June 26th, 2019/ BY Treve Ring

Old World grapes found new homes in the New World

It seems that some Vitis vinifera vines are more firmly rooted than others. Nebbiolo, for example, is notoriously self-centred, thriving almost exclusively in its home patch of Piemonte. Others, like Chardonnay, are content to spread and prosper pretty much anywhere, which is why it has become one of the top grapes grown in all New World (Non-European) wine regions.

But what about grapes that were once firmly planted in one place that are now — thanks to adventuresome growers — making wines and impacting tastes around the world? We’ve seen Malbec migrate to Argentina, and Sauvignon Blanc dominate New Zealand. Are other Euro-entrenched grapes primed to make their name widely known in the brave New World, where appellation laws and historic traditions run less interference?

Here are four contenders leading the charge.


This tiny, green-hued berry is intrinsic with Jura and the region’s flor-affected wines, including the region’s legendary Vin Jaunes. It is thought that the grape may be a descendant and variation of the ancient Traminer, from current-day South Tyrol, and in the mutated family tree of Gewürztraminer. It shares cousin Gewürz’s temperamentality, ripening late and yielding low. Savagnin was an accidental tourist when it arrived and was planted in Australia in the early 21st century, thought to be Albariño for nearly a decade until proven otherwise. Tightly wound with refreshing citrus, aromatic white fruits and a kiss of anise, this lighter-bodied wine often finishes with a briny note.

BK Wines Skin n’ Bones White 2017, Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, Australia ($35)

Brendon Keys, founder and winemaker of BK Wines, is a leading proponent of handcrafted, site-specific wines from the cool-climate Adelaide Hills. Keys seeks out special sites like this one to craft wines “made with love, not money.” Tight, salty and upright, this year’s Skin n’ Bones, a skin-contact Savagnin, is much sharper than the 2016. After a native ferment and one month on skins, it rested for nine months in neutral French oak. Fresh and taut is countered with a gentle leesy cushion, seasoned with salted nuts, quince, citrus pith along a striated, streamlined palate. Intellectually moreish.

Big Head Wines Savagnin 2017, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25)

There are fewer than 10 acres of Savagnin planted in Ontario, where it has most often been made into a sweet wine from dried grapes. For the ripe 2017 vintage, Big Head didn’t dry their grapes as they had done in the past, instead working with what nature provided to experiment with a fresher take on the grape. It was fermented for five months in new thousand-litre casks, and finished with some residual sugar to balance off the grape’s striving acidity. Savoury notes of tea, almond and toast work alongside the weightier wine’s fleshy pear and ginger spicing, all wrapped up in a honeyed, sweet sheen.


Natte Valleij Alex Milner
Natte Valleij's winemaker, Alex Milner


It’s easy to be charmed by the characterfulness of humble Cinsault. Widely planted in Southern France, it’s well adapted to heat and capable of high yields, making it more workhorse than thoroughbred. Cinsault has long been a silent softening partner, a historically favoured grape alongside Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre in the Southern Rhône. In blends, Cinsault brings perfume and lift, with a finely rasped pink and white peppercorn spice. These lovely, lighter, fresher perfumed qualities are readily apparent when the grape is vinified solo. At higher yields, this is a delightful and gulpable fresh red, ready to be chilled and enjoyed, abundantly. At lower yields, something more serious emerges, with stoniness, wild raspberry and wild herbs interwoven with the perfumed lightness.

Natte Valleij Stellenbosch Cinsault 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($30)

Young winemaker Alex Milner suddenly became very Cinsault-centric when a professor told him not to bother reading the Cinsault chapter in his textbook because it would be worthless to him. Fast-forward from that 2011 conversation to today, and the Natte Valleij Cinsault Collective. Alex set out to find forgotten patches of old dryland bush vine Cinsault across the Western Cape, expressing their individualities through low-interference winemaking. This is from old bush vines planted in 1974 in Helderberg Mountain’s sea-facing shadows and decomposed granite soils. This was destemmed into concrete egg, which is felt in the gently grippy texture throughout this bright, energetic wine. Sapid raspberry and plum are framed by fine tannins and buoyed by lifted acidity, showcasing its 11.7 percent alcohol.

