Your Guide to Familiar Grapes from Unfamiliar Places- This Month's Novel Wines Explorer's Club
Welcome to this month's Novel Wines Explorer's Club, the UK's most exciting wine subscription for the curious drinker. Each month, we will introduce you to a new wine region as part of our promise to deliver no two wines the same for a whole year. Not a member yet? Subscribe here.
Looking for an older guide? See all the Explorer's Club guides here.
What's in this month's Explorer's Club?
To kick off the new year we wanted show you just how well some of the more known international grapes do in some more off the beaten path locations, so this month we have selected familiar faces from unfamiliar places. You’ll enjoy a scrumptious Sauvignon, a brilliant Barbera, and a vivacious Viognier and more, all whilst being transported through the wine glass from Hungary, to India, and even over to Mexico.
Here is what we have in this month’s case.
While we do love to showcase the unique indigenous grapes that our producers have to offer, it’s also good to see and understand how the more familiar international varieties do in these different terroirs. Many grapes find a ‘home away from home’ and in this month’s line up we’ve found some of the best locations which are superbly suited to grapes that are more well known from other classic regions.
As ever our team are very happy to answer any questions you have on these wines (and about wine in general!), but also do check out the info below and enjoy your case!
First off is our Benedek Sauvignon Blanc from Matra in northern Hungary. Sauvignon Blanc can be very distinct, both on the nose and the palate whether you go for the gooseberry and passionfruit laden Marlborough styles or more grassy and herbaceous examples from the Loire Valley. But wherever you find it, the tell tale citrussy and green pepper (thanks Pyrazines!) flavours will be there too.
Vineyards in Matra are planted on the lower slopes of the Northern Hungarian Mountains, which help to bring a freshness to the wines and allowing aromatic whites to really excel here. Most of the vines are planted on volcanic soils that brings a distinct minerality, helping to give a more unique identity to this Sauvignon Blanc.
Benedek is headed up by current generation winemaker Peter, whose grandparents build the winery. As their business has grown, more and more family members are getting involved with Peter’s brothers and parents all helping out. It’s a great wine to enjoy on its own but we also love to pair it with a herby pork fillet with plenty of roast veggies.
The next white in the lineup is Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc. We know Chenin Blanc not only as the iconic Loire grape making dry, off dry, and sweet wines such as Savennieres and Vouvray, but also as the flagship grape of South Africa producing some of their finest and most exciting wines. It has its high levels of acidity to thank for its versatility in style, it can be light and crisp enough to make delicious honeyed sparkling wines yet also produce more unctuous and fuller bodied still white wines with a plethora of flavours including green apples, tropical fruits, honey, and white flowers.
Nashik is India’s biggest producing region and its hilly terrain scattered with lakes and rivers provides plenty of well drained sites perfect for grape growing. The area is affected by both the South Asian Monsoon, and the hot, dry air from the Thar Desert so winemakers need to be very careful to delay budburst until after the Monsoon has finished. Sula’s Chenin Blanc shows aromas of quince and pear along with those vibrant tropical flavours, enhanced from the long sunlight hours yet moderated by the vineyard’s altitude.
It's slight off-dry feel allows for pairings with lighter Indian foods, we think its perfect with a Coconut Dhal or Butter Chicken. And if your feeling cheesy, go for the goats! Especially one with a lovely herb crust.
Viognier is the main grape in the Northern Rhone making full bodied, golden wines with its textbook oily texture and pronounced peach and apricot perfume. It likes warmer climates and has found homes in many regions worldwide, most notably Eden Valley, but great examples can be found from California to South Africa and beyond. Shtip, in the Vardar River Valley of North Macedonia is where we found another fantastic home for Viognier.
An altitude of 330 – 560m helps to bring a much-needed freshness and acidity to the wines here as during the late summer there can be lot of sunshine and heat. Not only does Viogniers thick skins help against the sun, but also the wind, akin to the Mistral felt in the Northen Rhone, the Vardar River Valley has strong winds present for most of the year, and it is often referred to as the windiest place on the Balkans.
The Ezimit Viognier shows a delicate floral, chamomile character, alongside the more obvious stone fruits and crisp apple-like freshness. A complexity that unravels from first sip to its long, textured, honeyed finish. A great wine for roast pork belly or a lemon and herb roast chicken.
Our first red is Franc Arman Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is grown in most wine producing nations but most famously is a key red grape in the Loire and an important blending grape in Bordeaux. As a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon (along with Sauvignon Blanc), Cab Franc shares similar traits but it’s distinct green, leafy, bell pepper, flavours, and a tendency to show more red fruits rather than black, set it apart.
This wine is from the Croatian region of Istria, one of the countries northern most wine regions sharing its border with Slovenia. Its usually known more for its crisp whites, its coastal proximity helps its reds to develop a freshness and retain their acidity. After being aged in large oak barrels the wine takes on an enticing herbal-spiciness to compliment its fruity profile. It’s still lively, with a good, rounded finish and very pleasantly natured tannins. This is a great red to enjoy with a nice hearty, meaty stew, particularly with these cold winter nights!
One of northern Italy’s classic varieties, Barbera can produce age worthy reds with attractive aromas and flavours akin to a good Nebbiolo but with lower tannins and a more rounded finish. A bright red cherry character is often found on both the nose and palate, this can take on a pleasant sourness as it matures in barrel which can also impart its wood tannins to help beef up some examples.
We travel to Canelones in Uruguay for our Barbera, where more than 60% of the countries wine is produced. Far from the iconic South American rugged mountainous backdrop, the terroir here is relatively flat with some hills, well moderated by the proximity to the Atlantic meaning the extremes of summer and winter and much gentler here. There is a richness to the wine, an intensity of flavour that hits you straight away with juicy plums and red cherries. It’s got finesse and an elegance that unfolds as it lingers on towards a delightfully long finish. It's a classic wine to have with a good Italian Ragu, we also think it’s a match for roast lamb dishes too.
And to finish our line up we are diving deep into the backbone of classic wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco with one of the most iconic red grapes – Nebbiolo. High acid, high tannins, and a complex flavour profile that more often than not contain the ‘typical’ notes of tar and roses. Nebbiolo is notoriously not a good traveller, but some exciting producers have had success in Australia, Uruguay, and as you are finding out now, Mexico.
L.A.Cetto in Baja California, Mexico, have forged a stellar reputation over the last 20+ years winning international awards and acclaim from plenty of the world's top wine writers. It may come as a surprise to hear that viticulture in Mexico has been practiced here longer than anywhere else in the Americas with the first vines planted in the 16th century. Since then, Baja California has become arguably the most important region in the country with a varied range of growing conditions allowing for a wide variety of grapes to be successfully cultivated here.
This concentrated, full bodied Nebbiolo, brings a combination of red and dark fruits with an almost meaty/gamey flavour and delicious leathery tannins. Get out the beef, grill some lamb, or roast some game, this is a cracker for a meaty dinner party!