10 Grapes Worth Knowing Better

As with brachetto, I cannot claim deep experience with fer servadou, which is often called fer. In fact, the Nicolas Carmarans wine, Maximus, from a biodynamic vineyard on granite soils, is the only one I’ve had, and few other producers who make fer wines are available in the United States. (It is apparently also known as braucol in Gaillac, a region not far from Aveyon.) Regardless, I’m going to try to find more. Meanwhile, fer can take its place next to mauzac, négrette and prunelard, other indigenous grapes of southwestern France intriguing enough to research further.

Hybrid grapes rarely get any respect. Yet here’s a grape that’s a blend of Vitis vinifera, the species that accounts for almost all the best-loved European wine grapes, Vitis labrusca, a species that is native to America, and at least six additional species. Nobody has done more persuasive work on hybrids than Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber of La Garagista in Vermont, whose wines are luminous examples of their potential. One of my favorite Garagista wines, Loups-Garoux, is made entirely of Frontenac. I recently opened a 2017 that was fresh and alive, with wild, exotic fruit flavors and stony undertones. I wonder how it will be in another five years. Luckily, I have a few more bottles.

Greece offers many red grapes that are little known outside their growing regions. One exception is xinomavro, which is the Greek red most likely to make long-lived, complex wines. But others are well worth further attention, like limniona, mavrotragano and mavrodaphne. But I want to mention mandilaria here, which has often been dismissed, even in Greece, as all dark color and tannins with little character. But what if it were made differently? Last years I drank Great Mother red from Stilianou on Crete, which, like the Bairrada producers and baga, treats mandilaria with the lightest of hands. The result was a fascinating pale red, or dark rosé, that was earthy and lightly fruity.

This is one of Italy’s great success stories. According to Ian D’Agata’s excellent “Native Wine Grapes of Italy,” this white grape, which had largely disappeared in the mid-20th century, was resurrected by a couple of producers who were looking for better alternatives among indigenous grapes to the more popular but mediocre varieties that had been planted for their productivity. Now grown primarily in the Marche and Abruzzo, pecorino is sharp, energetic and herbal, beautiful with dishes like linguine in clam sauce. Better producers include Antica Tenuta Pietramore, Tiberio and Cataldi Madonna from Abruzzo.

If trebbiano d’Abruzzese sounds familiar, it’s because “trebbiano” is a name applied to several different Italian white grapes. Most are common but mundane, but not trebbiano d’Abruzzese, a grape that is lively, richly textured, floral and saline. Producers in Abruzzo will tell you that trebbiano d’Abruzzese is in fact rare. Particularly confusing is that the wine, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, can be made either with trebbiano Toscano, a lesser grape, or the genuine article, trebbiano d’Abruzzese. The key is to seek out reliable producers like Tiberio, Francesco Cirelli, Amorotti and, if you can afford them, Valentini and Emidio Pepe.

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