Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Another grape variety for the list

Jancis Robinson’s latest book, 'Wine Grapes', lists 1,368 varieties. You may also have heard of ‘The Wine Century Club’: to qualify, you must have tasted at least 100 different grape varieties. Most of us would struggle to reach 50, so if you are going to set your mind on joining The Wine Century Club, or even on tasting all the varieties in Jancis’s book, here’s one you should try.

Christophe Reynouard, owner of Domaine du Grangeon in Cote du Rhone, proudly presented his hidden secret, the ancient grape Chatus. According to Jancis, Chatus used to be widespread from the Alps to the the Massif Central before the arrival of phylloxera, but it has largely disappeared except in the Ardèche, the western bank of the Rhone. Christophe said that after phylloxera most growers planted the higher yielding Carignan. Chatus, on its own rootstock, has only survived in areas where there is no clay, since phylloxera doesn’t like clay. Today, Chatus is being revived, with about 54 ha in the Ardèche shared by some 35 growers.

Chatus has small berries and produces wine with a deep colour. The wine's high tannin and acid structure and its aroma profile give it a resemblance to Barolo, which is not a big surprise as DNA profiling has linked Chatus to Nebbiolo. Christophe first started making it in 1998 using carbonic maceration because of the high tannin structure. Now, with better vineyard management and knowledge of the grapes, he makes it with 100% destemmed grapes, three to four weeks skin contact and 23 months ageing in new barrels. The high tannin is supported by the good fruit concentration and firm acidity, and it certainly has ageing potential.

Christophe is a prolific winemaker. He makes 15 wines from 17 ha of vineyard planted with some ten varieties. His philosophy? He has only 40 years as a winemaker before he has to hand the cellar key to the next generation. He could just make three wines a year, but he believes that the more he makes the more opportunities he will have to learn from his mistakes. Over a 40 year career he might make 600 wines, a much bigger satisfaction than making only 120.

Christophe's Viognier is a very pleasant wine with a chewy palate and an intense aroma of spices, ginger, and honey. No wonder, since he once worked as a cellar master at Georges Vernay, a famous producer in Condrieu. As well as the Chatus, another unusual wine is his Gamay Vin de Paille, made from dried Gamay grapes. A powerful sweet wine of red fruits and chocolate notes, it would make a good dessert on its own.

Christophe, rightly, is concerned about climate change. His Gamay is being harvested about seven days earlier now than in 1998 when he took over the domaine from his father. Growers in warm regions everywhere are searching for later-ripening grapes. Chatus, a mid to late ripener with high acidity, could well be the answer for growers in the Rhone.

Domaine du Grangeon is available from Cottage Vineyards.

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