What Indigenous Varieties Can Do For You

By / Wine + Drinks / May 7th, 2013 / 2

Now this is amusing.

“Old men in sports cars were beyond pity or comprehension. It was as if they’d paid a great deal of money to purchase a huge piece of attire that pointed at their waning potencies. It was as if something had gone in their heads, some bit of wiring had become confused and they had got exactly the opposite effect of the one they’d desired.”

From “My ₤35000 penis extension,” a piece by A. A. Gill in GQ. This excerpt, of course, made me think of wine. How, pray tell, do you get wine from that, you say?

Well, it’s a perfect parallel. It could have just as easily read: “Old men [drinking 1996 Cristal at dance bars/1999 Screaming Eagle on first dates/2000 Mouton in restaurants] were beyond pity or comprehension. It was as if they’d paid a great deal of money to purchase a huge piece of attire that pointed at their waning potencies …”

Works, doesn’t it?

Point is, the fastest way to improve potency with the ladies and dare I say, gents even, is to flash a bit of vinous adventure. Character is sexy. Pouring Californian cult Cabernets and inflated classed growth Bordeaux in public is about as sexy as grey hair on almost anyone but George Clooney.

Speaking of George, I’d argue he isn’t magnetic because he’s mature, fit and handsome, though that helps. He’s hot because he’s freewheeling. He probably inspired the phrase, “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”

I suspect that should George ever invite me to his villa/beach home/penthouse, he would pour for me something fun. Not a Cab, Merlot, or yet another Shiraz. And certainly not yet another Chardonnay — even if it was from Puligny-Montrachet (though I might make an exception if the mood struck). No. George would pour me a glass of juice squeezed from some cool little indigenous grape from Spain, Italy or France. A drop of passionfruit-scented Sciaglin from Friuli, perhaps. Or maybe a sip of saturated Sciascinoso: all blueberries, black berries and olive, heady and hugely hedonistic.

To scout of some of the more character-building wines on the planet, I sipped, spat, and scribbled my way though about 50 samples of so-called autochthonous wines one Saturday morning in Toronto with a couple of other writers — Gord from the Toronto Star and Irv from the Medical Post. Autochthonous (yes, it’s really spelled like that) is a fancy word for indigenous; use it at your own risk.


Cantine Fina Taif 2010, Sicily, Italy ($24.10)

Grape: 100% Zibibbo
Aromas of sweet peach lead to a refreshing, off-dry palate teeming with chin-drip stone fruit, nuts, table grapes and lemon zest.
Food pairing: Roasted nuts.
Conversation fodder: Zibibbo, which is part of the Muscat family of vitis vinifera varieties, is one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines still in existence.

Emilio Bulfon Sciaglin 2011, Friuli, Italy ($22.10)

Grape: 100% Sciaglin
Restrained crisp fruit suggesting citrus, peach and passion fruit forms the backdrop for minerals, dried herbs, sea salt and a dry crank of white pepper. A wonderful food wine.
Food pairing: Poached prawns.
Conversation fodder: Sciaglin is such a rare grape variety that it isn’t even mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Wine. Emilio Bulfon’s mission is to revive nearly extinct grape varietals such as this gem. Well worth a taste.

Santa Venere Vescovado 2011, Calabria, Italy ($24.30)

Grape: 100% Guardavalle
If you like the fleshy, spiced-peach character of Pinot Gris from Alsace, you’ll love this tongue-coating Guardavalle from Calabria. Seductive aromas and flavours of stewed stone fruit, tangerine and pear are delicately kissed with warm touches of nutmeg and cinnamon.
Food pairing: Seared scallops or Dungeness crab cakes.
Conversation fodder: Guardavalle isn’t just a grape, it’s a town in Calabria.


Vinchio Vaglio Serra Grignolino d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy ($18.65)

Grape: 100% Grignolino
This wine would make such a sassy little aperitif. Yes, it’s a pretty pinky-coral, but I assure you it’s nothing like that Californian Zinfandel your teenage daughter serves her friends. This beauty yields immediately intriguing flavours of quiet black and red current scored with white blossoms, a light chalky bitterness, and come-hither salty minerality. Resonant. Suave.
Food pairing: Smoked fish.
Conversation fodder: The name Grignolino comes from the word grignole, which means “many pips” in Italian. Grignolino’s abundance of pips (grape seeds) imparts a telltale hint of bitterness. And of course, bitter is a good thing in the Italian food and wine scene with its olives, radicchio, Campari and all the rest.


Terra di Briganti Sciascinoso 2009, Campania, Italy ($23.50)

Grape: 100% Sciascinoso
So compelling. Flavours of black olive, blackberry and blueberry swirl around in this complex red that’s edged with leather, freshly turned earth and black peppercorn. Quite refined yet hugely hedonistic.
Food pairing: Roasted pork tenderloin.
Conversation fodder: Sciascinoso is pronounced SHAH-shee-NOH-zoh. Knew you were wondering.

