Welcome back to our wend around the alphabet of wine grapes!
Last time around, we departed from the usual list of known varieties and detoured through a fantastic trio of indigenous whites: Aligoté (France), Bical (Portugal) and Coda di Volpe (Italy). If the next three letters were left solely to my Italian roots, we might’ve landed on Dolcetto, Erbaluce and Falanghina. Instead, I turned to Instagram and challenged the international sommelier community to chime-in on their favourite D, E and F grapes. Thanks to them, we ended up in Germany (twice) and Mallorca, Spain.
Self-proclaimed wine bro, Dillon Mafit is a spirits and wine specialist based in NYC. I couldn’t resist his newfound love for Germany’s most important modern red hybrid. When it comes to crossbreeds, a successful one improves on its pedigree and maybe solves a problem. Dornfelder is easier to grow than Spätburgunder, resists rot better than Portugieser, and ripens earlier than Lemberger (aka Blaufränkisch). And in a country where deep colour is precious and hard to come by, Dornfelder’s thick skins are prized.
JT: What do you dig about Dornfelder?
DM: It’s neon purple in the glass and extremely aromatic. What’s crazy is that its colour betrays its palate: rather than being dense, chewy or tannic, the wines are light and ethereal, even mineral-heavy like a Loire Chenin Blanc. Way more multifaceted and complex than I expected it to be. I loved it at cellar temperature.
JT: Where does it fit into one’s drinking life?
DM: My girlfriend and I both prefer crisp whites and austere orange wines. If we drink reds, we often gravitate towards Beaujolais, Pineau d’Aunis, Grolleau and carbonic Cabernet Francs – any red that you could drink with a slight chill. This fits into our weird niche of lighter-bodied, gulpable reds. If you are just discovering the bevy of strange red wines of Eastern Europe—Germany, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia—this grape is something fun to look for, too.
Georg Albrecht Schneider Dornfelder 2018
Alcohol: 13%. Price: Moderate.
If global warming has a perk before the peril, it’s ripe and delicious red wine from Germany’s soaring northern neck of wine country. This is one. Served at cellar temp, it presented a fresh and grapey nose with sour cherry and cinnamon spice. Sangria-like fruitness minus the sweetness. Tart, tangy tannins and persistent finish with slight (and terrific) lingering bitterness. At $17, how this isn’t even more popular is beyond me.
Erin Scala is a pro’s pro with small-town charm and plenty of big city Michelin-star cred, plus the keys to cellars at the Common House social clubs, and a wine shop of her own. Erin’s choice, Elbling, is a white grape that dominated medieval Germany and has been cultivated in the Mosel Valley since Roman times – it was once the only variety planted in Luxembourg. It’s fallen out of fashion in both countries, but still thrives in Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region where Riesling can’t cut it. Reviled by some, heralded by others, for its searing acidity and lower alcohol, Elbling’s known parent is the ancient, prodigious Gouais Blanc, and it is genetically linked to both Riesling and Pinot.
Erin’s take on Elbling: ‘An extraordinary grape example for an Earth mid climate change. As an early ripener, and a high-acid one at that, it’s perfect for effervescent wines. Many grape varieties that fell out of fashion in the 1900s are coming around as their high-acid profiles make them excellent grapes for rising temperatures. Elbling finds itself in the company of Aligoté, Melon de Bourgogne and Albariño.’
Hild Elbling Zehnkommanull 2020
Wincheringen, Upper Mosel, Germany
Alcohol: 10.5%. Price: mid to high.
Pale, pale colour prefaces a cascade of pears, tart apples, acacia and worn stones. Lively freshness in the mouth. Super clean and delicious. Easy to see how it makes a fabulous fizz. Imagine Picpoul with a PhD from Technische Universität München. $25. JT
These notes from US importer Vom Boden are too perfect to exclude: ‘Think of the wine as a Muscadet of the Mosel, with its stone-riddled, floral/herbal and citrus tones. The “Zehnkommanull” (which translates to “10 point 0”) is called thus because, even bone dry, it never ferments to more than 10% ABV. That is the magic of old vines – phenolic ripeness without excess sugar. This is an ultra-light white, a quivering, angelic, porcelain wine with glossy, razor-sharp edges and a laser-beam lemon-skin citrus.’
Fresh from presenting at the Fine Wine Tourism Summit in Valladolid and earning the 2021 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards’ Best Wine Education Book for her latest title, Con Vino Con Todo, Meritxell Falgueras is an effervescent, passionate, master of craft whose curriculum vitae reads as tasting notes: ‘I look transparent and shiny, with golden reflections and a slow tears. A mix of poetry and wines, ageing in oak barrels while doing my PhD research on metaphors in wine tasting.’ There’s no more animated sommelier in the Milky Way.
Fogo is an oven and the grape name translates as ‘little fire’. In her inimitable Catalan, Falgueras pronounces it ‘foe-go-NAY-oh’ and likens the wine of this red variety to Beaujolais. ‘It’s not as big a variety as Gamay, but it has its public because of its drinkability. The acidity and low tannin make it very easy. It’s always very spicy and very fresh like strawberries.’
You won’t find Fogoneu on its own. This minor red grape of Mallorca – largest of the small islands easy to jet to from Barcelona – is often field-blended and harvested with other indigenous grapes. In the cellar, it’s typically mixed with Callet and Manto Negro, which add peppery aromatics to Fogoneu’s freshness.
Falgueras, working as a wine educator in the Canary Islands, improved upon a Kilometer Zero wine list. ‘There was Rioja, Verdejho, Albariño… and it was like, really? But I want to try something from here!’ she said. ‘In Mallorca, it’s really hot. These wines go with the climate and gastronomy. Fresh things. But it is difficult to find these wines on the peninsula. Even in the Falgueras family wine shop – Celler de Gelida in Barcelona – where we have 4,500 wines to choose from, there are just two.’
4 Kilos Vinícola S L 12 Volts 2018
Vino de la tierra de Mallorca, Spain
Alas, this variety is not yet available in my state, Virginia. All we can do is glean from Falgueras: ‘The acidity and low tannin make it very easy. It’s always very spicy and very fresh like strawberries.’ Please chime in with notes if you have access to this grape/wine!
NEXT… G, H, I
Your homework: seek out these and other indigenous obscurities / curiosities, and report back. Tag @academieduvinlibrary and @themoderngent. Post your finds with the hashtag #grapetionary. Alert your favourite sommelier: we’d love to hear from an Argentine who gets Gibi, a Hungarian who hankers for Hárslevelű, and a Turk who’s intrigued with Iri Kára. Six down, 1,300 sumthin’ to go. Between you, me and our other Vinosity readers, who knows how many of the 1,368 known grape varieties we can tackle.