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Take a Ride on the Wild Side

By: Dan Traucki

Having been in the wine industry for over 25 years I never cease to be amazed by people who limit their wine drinking options to one or two varieties. Whilst on the other hand, there are others like myself who are constantly seeking out and being fascinated by new grape varieties we have never tried before.

I know people who say “I only drink Shiraz (or Cabernet – but never Merlot) because I have found what I like and don’t need to search any further.” Likewise people who only drink 90+ rated wines or well known “famous” wines.

I find this type of logic totally mind numbing. There are literally thousands of grape varieties on this planet. In their fascinating and massive book “Wine Grapes”, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz give details on 1,368 of these varieties and yet there are people who are happy to restrict themselves to 1 or 2 of them. To me this is like saying – “beef fillet is the best cut of meat, so that is all I’ll ever eat” or “potato is the best vegetable so all I will eat is fillet of beef and potato” – how bizarre!  Imagine not trying shrimp, roast lamb or roast pork, let alone complex (blended) dishes such as paella, marinara pasta or stir fry’s?

Then there are those of us who are at the other end of the spectrum, who will try literally “anything once” to see if it is worthy of being added to our repertoire. After he retired my late father cooked a totally different meal for dinner every night for a year and a half, and told me that he had not even scratched the surface of the number of recipes he had access to and wanted to try. Maybe that’s where I got my wine curiosity drive from, I don’t know, but I do know that to date I have tried wines made from 400 different grape varieties from many different parts of the world and I have a very long way to go to reach the 1,368 varieties that Robinson et al have identified.

Along the way I have joined the “Wine Century Club”; a global club for people who have tried wines made from over 100 different varieties. The number one position is currently held by a guy in America (from Georgia) who has tasted in excess of 500 varieties.

Of the grape varieties I have tasted, some have been very “ordinary” but on the other hand some have been breath taking. Varieties such as Maturana, Tannat, Saperavi, Durif, Zinfandel and so on. Some are great as young drink now wines, whilst others such as Tannat and Durif need extended cellaring before they show their true potential, but they are truly worth the wait.

How exciting is this!! Not only are there hundreds of varieties yet to be tasted, but even the good old ‘tried and true” varieties taste so different when grown in different parts of the world. Take for example Chardonnay – which many people today think is passé and “ho hum” and yet it tastes markedly different if it is grown in the Adelaide Hills (South Australia), Burgundy (France), Sonoma (California), Italy, Chile or Spain due to the climate differences and the differences in winemaking practices in those regions.

Recently I had a fabulous experience with a Chardonnay. I was rummaging through a bottleshop, as I often do, in Canberra (Australia’s Capital) and I came across a bottle of Brazilian Chardonnay. I had heard that wine was being made in Brazil but I had never come across any before. I snapped up the bottle and took it to dinner with a good friend, fully expecting it to be a rather poor wine. I even had a back up bottle so that our seafood meal would not be spoiled by a poor wine. We were absolutely blown away by this wine. It had spadefuls of fruit flavor without being too acid (many chardonnays here try to imitate Sauvignon Blanc by having searing acidity); it had had some degree of malolactic fermentation but it was not over the top. It was rich and smooth, and oh so yummy. The only shame was that we only had one bottle.

Have you tried any wines from China? Most of the ones I have tried so far are very watery and lacking in flavor but every now and then one comes across one that is quite drinkable and recently the Chateau Langfang’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve was awarded a gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards, beating out some of France’s and Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

How about English wine? Seriously, yes, the English do make wine these days and in fact English sparkling wine Nyetimber (Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2003), in 2010 beat the likes of Bollinger and Louis Roederer to be named Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines at an Italian competition.

So the moral to the tale is don’t be afraid to try new wines, be they new varieties or your regular varieties from new countries that you have not tried before. Wine drinking is an adventure for the senses and over time you will find that the pleasure of the fantastic wines that you discover will far outweigh the disappointment of the ordinary/mundane ones that you try.

I am looking forward to trying an Italian Pecorino white wine (from the same region as the famous cheese) with my dinner tonight – how about you? Will it be same old same old – or will you be game to try something new?

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    Dan Traucki

    Dan Traucki
    Wine Assist P/L Wine Industry Consultants South Australia Dan Traucki JP, Wine Industry Consultant, and Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, has nearly 26 years experience in the wine industry. He regularly writes articles for wine industry magazines, such as Wine Business Magazine and occasionally for Australian Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine. Read More About Dan