The fifth edition of the World Wine Symposium took place 7-10 November at the luxury Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, and gathered 250 participants, including some of the crème de la crème of the wine world. Founder and maestro François Mauss had kindly invited me to give a talk on the history and future of grape varieties, and to present a masterclass tasting called 'Rare Wine Grapes'. This was a unique opportunity to taste eight varietal wines made from obscure varieties off the beaten track that are among those described in detail in Wine Grapes. I hereby thank their generous and passionate producers!
Dom Grisard Mondeuse Blanche 2011 Vin de Savoie, France 15.5 Drink 2013-2015
Grape variety: Mondeuse Blanche
Old variety from Savoie in eastern France, it is one of the parents of Syrah through a natural cross with the no-longer-cultivated Dureza from the Ardèche. In addition, it is either the parent or the offspring of Mondeuse Noire and, more surprisingly, of Viognier. Nurserymen Jean-Pierre and Philippe Grisard have long struggled to keep this variety in production. There is a grand total of 5 ha planted, all in Savoie.
Bright yellow. Ripe apple and elderflower. Thick structure, medium acidity, white pepper taste, almost tannic. A bit short. [See my note on a 2010 Mondeuse Blanche - JR]
Jean-René Germanier Amigne 2010 Valais, Switzerland 16 Drink 2013-2018
Grape variety: Amigne
Old variety from the Valais in Switzerland. Orphan with a likely grandparent in Champagne, the almost forgotten Petit Meslier, which makes it a likely great-grandchild of Petit Meslier's parents, namely the old Savagnin Blanc and Gouais Blanc. Winery co-owner and oenologist Gilles Besse has created a sticker adopted by all the other Amigne producers indicating the level of residual sugar with one, two or three bees. This 2010 was a dry 'one bee' example. There is total planted of 42.5 ha, mostly in the village of Vétroz, Valais.
Golden. Lime tea, chamomile. Full-bodied, good balance, bitter almonds on the finish. Love or hate style of wine.
Antonio Mazzella, Vigna del Lume 2012 Ischia, Italy 16.5 Drink 2013-2018
Grape variety: Biancolella
Pride of the island of Ischia near Naples, where Vera and Nicola Mazzella are maintaining 'heroic viticulture'. The steep vineyards overlooking the sea cannot be reached by vehicle, and harvest is brought to the top of the vineyards where it is crushed in excavated caves. The must is then brought down to the sea and is transported by boat to the winery in the port of Ischia. The grand total for this variety is 293 ha in Campania, mostly on Ischia.
Golden straw. Honey, daisy flowers, strawberries, pineapples. Elegant, well balanced between some residual sugar and acidity, volcanic purity. Very persistent with tropical fruits and apricot flavours.
Venissa 2011 Italy 16.5 Drink 2013-2020
Grape variety: Dorona di Venezia
Historical variety of the Venice lagoon that was recently rescued by the Bisol family on the island of Mazzorbo. Natural progeny of Bermestia Bianca and Garganega, the latter being one of the 'founder varieties' (see the introduction of Wine Grapes) in Italy. The beautiful 50 cl bottles are numbered and the uncluttered label is nothing other than a plain layer of real gold. There is a grand total of 1 ha in production, next to the Bisols' Venissa restaurant.
Orange-yellow. Slightly oxidative (the effect of the long skin maceration), ripe pears, roses. Tannic structure, full-bodied. Very persistent on fresh hazelnuts. Unique personality.
Çobo Winery Vlosh 2011 Berat, Albania 15.5 Drink 2013-2018
Grape variety: Vlosh
Local variety of the Lagoon of Narta in south-west Albania. Erroneously identified as Cabernet Sauvignon in recent years by an imaginative historian. Murrahem Çobo is the only producer of this variety in the world.
Crimson red. Black olives, artichoke, dried plums. Very dense, some residual sugar, tanins a bit rough and dry. Not for everyone; strong 'Mediterranean' personality.
Galmes i Ribot, Petjades 2012 Spain 15.5 Drink 2013-2016
Grape variety: Escursac
Indigenous to the island of Mallorca, recently rescued by Galmes i Ribot, who are the only producers (0.5 ha) of this variety in the world.
Dark red. Tar, nuts. Elegant, fine tannins, dense structure. Powerful finish.
Vedernikov, Krasnostop Zolotovskiy 2012 Rostov-on-Don, Russia 17 Drink 2013-2020
Grape variety: Krasnostop Zolotovskiy
Vedernikov owners Valery and Max Troychuk recently provided me with leaf samples of Krasnostop Zolotovskiy (meaning 'red pedicel from Zolotov') for DNA profiling: it does not match any known variety, which strongly suggests that it is indigenous to the Rostov area, where it covers ca 10 ha.
Almost black. Black cherries, pencil shavings, leather. Intense mouthfeel, fine and very dense tannins. Very juicy and long finish.
Zorah Wines, Karasi 2011 Rind, Armenia 17 Drink 2013-2020
Grape variety: Areni
Areni is the most prominent red variety in Armenia. Nothing is known about its origins and parentage, but genetic studies indicate that it is 100% Armenian. It was named after the Areni village where the world's oldest cellar (4000 BC) was discovered in 2011. Karasi is made from ungrafted vineyards at 1400 m in Rind close to Areni, where the owner Zorik Gharibian has long struggled to craft the best Areni wine ever. Fermented in steel tanks and then aged partly in underground amphorae known as karasi in Armenian, part in French and part in Armenian barriques.
Ripe blackberries, blond tobacco, spicy. Very elegant, graphite, tight tannins, dense. Juicy finish with citrus fruits.