At L’Art du Vin, we’ve been thinking about our New Year’s resolutions, those intentions we all have of watching our diet, taking more exercise or learning a new skill. None of those found its way onto our list. Instead, we’ve made it our mission for 2020 to help our customers broaden their wine experiences. We’ve tracked down some exciting makers who are using less familiar grape varieties to produce excellent wines that we enjoy. And we hope you will too.
If you haven’t heard of it before, let us introduce Mencia, a little-known native of the Iberian Peninsula. It grows around the regions of Bierzo, Valdeorras and Ribera Sacra in northwestern Spain. It is also cultivated across the border in Portugal, where it’s known as Jaen. Mencia produces medium-bodied wine with floral and fruity flavours such as strawberry and cranberry. It’s similar in many ways to Pinot Noir or Gamay. One of our favourite wines in this style is from the Pittacum winery in Arganza, near Leon in Bierzo, inland from Galicia. Petit Pittacum is made in an eco-friendly manner, entirely from Mencia grapes grown on century-old vines. The head winemaker Alfredo Marques uses organic fertilisers and eco-friendly methods. We believe his wines are improving every year, helped by mild temperatures and low altitude vines which means they are not at risk from frosts. Typically, that enables him to complete his harvest earlier than many others in the region. If you’re drinking it with food, it’s great with many different dishes including fish, poultry and vegetable dishes.
Another alternative to Pinot Noir, and also often compared to Syrah or Nebbiolo, is Blaufränkisch, which is indigenous to Austria. This grape grows best in the clay and fossil-enriched soil of the Burgenland state in the east of the country. On the edge of the Neusiedlersee, a lake that straddles the Austrian-Hungarian border, is the Beck winery. This is one of our most exciting discoveries of recent years. The vineyard is now managed by Judith Beck who, having studied viticulture in France, Italy and Chile, took over from her father in the mid-2000s. However, he is still a key part of the process which focuses on making interesting and delicious wines from Austrian varieties such as Zweigelt, St Laurent and, of course, Blaufränkisch, using a biodynamic process. Blaufrankisch Beck is a pure Blaufränkisch, while the 'Ink' cuvee is a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. Unlike many Austrian winemakers, Judith doesn’t use heavily toasted oak barrels to create rich and powerful reds. Instead, she has a fresher style that produces wine brimming with flavours of dark fruit and spices.
If white’s your thing, a little-known Greek grape is worth a try. Savatiano is planted extensively in Greece and is well-known for its resistance to dry conditions, essential in a sun-baked part of the world. We discovered it at the family-owned Domaine Papagiannakos, a century-old vineyard on the plain of Attica, 30 kilometres from Athens. It is run by Vassilis Papagiannakos, the third generation to take the helm and drive a process that blends traditional techniques with a modern approach at a stunning bio-climatic winery. Savatiano is golden in colour and, on the palate, it delivers hints of peach and pear with an almond and savoury finish. We believe the Domaine Papagiannakos Attika is a great example.
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously short-lived, but we’re hoping to shake off that trend. And this time we’re confident that we’ll keep our commitment going well beyond the first few days of January, when our plans usually hit the buffers.