First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 21st September, 2019
Around this time of year, many importers refresh their portfolio, dropping non-performers and introducing new wines. Their enthusiasm and ability to ferret out new gems deserves recognition.
Over the next four months you can expect to see many new and interesting wines arrive on the shelves of your local wine shop. I would urge you to move off the beaten track a little and experiment. This week this space is dedicated to four very different wines; the only uniting theme is that they are made from lesser-known grapes.
Friulano has an interesting recent history; it was known as tocai friulano until the 2006 vintage. Then the Hungarian government won a legal battle in the European Court of Justice, which accepted that consumers might confuse the name with their legendary but unrelated dessert wine called tokaji. The Hungarians also managed to prevent Alsace wines being labelled tokay d’Alsace instead of pinot gris, and Australians from using the term tokay for their magnificent stickies.
A relative of sauvignon blanc, friulano is an underrated grape known as sauvignon vert or sauvignonasse elsewhere; the wines are generally less aromatic than sauvignon blanc but with more textured fruit. Chile has quite large plantings, but most are found in northeast Italy, including Friulli, from where it gets its name.
Ken Forrester is regarded by many as the king of chenin blanc in South Africa. He was one of one of the first to recognise the potential of this grape, the most widely planted variety in South Africa, to make high-quality wine. Since then, many have followed. South African chenin blanc is a completely different beast to those from the Loire, typically with richer-textured opulent fruits, and well worth trying out. They are great food wines with richer fish and chicken dishes.
Freisa is another lesser-known Italian variety, this time red and exclusively Piemontese. It is often described as “challenging”, a polite term for weird and sometimes undrinkable. It can be dry or sweet, still or fizzy. Traditional versions were often sweet to mask the tart acidity and swingeing tannins. Good modern versions such as the very enjoyable one below have light tannins and good acidity, balanced nicely by delicate sweet-sour fruit. I certainly enjoyed my bottle.
Dão is a region and not a grape. Once the source of inexpensive and fairly average wines, it now makes some of the best wines of Portugal, both red and white. The climate is temperate and the soils sandy over granite. Whatever the reason, I find the wines an ideal mix of ripe fruits, good acidity and light tannins; great to serve with all kinds of food, and usually very reasonably priced. Quinta de Saes is made from a blend of equal quantities of tinta roriz, touriga nacional, alfrocheiro and jaen, all indigenous Portuguese grapes.
Friulano 2018, Volpe Pasini, Friuli Colli Orientale
12.5 per cent, €15.50
Fresh and fruity, with textured rounded pears, bitter almonds and good clean acidity. A great aperitif, or with cold meats.
Freisa d’Asti Secco 2015, Tenuta Olim Bauda
13.5 per cent, €24.95
Lifted raspberry aromas and elegant raspberry and rosehip fruits, with light drying tannin and a pleasant tartness. Different and very delicious. Try it with a mushroom risotto.
From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, and Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath; mitchellandson.com
Old Vine Reserve chenin blanc 2018, Ken Forrester Vineyards, Stellenbosch
13.5 per cent, €17.95
Medium- to full-bodied with textured peaches and apricots, a touch of spice and good cleansing acidity. Great with mild creamy curries, chicken korma or Cape Malay chicken curry.
From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Quinta de Saes Tinto 2016, Dão
13 per cent, €18.99
Classic Dão flavours of sweet-sour dark cherries, blackberries and damsons. A very moreish refreshing red wine with the acidity to cut through fatty foods. Try this one with porchetta or a roast of pork.