‘The Red-Headed Step-Children of the Vines’…. No it’s not a new Tom Waits album.
We refer to the grape varieties from famous wine regions that are deserving of more attention. The ones that are often overshadowed by their famous vinous brethren and sistren, but more often than not are consistently delicious and can present amazing value for money in some of the more prestigious appellations.
So without further ado……
Different from the big-boned, famous wines of the region
There is no doubt Nebbiolo rules the roost in this famous North-West Italian wine region of Peimonte. The wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are justifiably revered for their longevity and structure; the benchmark for the Nebbiolo grape.
Today, some of those top flight Barolo’s can reach some heady price but you can always aim for the delicious Barbera, Dolcetto and Langhe Nebbiolo wines if you seek value and good times.
Personally we have two favourite grape varieties from the region that I keep heading back to like a moth to a lantern. Pelaverga and Freisa.
Pelaverga (PELLA-vair-gah) is a wine we adore. It’s produced in tiny quantities and is predominantly refined to the northern Barolo sub-region of Verduno and Colline Saluzzesi in western Piemonte.
It’s also very different from the big-boned, famous wines of the region (which for the record I also adore!). Pale in colour, it’s a red wine at the lighter end of medium-bodied with pepper-laced cherry fruits, spice and a vivid, airy feel to its palate shape. It’s just gorgeous.
Freisa (FRAY-shar) is another from Piemonte, deeper in colour with a bit more heft to its wild-berried fruit, hints of sage, amaro herbs, vibrant acidity and quite substantial tannins. Both offering a wallet-friendly excursion into one of the world’s great wine regions.
Way down south in Sicily you will find Frappato (FRAP-ah-toe); another vinous beauty that is often overshadowed by the island’s stellar Nero d’Avola, but is a beautiful wine in its own right. Aromatic, savoury and packed with vibrant cherry fruits it is wonderful as a straight variety and can reach great heights when blended with Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio… look out for producers such as COS and the rockstar, Arianna Occhipinti.
“There is no doubt Nebbiolo rules the roost in this famous North-West Italian wine region of Piemonte.”
A fraction of the cost of the revered Grand & Premier cru wines
Next, we go to France’s Burgundy region to worship at the high-altar to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there is another variety that is deserving of our attention simply because it is a fraction of the cost of the revered Grand & Premier cru wines.
Aligoté (AL-UH-goat-aye) is a white wine that is beginning to grow in popularity. Lightly floral with punchy citrus fruits, flinty minerality and a sapid, mouth-watering line of acidity, you’ll find tiny pockets in the Côte d’Or and more substantial plantings in the Côte Chalonnaise, Marsannay and on the slopes of Clos des Monts Luisants overlooking the Grand Cru vineyards of Morey-Saint-Denis.
In the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauviginon Blanc get all the love, but there is a wee red variety called Grolleau (GROL-loh) that makes us go weak at the knees.
It’s most commonly known as the variety associated with Rosé d’Anjou, but if you start looking a bit deeper you’ll find a few producers making red wine out of the grape.
You’re probably sensing a pattern here, but we have a penchant for wines that have a sense of space and an airiness to them. Grolleau ticks all the boxes here, red fruited, gently spiced with a sapid, mouth-watering acid line. While we are in the confessional, we also have a fetish for really cheap Italian white wine, the kind of house wine you find in trattoria in Italy for €5 for a one litre carafe. We’re weird like that.
We’re also a big fan of the wines of the Jura…. You know…. Poulsard, Savagnin, that sort of thing. If you have ever tried a glass of nutty, sous voile Savagnin with a slice of Comté cheese, you’ll know about perfect wine/food matches.
Well we have an antipodean equivalent and it is a cracker. The Crittenden Cri de Coeur Savagnin (SAV-ag-non) aged in ullage barrels under a flor of yeast. It is an insanely complex wine – appley and vivid with fino sherry notes and hints of marzipan, curry leaf, oyster shell, dried flowers and mustard powder. Crystalline purity and with beautiful poise, intensity and balance it is a stunning wine.
I guess what we’re trying to say here is it is worth digging a little deeper beyond what a wine region is most famous for… You will find some gems, whether Carignan in the Barossa or Pelaverga in Piemonte, it’s all about hunting down deliciousness.
“While we’re in the confessional, we also have a fetish for really cheap Italian white wine…”