There’s always a delight in discovering a brilliant wine that comes from a less celebrated hinterland, says Robin Nugent of Iron & Rose in Shrewsbury’s Market Hall.
Some wines justify their near legendary status. There is some kind of magic that happens to Pinot Noir grapes grown on Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits for example or Nebbiolo on the slopes of Barolo.
These can be wines worthy of a place on any wine lover’s desert island wine list.
The traditional classification systems of Europe are about this, identifying those places and practices that have the potential to make exceptional wines.
It isn’t unique to wine of course. From Wye Valley asparagus, artisan Cheshire cheese (shout out to local heroes Appleby’s) to Cornish pasties, some combinations of place and people create uniquely fabulous results.
What is exciting though is finding magic in wines from the less familiar places ‘in between’ or from people who aren’t following the crowd. The reasons why a particular wine has not hit the limelight can be mysterious and fascinating.
Sometimes it is just about scale.
A wine produced in limited quantities may never get enough distribution to become known. For example the wines of some of the small appellations of South West France, (Pecharmant, anyone?) are overshadowed by the power and scale of their neighbours in Bordeaux.
In some cases it is about demographics.
Priorat in Catalunya is now getting more attention but it very nearly died out as a region. Working the land is such a physically tough life compared to working in cities on the nearby coast.
The abandonment of difficult terrain is a story often told. Some of these vineyards are having a new lease of life, but when they are rediscovered, it is often on a much smaller scale.
Economics plays a role too. Languedoc, in southern France, used to be home to multiple different grape varieties.
The growth of trade with northern cities and the power of co-operatives meant that many of these varieties were abandoned in favour of easier to grow grapes which gave bigger yields and sweeter fruit.
The co-ops paid more for higher potential alcohol levels – more grams of sugar in your grapes, more Francs in your pocket.
Some of these lost grapes are being rediscovered, sometimes found outside France where they were taken by immigrants wanting a taste of home, and repatriated. Oeillades for example makes some beautiful, lighter bodied reds but there are only perhaps 20 hectares in existence out of 300,000 ha of vineyard in the region as a whole.
And in Burgundy, the home of some of the most delicious (and expensive) wines on the planet, Aligoté used to be a much more commonly planted grape variety but the higher prices achieved by wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir meant it was relegated to less favourable sites.
And so, it gained a reputation for making thin, acidic wines only worth drinking when helped along by a healthy dose of Creme de Cassis. It has found new champions however who are rebuilding its fan base.
So strike out, get off the beaten path, be adventurous and look out for wines made in familiar regions but made from less familiar grape varieties, or those from parts of the world where you were perhaps unaware there were even vines.
The pioneers and renegades are often making the most exciting and best value wines outside the mainstream.
Two to Try
Red – Terroir al Limit, Terroir Historic, Priorat, Catalunya, Spain – In 2001 a food and wine obsessed German, Dominik Huber, and South African winemaker Eben Sadie, recognised the potential of the stark and difficult terrain of Priorat to make great wine and made their first, single wine in a rented cellar space. Though the range has grown, all are lithe and elegant but still rewardingly expansive.
White – Guilhem et Jean-Hugues Goisot, Aligoté, Burgundy, France – History dealt the Goisot family a unlucky hand. They could have been making Chablis but the land they farm, a few kms to the east, was pushed out of that appellation at the end of the 19th century for obscure political reasons, so their Chardonnay, Aligoté & Pinot Noir can only be labelled Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre & their Sauvignon Blanc, though as good as many Sancerre, is ‘just’ Saint Bris. Jean-Hugues was one of the earliest adopters of biodynamic viticulture, carried on by his son Guilhem, bringing life and biodiversity to the deep, chalky soils of their vineyards. Their Aligoté has a lovely richness and weight with a fine thread of acidity which makes it glorious with oysters and fish.
Both wines available at Iron & Rose in Shrewsbury Market Hall and at Glouglou Wine Bar | Shop on Castle Gates.