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2018, Itata Valley, Chile ($45)

This wine really stuck De Martino, and Itata, on the world wine map when the first vintage was released in 2011. They found used and abandoned tinajas, handmade clay jars of varying shapes and sizes, while driving through vineyards in southern Chile, and decided to try using them for making wine in as their ancestors had done. They now have approximately 150 of these vessels in their care, each averaging 150 years old. The 2018 is youthful with perfumed lavender, wild herbs and a fine infusion of tea leaves. Gentle and soft pink grapefruit brightens the core, while easy acidity and whisper-fine tannins tie it together to the salty finish.




Jura’s indigenous Trousseau grape has already proven a successful immigrant, though only across Europe to Portugal, where it is known as Bastardo. The dark-skinned grape produces wines with a deep cherry hue, and flavours of forest berries, cherries and wild herbs. Trousseau loves the heat, absorbing the sun and transforming it into powerfully alcoholic wines when this late budder is allowed to marathon through a long harvest. However, earlier picking and lower yields result in fresher reds, with an alluring bitter amaro lick.

The Eyrie Vineyards Trousseau 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($50)

It makes perfect sense that Jason Lett, son of pioneering Papa Pinot David Lett, would plant some experimental plots of his own, like this, the Willamette’s first planting of Trousseau. Introduced in 2012 to the Sisters Vineyard’s volcanic basalt soils, the 2016 is just the second release of this wine. Native-fermented in stainless over two weeks, the wine was then transferred to neutral French oak for a six-month rest before bottling, with no sulphur throughout the process. Thorns, brambles and baking spice season this fresh, bright, sapid red, swirling around an earthy cherry and plum core. There’s a lovely pixelated texture running the length of this wine, housed with finely gritty tannins and freshened by acidity. A welcome 11.5 percent.

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau North Coast 2017, California ($50)

Pouring a light rhubarb hue, this perfumed Trousseau was sourced from three sites across the North Coast, all planted on volcanic cobbles over river stones. Whole-cluster and native-fermented, this spent 11 months in a combination of neutral French oak barrels, puncheons and foudre. Wild blueberries, fine leather, autumn berries, anise and plum are seasoned with a light dusting of ash. Tannins are whisper fine and acidity is lofty, all of which welcome a chill and a chugging. Since founding their winery in 2001, childhood friends Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts have been needle-moving, revolutionary producers in California.

De Martino Winemakers
Fourth generation winemakers, Marco Antonio and Sebastián De Martino

Grüner Veltliner

Austria’s groovy white grape is appreciated the world over, though GrüVe’s charm is relatively unknown outside of its ancestral home. Is it the umlaut that throws folks off? The pronunciation? (Groon-er Velt-LEEN-er or Goo-new VEHLT-lye-ner?) In any case, this crisp, herbal, lemon-oil-slicked and white-pepper-scented grape is compelling in youth, though with a few years’ maturity, the zestiness transforms into a honeyed, stony and profound wine, akin to fine Chenin Blanc, or Sémillon. Amazingly food-friendly, GV shines as a partner for tricky foods like artichokes, asparagus and arugula.

Culmina Family Estate Winery Unicus 2017, Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley ($27)

The Triggs family have nailed Grüner with this vintage, setting the bar high for others to hopefully aspire to. From the Golden Mile Bench’s elevated Margaret’s Bench (650 metres), the 2017 blends fruit fermented in 57 percent stainless, 25 percent concrete egg and 18 percent concrete amphora. The concentrated core rises with easy, bright freshness and a gentle whiff of white pepper. Melon, yellow apple and green apple is all tidy with white grapefruit tightness. Drinking smartly now, this will continue to impress with bottle age.

Quartz Reef Grüner Veltliner 2017, Bendigo, Central Otago, New Zealand ($30)

From Quartz Reef’s certified biodynamic estate in Central Otago’s Bendigo region, this was planted in 2008 on sloping sandy loams and steepland soils around 215 metres altitude. The cooler, windy 2017 concentrated the fruit, providing a lovely structure and weight not seen in previous vintages. After whole-bunch pressing, this was native-fermented and aged on lees for 11 months. White honey, dried apricots, ripe melon and grapefruit are brightened with a pithy citrus acidity on the fuller, creamy palate, one that holds presence in the mouth, and lingers with a dusting of white pepper.



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