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Discovering Uncommon Grape Varietals

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28/02/2019 Time to swirl some of the uncommon grape varietals which are slowly gaining popularity.

The distinctiveness of grape varieties and geography can offer something different on the palate and the world too. It’s thrilling how winemakers are experimenting with the lesser-known, niche grape varieties. Peculiar grape varieties create the foundation for many fabulous creations. Let’s have a look beyond the common and usual grapes and dive into some of the oddball grapes which are paving their way on wine lists.


When you think of Chilean wine you tend to think of Merlot, which dominates the low-cost side of the country’s wine industry. Carmenere grapes were originally grown in France. Today, this varietal is rarely found there and instead found mostly in Chile. As this grape varietal is highly susceptible to phylloxera, which is one reason this grape has not reached a high level of popularity worldwide. This grape, when grown in optimal conditions, produces a wine that is comparable to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. A bottle of Carmenere gives spicy berry flavors and fantastic softness and smoothness. It slips down the throat little too easily.


Monica is a grape variety found exclusively on the island of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy. They are simple table wines designed for everyday drinking as they tend to be medium-bodied with gentle tannins and flavors of red berries and herbs, often with an earthy overtone. The vine is loved by producers as it is easy to harvest and gives abundant results. Monica can become overripe resulting into wines with excessive alcohol levels hence constant caution is needed in the vineyard.


It is a central European grape commonly grown in Hungary, where it produces the finest dessert wines to be found anywhere on earth-Royal Tokaji. It is an extremely versatile grape which can produce sweet and dry wines. Dried apricots, dark honey, candied nuts and much, much more are usually present in Furmint wines, and it’s like eating the best ever Christmas cake in a glass.


If you wish to have a true taste of historic Italy, go for Barbera. This grape was regarded as ordinary, partly because it was widely planted. Barbera vineyards in Italy have been in constant use for hundreds of years, and many of the vines there are truly ancient. Barbera was used to create cheap and everyday drinking table wine mostly consumed by the local market. Traditionally, Barbera exhibits sour cherry and other red fruit flavors, low tannins, high acidity, and medium body. Classic Barbera food pairings include Italian cuisine, especially beef dishes and tomato-based sauces. It ages amazingly, but when drunk relatively young it’s a real delight that pairs with different meaty dishes.

Nerello Mascalese

A dark-skinned grape that grows commonly on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. This variety is pale in color but moderately high in alcohol, with velvety tannins, flinty minerality. It reflects the surroundings giving fresh red wines with fruity, herbaceous flavor and aroma of wild berries. It is a quality vine that is compared to grape varieties like Pinot Noir because of its characteristic taste, tannins, and color.


Gaglioppo is a southern Italian grape varietal which can make gorgeously rustic red, with an aroma of roses and grippy tannins. The vines are grown at high altitudes to protect them from the southern Italian climate. Many producers choose to pick them early in the season to help retain good levels of acidity and to prevent them from tasting too jammy and stewed once vinified. It is also important to control their fermentation temperatures, as Gaglioppo can easily oxidize and lose its structure if allowed to overheat. Wines made from this grape varietal are a great match with Italian fare like Bolognese pasta, pizza, and fatty meats.


This grape is commonly associated with Argentina. This white grape creates a smooth wine with high acidity and has a notable floral aroma and flavors of white peach and lemon zest. It manages to be sweet and bitter at once and is regarded as the best wine for pairing with cuisines such as Mexican, Indian and Asian dishes.


This is a born-again white wine grape varietal from the northwestern regions of Spain. The effort by a small number of growers has not only saved Godello - but also inspired winemakers across the north-west region of Spain and even in Portugal to think of what can be achieved. With steel-tank vinification Godello can have a crisp freshness, with delicate floral aromas of blossom and honeysuckle. The wine becomes richer and fuller with almost a creamy quality with a bit of oak aging.


Malagousia is an aromatic white variety grown in Central Greece and Greek Macedonia. It displays peach and citrus characteristics. On the palate, it is full but always fresh, with moderately high levels of alcohol. Malagousia is widely considered a world-class grape, producing outstanding dry whites, as well as a few dazzling sweet versions which are made with late harvest grapes as they are even denser and more aromatic. It makes a rich yet zesty wine, full of vibrancy and complexity. Try it with light seafood and pasta dishes, fried zucchini.


Nascetta is a white Piedmontese variety that emerges from a troubled yet fascinating past. The vine is a native of the Alba area grown on the hills of Barolo and Novello. Its cultivation is documented from around 140 years. It was forgotten a long time back and rediscovered in the 1990s. Since it was forgotten nobody really knows how it behaves in the bottle if kept for a longer time. It is difficult to cultivate and unpredictable variety, but when well made, it is a grape with good potential. The Nascetta vine gives a pale yellow wine with greenish reflections. Characteristic features for Nascetta are herbs and citrus notes. The scent has intense aromas with floral notes of acacia flowers, tropical fruits, and honey. In the mouth, it is fresh, slightly bitter and of good flavor. The aftertaste has pleasant citrus notes. Nascetta also bears well the aging in barrels revealing spicy aromas and vanilla taste.


Shavkapito is a dense, rich red grape which was once preferred by royalty, is indigenous to the country of Georgia. The grape is available in limited quantities with an estimated 24 acres planted in Kartli Valley. It is a late ripening variety that produces full-bodied wines that are full of berries and vegetal notes. It is great when used for rose sparkling wines. This royal red once enjoyed by Georgian kings offers a nose rich with smoky leather and tobacco plus a hint of anise and fills the palate with plum and cherry with a hint of licorice in the smooth finish.


Generally found in southern France and northern Spain, where is it called Carinena, is commonly used for blending with many of the other key varieties most famously with Grenache, Syrah etc. If you love lighter-styled wines of Merlot or Zinfandel, then Carignan should be on your list. They are usually grown as blush vines, it ripens late so can be successfully grown only in relatively warm climates. Its thick stems require hand-picking. With its bold red fruit and meaty notes, Carignan is ideal with spicy lamb meatballs, roasted pork, or meaty beef brisket. Wines will burst with fruit and taste rich and spicy with tannins lighter than Cabernet.


A sibling of Chardonnay, Romorantin is a light-skinned variety grown in the east of the vast Lorie region of France. It is grown in an area of less than 50 hectares in the tiny French town of Cour-Cheverny. Although the dry wines are suited for early consumption having a neutral flavor, when vinified they can take on a more herbaceous tone with citrus and tropical fruit tones. The wine produced from these grapes is lemon gold color, giving off the aroma of pear, lemon peel, and pineapple. On the palate, it is fairly acidic with intense minerality and fruit.


Agiorgitiko is a fragrant red wine grape and most widely planted in all of Greece. This versatile grape produces a wine with low acidity that is notably spicy and usually quite fruity as well. This grape can produce soft roses to bolder red wines. This wine pairs well with lamb, baked vegetables and veal stew.


Believed to be one of Georgia’s most ancient and rarest grape variety. Wines made from this variety are usually very light and airy, but lively and highly-acidic summer wines can also be made. Dzelshavi grapes are equally well-suited for pink wines.

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