IN THE encyclopaedic Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson and her two colleagues give the lowdown on the arcane inter-relationship between grape varieties.
There are certainly a lot of dots to join, but here are a few (largely inexpensive) ‘close relative’ wine illustrations that will help you do so in a practical and pleasurable way.
As well as siring (with sauvignon blanc) the mighty cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc is an excellent grape in its own right. Admittedly, though, its thinner skins reduce its colour, tannin and – often – longevity.
Although used worldwide in blending, cabernet franc’s early ripening allows it to operate as a standalone wine in the Loire – as it does in the 2011 Le Paradis Chinon (£9.99, Waitrose). This certainly portrays all the classic cabernet franc qualities (violet aromas and raspberry fruit – rather than cabernet sauvignon’s blackcurrant), along with its gentle ‘summer drinking’ texture and soft, all-spice finish.
The New World can also handle this variety well, as demonstrated by Chile’s 2011 Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Franc (£5.99, Majestic). Here, the colour is darker, the spices more savoury and the fruit nearer to bramble, but the same lightness and brightness are present – supported by a neat mocha finish.
Unconventionally, my other New World nominee comes from Virginia, in the US. The 2010 Barboursville Vineyard Cabernet Franc Reserve (£18, The Wine Society) is a smooth and serious wine with (perhaps because of the winery’s strong Italian connections) a tannic twist that hints strongly at ageing potential. The flavours combine raspberry and blackcurrant with a vanilla edge from its maturation in oak.
Much lesser-known is the garnacha peluda, a relative of one of southern Europe’s workhorse grapes, dubbed – because of the underside of its leaves – the hairy grenache. The 2010 Los Cipreses de Usaldon (£16.99, Les Caves de Pyrene), from Spain, is a 100 per cent version of this unusual grape, with dense plum, chocolate and spice flavours, smoothness, balanced acidity and a well-judged tannic finish.
Moving on to the whites, cabernet sauvignon has a noteworthy relative in Chile’s 2011 Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris (£8.99, M&S). Behind the predictable gooseberry nose, the fruit lacks nothing in intensity but is softer – more orange than lemon – and the acidity less assertive.
In the extensive pinot family, the difference between pinot grigio and pinot gris is of style not genetics. In an admitted oversimplification, if the latitude and altitude are low and the yields high then the resulting (usually soft, peachy and floral) wine is normally labelled as pinot grigio. Elsewhere, winemakers can often incorporate more acidity, fullness and complexity to the wine. Then, like restaurateurs of old, they use the French name to signal the sophistication they believe they have attained.
New Zealand’s South Island has an ideal climate for excellent pinot gris so try the clean, leafy and just off-dry 2011 Waimea Pinot Gris (£9.99, Majestic). It has real substance and develops lemon-based acidity that nicely underpins the pear-centred complexity.
Majestic also has a version from the grape’s better-known territory – Alsace. The 2011 Kuhlmann Platz Pinot Gris Cave de Hunawihr (£7.99) has a more austere and flinty attack but mellows into tangy apple and orange flavours with even a hint of apricot on the finish.
So, to add interest to what you drink without ignoring familiar grape varieties, these ‘little brother’ wines are well worth seeking out.
2011 Preignes Vermentino Languedoc France, 13 per cent
Although the original Wine Rack perished with Threshers, the name lives on in England and online. It also offers some tasty wines like this Pays D’Oc take on a largely Italian grape variety, with crisp and zesty grapefruit acidity and a minty but almost steely complexity. £6.99, Wine Rack
2011 Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot, Noir Central Valley Chile, 13.5 per cent
A super-value pinot with all the characteristic clean, light, bright raspberry flavours, supplemented by rich coffee and oaky undertones and a slightly unexpected but appealing flinty minerality. £5 (down from £7.49 until 23 April), Tesco