Emilio Bulfon Piculit Neri IGT 2010, Venezie, Italy ($22.75)

Grape: 100% Piculit Neri
With an easy, affable appeal, this wine will resonate with those who like their reds bright, fruity and crisp — Beaujolais lovers take note. Piculit Neri rips across the tongue with vibrant flavours of raspberry, red currant, apple skin and free love. Quaffer.
Food pairing: Charcuterie.
Conversation fodder: As noted, Emilio Bulfon likes to focus on rare grape varietals. This is yet another example of his successes.

Fattoria Paradiso Barbarossa 2008, Emilia Romagna, Italy ($34.25)

Grape: 100% Barbarossa
Fantastic perfume of lush fruit leads to a tidal wave of smooth goodness. Ripe black and red cherries, warm wood, crushed violet petals, roasted meat and a plush velvet mouthfeel.
Food pairing: Slow roasted beef.
Conversation fodder: Barbarossa improves with age. On average, it can be cellared for up to a decade.

Vinchio Vaglio Serra Rebus 2009, Piedmont, Italy ($22.10)

Grape: 100% Ruché
Fine, floral and flagrantly fragrant, this stylish little feminine wine hides its power beneath a deceptively well-poised and delicate structure, much like a fine Pinot Noir. Wild raspberry and violet. Perhaps a wink of rose and nod of lilac. Charms the senses with complexity, finesses and persistence.
Food pairing: Duck confit.
Conversation fodder: No one knows for sure where this grape came from. Some (probably the Italians) say that it is indigenous to the Asti area of Piedmont. Others (likely the French) argue that the grape was originally imported from France. Regardless, it has been growing in Italy for at least a century, and was only recently exported.

Accademia dei Racemi Sum 2008, Puglia, Italy ($25.15)

Grape: 100% Sussumaniello
Red and black liquorice flavours anchored with attractive chewiness, bright acidity, and a savoury-spicy appeal gives this wine a rustic yet well-balanced character. A bit of grilled meat and bonfire add extra strokes of goodness. What’s not to love?
Food pairing: Wild mushroom and truffle risotto.
Conversation fodder: A 2008 study from Italy reveals the Sussumaniello grape’s DNA is similar to Sangiovese. Experts suspect it’s a crossing of Sangiovese and another, as yet unidentified, variety. Feel free to guess.

Cantina Ma.Ri.Ca. Ramosceto 2010, Marche, Italy ($19.30)

Grape: 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
Move over Malbec; hello Ramosceto. Think macerated cherries with hints of wildflower, rosewater, dried plum and cherry. Rich with extract, yet also quite lively and fresh.
Food match: Grilled Italian sausage.
Conversation fodder: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba is both the grape variety and the tiny wine appellation in the Marche from which it hails.

Ibervinum Ad Libitum 2010, Rioja, Spain ($24.50)

Grape: 100% Maturana Tinta
Attractive and clean flavours of red and black forest fruit are threaded through with an enticing minerality, a floral note somewhere, and slight puff of smoke.
Food match: Grilled salmon.
Conversation fodder: The winemaker for this wine, Juan Carlos Sancha, has a mission: to revive some of Rioja’s indigenous grape varieties. He’s now doing so in tiny quantities with Maturana Tinta as one of his babies. A mere 17,500 bottles of the Ad Libitum 2010 was made. Snap up a case.


Wine book author and critic Carolyn Evans Hammond first fell in love with wine during her first trip to France many moons ago when she picnicked in the vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone. Now she makes wine accessible with her witty and light approach to the topic. Carolyn’s latest book, Good Better Best Wines: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wine, is the first book to rank the best-selling wines in North America by price and grape variety, with tasting notes and bottle images (April, 2010, $12.95, Alpha Books). Within weeks of release, it soared to #1 wine book at Amazon.ca and the #2 one at Amazon.com and remains a bestseller to this day. It’s available at bookstores everywhere. Watch the trailer at www.goodbetterbestwines.com Her first book, 1000 Best Wine Secrets, is a compilation of trade secrets designed to illuminate the topic and help wine drinkers make more satisfying wine choices. It too is a bestseller, earning critical acclaim and international distribution (October, 2006, $12.95, Sourcebooks, Inc). As well as an author, Carolyn’s reviews and critical articles appear regularly in Taste and Tidings magazine, she has talked about wine on radio and TV throughout North America, and has contributed material in such eminent publications as Decanter and Wine & Spirit International in the United Kingdom, as well as Maclean’s in Canada. She issues a weekly newsletter, publishes a blog, runs a Facebook wine club, twitters, and conducts seminars and private consultations. Constantly learning, Carolyn spends much of her time tasting wine and meeting with winemakers and industry professionals. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers in the UK and the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada; she holds a Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in the UK; and she earned a BA from York University where she studied English and Philosophy. She has lived in many cities in North America and Europe, and now resides in Toronto, where she was born.

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