| Nik Darlington

Grapes that time forgot

How many different grape varieties do we think there are in the world? Five hundred? A thousand? A few thousand?

Well, how are you counting? The same grape variety might have multiple synonyms depending on where it is grown, for example Zinfandel and Primitivo in California and Puglia respectively. The Austrian grape Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger in Germany and Kékfrankos in Hungary. In the United States it goes by all three, depending on the predilections of the winemaker.

Before the onset of grape DNA profiling in the early 1990s, we would have assumed there were many thousands more different grape varieties than truly exist; now, however, we can be quite confident there are around 10,000 out there but thanks to the seminal work of Robinson, Harding & Vouillamoz, there are not likely to be more than 1,500 produced in commercially meaningful quantities.

Some varieties are obviously more popular than others and we know of these as ‘international’ varieties, which is something of a misnomer because they’re almost exclusively French, but just grown internationally. So, grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Others are not planted widely but still well-known, such as Melon de Bourgogne, almost exclusively grown in the western reaches of the Loire Valley to make Muscadet.

Then there are purely local curiosities, some so local or difficult to grow that they were gradually pushed aside by the march of international varieties, whether on shop shelves, restaurant wine lists, or literally on the ground.

One such variety is Godello, grown in Galicia since the 16th century but on the verge of extinction by the 1970s. It took the painstaking work of a succession of winemakers, culminating today in the efforts of perhaps the greatest exponent of the grape, Rafael Palacios, to revive this high-quality variety.

Thanks to them and a renewed interest on the part of the consumer in localism, diversity and new flavour experiences, Godello and similar grapes like Pecorino in Italy are becoming some of the more sought-after wines – certainly in a specialist wine merchant like Pip.

What should you expect from Godello? Quite floral aroma, with citrus and stone fruit, such as nectarine and white peach, and layers of mineral notes. It is like a steelier version of Albariño and has a real affinity for oak ageing.

Armas de Guerra’s is from 45–55-year-old bush vines grown at 450-600 metres above sea level in hilly Bierzo, made entirely in stainless steel tanks but three months ageing on the lees gives added buttery texture.

Tags: Grapes, History, Spain

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