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Pleasures of the Obscure – New Discoveries

March 23, 2021 2 comments

If you follow this blog for some time, you might (or might not) know that I identify as an obsessed wine geek. There is definitely more than one trait that would allow such an identification, so the particular one I want to talk about here is the love of obscure grapes.

I was bitten by The Wine Century Club bug more than 15 years ago, and since then I’m on the quest to seek the most unusual wines made from the most obscure grapes. The Wine Century Club offers to wine lovers a very simple proposition – for every 100 different grapes you taste, you get to the next level in the club. With more than 1,300 grapes used in wine production today, this shouldn’t be very difficult, shouldn’t it? Yet, of course, it is, as an absolute majority of the wines readily available today in the supermarkets, wine stores, and even from the wineries direct, are made from 50–60 mainstream grapes – the rest requires quite a bit of work of procuring as most of the wines made out of the rare grapes are produced in minuscule quantities and not sold anywhere outside of the immediate area of production.

So if finding those rare and unusual wines is that difficult, why bother you may ask? I can give you a few reasons. One – I can simply tell you that I tried 555 grapes at the time of writing this post, so it kind of “mine is bigger than yours” type of reason. Yep, lame. Let’s leave it.

The better reason is the fact that every bottle of wine made from grapes one never heard of before is an opportunity to experience great pleasure. The grape is unknown, so we have no expectations whatsoever. While drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, that simple little piece of information – the name of the grape you are well familiar with – has a tremendous effect on how you perceive the wine. The level of pleasure will depend on how well the particular wine matches your expectations. It might be the best ever for you in the blind tasting, but in the non-blind setting, you are instantly influenced by your prior experience and thus your level of pleasure is limited by your expectations.

When you pour yourself a glass of Bobal, Trepat, or Hondarrabi Zuri, you are presented with a blank canvas – you can draw any conclusions you want. You will decide if you like the wine not in comparison but simply based on what is in your glass and if it gives you pleasure, or not. Simple, straightforward, easy.

Here, let me share with you my latest encounter with obscure grapes.

Let’s start with the white wine – 2017 Paşaeli Yapincak Thrace Turkey (12% ABV, 100% Yapincak). Yapincak is a native variety of Şarköy – Tekirdağ region in Northern Turkey. The grapes for this wine, produced by Paşaeli winery in Turkey, come from the single vineyard located at about 500 feet elevation, 35 years old vines. Upon opening the wine showed some oxidative notes, I even thought it might be gone already. A few hours later, it cleared up, and presented itself as a medium to full-bodied wine, with fresh lemon and a touch of honey notes, crisp, fresh, easy to drink. This can be a food wine, but it doesn’t have to be, quite enjoyable on its own. (Drinkability: 8-/8)

My rare red wine was really a special experience, as it brought back really special memories. I got this 2014 Agricola Vallecamonica Somnium Vino Rosso (12.5% ABV, 100% Ciass Negher) 4 years ago, during a press trip to the beautiful region of Franciacorta. As we were the guests of the Franciacorta consortium, we were mainly focusing on the Franciacorta sparkling wines. During one of our lunches, I noticed this wine and had to bring it home, albeit only one bottle. This wine is made out of the ancient grape called Ciass Negher in the local dialect, used in the winemaking by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, and resuscitated by Alex Belingheri in his vineyards at Agricola Vallecamonica.

This wine was absolutely unique – as you would expect considering its rare pedigree. I perceived this wine as something in a middle between Pinot Noir and Chianti/Sangiovese. A touch of Pinot Noir’s sweetness, smoke, and violets, with the undertones of leather and tobacco, and a little funk. Each sip was begging for another – easy to drink, perfectly balanced, and delightful. If this would be my everyday wine, I would be perfectly happy about it. (Drinkability: 8+)

Here you are, my friends. The wine pleasures are everywhere – you just need to look for them.

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