The red less travelled
This article was originally published in October 2015
While big-name red grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah put down roots in just about any dirt or climate worldwide, there are countless other eclectic, singular grape varieties that produce uniquely delicious wines (Italy alone has between two and three thousand).
Most are grown only in their native regions, or sparingly propagated in select places around the world by producers looking to push the envelope, shatter paradigms and expand horizons. When lovingly farmed, these lesser-known varieties are superb translators of terroir and produce wines of incredible character.
Like traveling the back roads, these expressive local grapes are a great way to discover the flavors of new places and the uniquely local “dialects” they speak. Start exploring with these five.
Viola Cellar Barbera d’Alder *
Renato Ratti “Battaglione”
Yet another of Piedmont’s lovely contributions to the world, barbera is deeply colored, light in tannins and offers intense aromas and flavors of fresh red and black berries, accentuated by brisk acidity. Brought to California by Italian immigrants, it flourishes in some of the Northwest’s cooler vineyard sites.
* Arriving early October
Pecchenino Dogliani “San Luigi”
Memaloose Idiot’s Grace Dolcetto
Meaning “little sweet one” in Italian, this black-skinned variety from the Piedmont region is almost always dry, with moderately assertive tannins and modest acidity. It show its vibrant freshness best when enjoyed a year or two after release, and it is delicious with all manner of antipasti, pastas, salads and other lighter fare.
Kiona Red Mountain Lemberger
Back in the day, this Austrian native was envisioned as a major player in Washington, our state’s answer to California zinfandel. Sadly, it remains more eclectic than celebrated, with just a few valiant growers continuing the Quixotic quest of promoting it … because it’s good (as in bold, fresh and easy to drink).
La Madura “Classic Rouge” St Chinian
Once the mainstay of France’s infamous “wine lake” (owing to its capacity for early ripening and high yields), carignan can produce wines of great finesse and elegance but requires plenty of skill in the vineyard and winery to manage its precocity. Its notes of intense wild berry fruit and bold savory tones make it superb in blends with grenache and syrah.
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais
Bow & Arrow Gamay Noir
When well-farmed and raised, this grape combines energy and freshness with cool minerality and lively acidity. While it once was (erroneously) dismissed as light-bodied “kool-aid for adults,” gamay can rival great Burgundy in its depth of expression and is showing its potential in the Northwest, with a handful of visionary producers.