. This parcel, which has belonged to the Arena family for over 400 years, immediately surrounds their house and was used as brush pasture for the donkeys who worked the vines. Since the parcel has been in use for so long (longer than the 400 years it has belonged to the Arenas) the term “Maio” was added to it.
This particular Niellucciu is fermented in cement cuve with its own yeasts and without temperature control and is aged for a further period in concrete before bottling without filtering or fining. Vivid infectiously-juicy ripe cherry mingled on a satiny palate with nut oils and steeped with fruit pit, lavender, fennel, rosemary, and white pepper. As this opens to the air, a mouth-watering savour of roasted red meat and pan scrapings joins the wine’s downright refreshing as well as invigorating juicy fruit and pungent herbal essences, Handle with thick kid gauntlets. Serve the reds with grilled pork with rosemary, beef tartar, thin-sliced carpaccio of beef with basil, civet de lapin—rabbit cooked with thyme, laurel and garlic and Corsican cheeses with herbs – but not necessarily at the same time all together.
Quick definition: The grape horse for Corse.
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