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Weird and wonderful grape varieties

Winter in Mallorca is generally a quieter time for us but it doesn’t mean we stop working altogether. It is a good time for us to ‘recharge our batteries’, evaluate our stock, decide what the gaps are in our catalogues, and make constructive plans for the coming spring/summer season.

Winter sunny days in Mallorca

A recent visit to a newly opened restaurant, Morrofino

This period of regrouping takes place during January and February (usually after the Sant Sebastia celebrations…when they occur). This is a time when some people have already begun their ‘Dry January’ in earnest, whilst others are simply ‘spent out’ after the Xmas and New Year festivities. Many bars and restaurants also take the opportunity to close for a few weeks' holiday before the season begins again.

By the time spring arrives and the warmer weather gradually returns there is a general buzz in the air as restaurants re-open and the tourists begin their annual pilgrimage to the sunny Balearics (longing for some heat after a wet and cold winter).

A recent winery visit to Santa Catarina

For us, January and February also tend to be good months to plan visits to new wineries and sample potential new wines for our catalogues.

Whilst recently working out which area or appellation we’re currently missing, and researching other wines to introduce to our catalogue, it suddenly occurred to me that we do not have Prieto Picudo or Rufete wines in our catalogue. Why not, I wondered?

There are about 1,400 different types of grapes that are fit for creating wine. But, unfortunately, we tend to drink wines with the same 5 or 6 grapes. It seems crazy that approximately 20 different grape varieties dominate up to 80% of the planted area around the world.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are just a few typical examples of how standardised the world of wine has become. It is possible to drink Tempranillo from Argentina, an Australian Riesling, a Californian Chardonnay, and a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

This doesn’t just happen in the New World. Many wine areas in Europe have also embraced the trendy grapes, ripping out their local vines, and replacing them with grapes that the general population demand. Consequently, the landscape has changed and Cabernet Franc, for example, can now be found in Italy, Croatia and Greece, to the detriment of the vines that used to grow there. As a result, we tend to drink similar wines produced in a similar style.

Cabernet Franc grapes

Fortunately, there is a change afoot.

Some of the best and most highly rated wines in the world are still created using the 20 or so noble grapes.

Verónica Ortega, Versión Original Mencía, Bierzo

However, the new generation of sommeliers, restaurant owners, winemakers, and hipster influencers are putting their focus on more obscure, unique, and hard to find grapes. If all you do is taste Cabernet Sauvignon for 10 years (albeit from different countries), would you not be tired of drinking wines that use the same grape all the time? Perhaps you could then be tempted to dabble in a Mencia from Bierzo or a Swiss Cornalin.

Don’t get me wrong, noble grapes are fantastic, but there are a lot of other wines to experience and enjoy in many different situations. If you are not in the mood for an oaky buttery Chardonnay, why not try a Mallorcan Premsal instead? It is light, fresh, and pairs well with many different dishes.

We are very lucky to live in Mallorca as, not only can you find a lot of the noble grapes on the island, but there are also a growing number of indigenous grape varieties that can only be tasted here. Mallorca has established local grapes such as Mantonegro, Callet, Giró Ros and Premsal.

Examples of Mallorcan indigenous grape varieties

In the last 5 years, several other ancient grape varieties have been declared fit for making wine and can be legally commercialised. Escursac is one such grape variety that has now been accepted by the local authorities. Soon, we will also be able to enjoy wines made with Giró Negre, Esperó de Gall, Mances de Tibús, Callet Blanc, and Callet Negrella. This healthy number of different grape varieties is wonderful news for wine lovers and a great opportunity for wine producers to create something unique that will stand out from other wine regions. These wines will be original, with a personality and a Mallorcan character that cannot be found elsewhere.

And just like in Mallorca, there are a lot of other grape varieties in Spain that are experiencing a rebirth. Merseguera, Sumoll, Albillo Real, Listan Negro, Caiño, Brancellao, Bruñal, and Juan Garcia (yes, there is a grape variety called Juan Garcia)…to name a few. How lucky we are that thanks to the dedication of two or three generations of winemakers, all of these grapes haven't completely disappeared. Not only that, but we are also able to enjoy quality wines that have been created with these special grape varieties.

Every country has unique vines. They are normally better suited to the local climate and conditions, and they represent a taste of what the land has to offer. To me, there is no better souvenir than good quality, singular wine that uses a grape I have never heard of before.

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