Many aspects of the wine industry are in constant flux. Popularity of certain wine styles and regions seem to wax and wane with the global consumer.
Even our local shelves are affected by the purchases of those around us, as evidenced by interesting bottles relegated to the discount bin, never to be reordered again.
The consumers are far from blame, just buying what they are comfortable or familiar with. The onus lies on the industry “professionals” taking some initiative and introducing their customers to some of these unfamiliar treasures.
With the industry margins getting ever slimmer and larger conglomerates gobbling up the proverbial “little guy,” we are on the precipice of ebbing toward a wine monoculture. Meaning, the potential future of wine might consign the consumer to a choice of a limited number of varieties from only the largest of surviving companies.
So this month, after I get down from my lofty soap box, I will be exploring the idea of drinking diversely. Seek unusual varieties from areas you are unfamiliar with and share what you learned with your consumption cohorts. Together we can drink to save some of these neglected wines.
The Mediterranean island of Corsica lies slightly north of Sardinia and remains a French territory. Although there is a great deal of French influence here, one notices the viticultural influences of Italy as well. As part of the busy Mediterranean trade routes for thousands of years, Corsica enjoyed importation of grape varieties from many different countries, but the Italian-sourced grapes seem to have withstood the test of time.
Over the centuries, many of these varieties developed their own colloquial names, but recent ampelography unveils their true identities: Sciacarello (Mammolo), Nielluccio (Sangiovese) and Malvasia à Gros Grains (Vermentino/Roero).
Guilty of overproduction for much of the 20th century, Corsica began grubbing up vines and converting from a quantity to a quality driven wine philosophy. We now see the benefits of these changes as even the entry level wines are quite palatable.
As Corsica is only recently becoming relevant in the global wine industry, much of its juice shows attractive retail price points. That’s great news for us savvy consumers.
North Africa might seem a strange place to find vineyards, but viticulture here dates back to the Phoenicians and continued later with Roman occupation. The altitude of the Coastal Atlas mountain range and the cooling effects of the ocean breezes help to moderate the otherwise unhospitable Moroccan desert climate.
Under Islamic rule, alcohol was banned, and from about the seventh century until well into the 19th century, the wine industry was completely nonexistent. The roller coaster ride continued with Morocco being one of the largest wine exporters in the world by midway through the 20th century only to collapse again after gaining independence in 1956.
Over the past 30 years, foreign investment has breathed new life and restored Morocco to its former wine-producing glory. Although a predominantly red wine area, they do produce their share of white and rosé as well. With less than 10% exported, these wines can be an interesting and unusual treat.
We talk about the extensive history of wine behemoths such as Spain, France and Italy, but Eastern Europe maintains the bragging rights for some of the oldest wine-producing sites in the world. Within the past few years, a site was uncovered in Armenia that was later discovered to be the oldest known winery ever found, somewhere between 6000 and 4000 BC.
Their wine production continued to flourish even under the Soviet rule, but it was the Armenian brandy that gave them fame. At one point Armenia laid claim to a quarter of all brandy produced inside the entire Soviet Union. It continued to produce still and sparkling wines, but little found its way outside the Iron Curtain. Once this curtain was “lifted” the world was unaware of the potential this small Eastern Bloc country held. There are a myriad of varieties that are unique to these regions. Along with the use of Armenian oak, the distinctive aromatics created are not found anywhere else in the world.
So although I encourage you to drink for the benefit of your beverage education, this month I am taking it a proverbial step further. I am asking you to consume these wines to help prevent the grubbing up and extinction of these potentially soon-to-be-forgotten gems of the past. With tax time approaching, this might even qualify as a charitable donation, but I would run that past your accountant first.
Terra Santa Ile de Beaute Blanc
This wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Vermentino (aka Rolle in southern France). The nose has overt citrus characters (lemon curd), fresh cheese and citrus pith. The palate is dry with a crisp, slightly bitter, briny, acidity, lemon pith and a raw nut element. The finish is lingering with mouth-watering acidity. This represents a great transition wine for Pinot Grigio lovers but with more body. Pair with creamy cheeses, ceviche and marinated shrimp.
Domaine de Sahari Rosé 2019
Beni M’Tir, Morocco, $12.99
As a blend of Grenache and Cinsault, this light salmon color rosé shows aromas of light bright cherry, raspberry and cranberry with some tropical melon. The palate has bright crunchy red fruit, cherry stone, melon and a slight orchard blossom note. The balance is such that this would be a hit with food or just as a pool-side sipper. Pair with grilled fish (tuna steaks), blackened redfish, tagine cooked vegetable couscous or garlic naan.
Yacoubian-Hobbs Areni 2016
Rind, Vayots Dzor, Armenia, $33.99
The wine made from this thick-skinned ancient variety boasts a medium ruby with clear reflectiveness. The nose has elements of raspberry, blueberry, spice (pepper and celery seed) and a haunting purple floral hint. The dry palate has bracing acidity with a candied red fruit, brambles and a prevalent but fine-grained tannin structure that is evident on the upper gums. The finish lingers of tart, slightly astringent red jolly rancher. Pair this with game birds, crispy-fatty pork belly, cured meats, bacon-wrapped … anything.
Dennis Fraley is a local nurse anesthetist by day and a wine and spirits expert by night. He teaches wine classes, hosts in-home educational wine parties and consults for wine PR companies and local wine/food pairing events. Achieving the level 4 Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, he now contemplates making a run for the coveted master of wine. For more information about his services and upcoming classes, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.