FROM sauvignon blanc to cabernet sauvignon, supermarket shelves and restaurant wine lists abound with the same dozen or so grape names. For some, however, the domination of these “international” varieties is unwelcome.
They see it as part of a standardisation process dubbed “Parkerisation” after the American wine critic Robert Parker (despite the man himself rubbishing the notion). His opponents claim that his award system means that producers now largely focus on those varieties and styles that consistently attract the coveted 90+ Parker points.
Whatever the truth, however, nature does provide a breathtaking diversity of grape varieties from, notably, countries like Portugal and Italy – but especially from the old Warsaw Pact countries.
So let’s start there with a merger between the familiar and the relatively unknown. Hungary’s Akos Kamocsay is currently making the great value 2013 Hilltop Premium Pinot Grigio Kiralyleanyka (£4.49 at the Co-op) by blending 40 per cent of a relatively acidic local grape with PG. And the plan works rather well. The result is a simple, undemanding wine in the pinot grigio style, but with more depth than usual beneath its peach-centred fruit and some fresh tangerine acidity to enliven the whole thing.
Heading south into seriously unfamiliar wine country, we encounter the Stobi Winery in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Stobi’s 2011 Vranec (£10.95 at Cork & Cask, Marchmont Road, Edinburgh) is inky dark in colour and gives off chocolate aromas. On the tongue, there are complex flavours of brambles, liquorice, mint and mocha. This is an intense wine, with firm but not excessive tannins and limited acidity.
Its big brother – the 2011 Stobi Vranec Veritas Reserve – takes the local Vranec red grape and ages the wine in Slavonian oak for 20 months to create a wine that’s very dark in colour and produces straw aromas. It is rich and smooth, with concentrated flavours of coffee, liquorice and mint, with a touch of vanilla from the oak barrels. There is more tannin here, but it is nicely in balance with the wine’s acidity. This is £16.95, also at Cork & Cask – which is tasting the whole Stobi range from 5.30pm on Thursday; do go along and test them all for yourselves.
Getting even more intrepid, we head east to the Republic of Georgia and the Shumi Winery built there in 2001. An impressive, oak-fermented white they produce is from the Alzani Valley and enhances the potentially quite acidic Rkatsiteli with a 20 per cent portion of the fruitier and aromatic Mtsvane grape. The result has floral and minty notes on the nose, with hints of celery, but on the palate there’s fresh lemon acidity, combined with peach and orange flavours, a touch of pear and a slightly salty finish. This is difficult to track down in the UK at the moment but, we are promised, that will change. To try it now, visit Vinopolis if you are in London; they currently have it on display.
While you are there, also try the red Gvino Saperavi from the Kakheti region. This is a substantial and textured wine, with chewy tannins and raspberry acidity, along with complex and jammy flavours of mulberry, eucalyptus and black cherry.
With such a wealth of grape varieties, and Georgia’s semi-sweet reds and “orange” or amber whites – aged in traditional clay amphora – as yet untouched, the wine world still seems to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
2012 Casillero del Diablo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
Central Valley, Chile, 13.5 per cent
This ever-reliable Chilean red manages to be both soft in texture (and in its tannins) yet intense in flavour – adding hints of spice and chocolate to the black cherry and plum fruit that is enlivened by a prickle of acidity.
£5.99 – instead of £7.99 until 10 June – at Waitrose
2013 K-naia Verdejo
Rueda, Spain, 13 per cent
A floral nose gives the first clue that this white will represent the Verdejo grape at its best. Attractive savoury touches form part of the layers of flavour and depth that add complexity to its grassy, orangey opening, and then embellish it with vital, green apple acidity and a lingering finish.
£9.95 at Vino Wines, www.vinowines.co.uk