Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grapes: The Next Generation

Many people come up to me and ask: "Hey Dave, what're the next hot wine grapes?" And I tell them "Hey, what the fuck are you doing in my dream?"

And while grapes and Star Trek may share nothing more than the smooth roundness of Patrick Stewart's cranium, here're the grapes that I think will be the next big things.

First, let me say that I'm ruling out all the grapes that others have already been called "the next Chardonnay" or "the next Pinot Noir." These grapes are: Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, and Hondarobbi Zuri/Txakoli (white) and Grenache, Tempranillo, and Carignane (red).

On to my picks.

The whites:

Godello. This floral and crisp Spanish varietal is going to be the next rock star wine. It's brisk and zippy like Albarino or Gruner Veltliner, but more strongly floral like a good Riesling or Semillon. It's swiggity swiggity awesome. You thought I was going to say sweet?

Verdejo. So yeah, "Rueda" isn't a grape, it's a region. In most instances Verdejo is the grape that you mean. So ask for a Verdejo. Some examples are crisp and clean like a lean Sauvignon Blanc, others can have a more pronounced tropical fruit character like... a more tropical fruit-heavy Sauvignon Blanc. But it's not like a Sauvignon Blanc, I swear! Did I mention that Rueda also grows excellent Sauvignon Blanc?

Maria Gomes. Sure it might sound like a Univision soap opera star, but this Portuguese Muscat cultivar is pretty freakin' great. It's dry without being overly acidic, has a nice softness and a fuller mouthfeel. Some of the best examples taste like a nice white Bordeaux. It also takes well to sparkling treatments, tasting somewhat like a Cremant d'Alsace or a drier Sekt. Some of the finer examples compare favorably to Champagne for a fraction of the price.

And now, the red wines.

Let me just say that I think we're going to see red blends make a push for dominance over single-varietal wines in the near future. Red wines, more so than white, take well to blending to temper the strengths and mask the weaknesses of the individual varietals. Blends to watch out for:

Port-style blends in table wine. Many of the Port varietals (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao) make excellent dry table wines. Besides Tinta Roriz (which is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Franca blend quite well together and with Tinta Roriz. These wines typically have nice plum-y fruit, good light tannins, and a food-friendly acidity.

Spanish red blends. Sure Spain makes excellent single-varietal Tempranillo, Garnacha, et al, but the blends are where value can really be found. Look for Garnacha-heavy blends that may also utilize classic varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Capcanes and Montsant are two good regions with quite a few experimental bodegas.

And then two single varietals to watch out for:

Mourvedre. This oft-marginalized Rhone varietal is only given a regular opportunity to express itself in the red wines of Bandol in Provence and the wines of coastal northeastern Spain (where it's known as Monastrell). A few California vineyards in hot Contra Costa County and the Central Valley around Lodi are growing Mourvedre with some solid results. When given the chance to ripen properly, Mourvedre presents solid fruit, smoke, and dusty earth. It's higher yielding nature means it should always offer a quality wine for the price.

Tannat. Uruguayan Tannat will be the next Argentinian Malbec. Another instance of a Latin American country embracing a marginal French grape with excellent results. When grown in Uruguay, Tannat loses much of it's grippy tannic edge and instead presents a medium bodied, firmly structured wine with lightly steeped tannins and a surprising minerality. Production currently isn't enough to push prices down to Argentinian levels of five years ago, but superb examples can be found for $15-$20 retail. You can also find excellent (and much fuller-bodied) Tannats from the subregions of Madiran and Irouleguy in France. These can offer some of the finest values in French wine.

You heard it here first. I'm calling it now. This is my 1982 vintage.


J. Song said...

Great post! Do you really feel that the wonderful albariño and txakoli grapes are things of the past? Most people don't even know about them!

Verdejo is a wonderful choice, especially when turned into the Pie Franco Rueda from Blanco Nieva. They used to carry it at Vintage Berkeley, and I could only imagine that some wine shop, somewhere, would carry it now during these "hotter" months.

Mission Wines carries a good example of two of your reds: the 2005 Piqueras Monastrell (around $10 - $11) and the Irouléguy from Domaine Etxegaraya (around $13 - $14). I'm seeing--and drinking--a lot of good blends, too. (As if keeping track of single varietals and appellations and vintages weren't hard enough!)

Joon S.

David J.D. said...

It really depends on where you go. Pintxo has I think five txakolinas. Albarino's price keeps going up rendering it non-competitive. At $15 a bottle it's a rockstar wine, but if it gets past $20 a bottle it starts meeting stiff competition from France , Germany, and Austria.

Txakolina's going to face a similar problem. There's only so much exported and it goes up a couple bucks each other.

For instance, when the Txomin Etxaniz txakolina was first on my radar (2003) it was at $13.99 retail. The 2007 vintage is at $18.99. And that's not even factoring in the dollar crunch that we'll see on the NEXT vintage.

They definitely aren't things of the past, but I think they're very much on white wine drinkers' radars, and the prices are catching up.

If you like Albarino, check out Vinho Verde from the subappelation of Moncao in Portugal. These wines are 70%-100% Alvarinho and basically border Rias Baixas. Some of these wines'll blow your mind for 20%-30% cheaper.

Solar de Serrade and Muralhas de Moncao are two domestically available producers.