Magnificent seven tackling climate change

Magnificent seven tackling climate change

Bordeaux winemaking is steeped in history and tradition. So, it takes something special to prompt a change in its centuries-old regulations. It’s, therefore, worth taking note of a recent proposal to allow several new grape varieties in Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellation vineyards.

The driving force behind this is climate change. The result is a group of seven varieties that are well known for their ability to withstand warm weather. They are also generally resistant to diseases including grey rot and mildew. The change still needs approval from the government agricultural body, INAO. But, assuming that it will eventually be granted, there are potential implications for winemaking in Bordeaux. Planting of the new varieties could start in the latter part of next year although they will not be allowed to form more than 5% of any vineyard. In addition, they will be limited to 10% of any blend with existing Bordeaux varieties.       

The seven newcomers won’t be familiar to most wine drinkers, although several are currently used in blends. Four are reds. Of that quartet, Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir. It is used in full-bodied wines and currently appears in some Côtes du Rhône blends. Lovers of the Portuguese wines we offer may have tasted Touriga Nacional. It’s another variety that is used in full-bodied reds with higher levels of tannin meaning the wine will mature over time. It is also resistant to some of the more damaging diseases. Castets is thought by some experts to have originated in the Bordeaux region although it has fallen out of favour in modern times. In addition to withstanding diseases, it contributes to wines with high alcohol and low acid levels. The fourth of the red grapes is Arinarnoa. It was developed in France in 1956 and is a mix of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its attributes mean that it is resistant to frosty conditions and is good for wines that are high in tannin.

Among the whites, the most widely recognisable is Alvarinho. This grape is widely used in production of Vinho Verde, a large part of Portugal’s output, and features in the Albarino wines we source from Spain. Its characteristics include high acidity and some resistance to grey rot. If you’ve tried our Cabidos, you’ll recognise the Petit Manseng grape, which is another of the proposed additions. It is best known for being a feature of wines from Jurançon in the Pyrenees and for its combination of acidity and sweetness. The last of the seven is Liliorila, another variety created in the 1950s, this time from a combination of the Baroque and Chardonnay grapes that results in a strong floral flavour. It is known for playing a part in producing aromatic, low acidic wines. Its main quality in the context of climate change is the ability to replace some of the aromas that are lost as a result of global warming.

The proposal may come as a surprise, and possibly even a disappointment, to Bordeaux traditionalists. But it is also a sign that winemakers are starting to acknowledge the longer-term effects of increased core temperatures around the world. And, it’s likely to be the start of some creative thinking by winemakers.

Santé !