Airén vines trained low off the ground
(Photo: Bodegas Ambite).
We have to thank the eighteenth century English poet and hymn-writer William
Cowper for this phrase, although its origins could well be earlier. The
expression you hear today is not exactly what Cowper actually wrote, which
was “Variety’s the very spice of life that gives it all its flavour.” He was
one of the most popular poets of the day and also gave us the line “God
moves in a mysterious way” which I sometimes quote when I trip over one of
A friend of mine
drinks nothing but red wine, thus depriving himself of half the wines in the
world. Another acquaintance is reluctant to buy an unfamiliar bottle on the
grounds that he might not like it. Of course, I’m guessing here but I bet a
huge number of people, whether they know it or not, restrict themselves to
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Chardonnay. This is the “I know what I like”
mind-set which is hardly an adventurous approach. Up to them of course, but
it does seem a lost opportunity when you stop to consider how many different
wines there are in the world. And while we’re on the subject, just how many
Well, a research team
from the University of Adelaide recently compiled a database covering
virtually all the world’s wines. Among other things, their study revealed
that over 1,200 different grape varieties are used to make wine in
forty-four countries. It would be something of a challenge to remember the
names of all those grapes, should one feel the need to do so. On a good day,
I could probably manage about fifty or sixty from memory but that’s about
it. Many of the more obscure varieties never leave their own country, so in
these parts you’d be unlikely to find a bottle of Bogazkere, Magaratch
Bastardo or Mtsvani, assuming you could manage the pronunciation.
I am all for a bit of
variety because it’s just too easy to fall into a rut. If you want to extend
your vinous horizons, why not try something unfamiliar just once a month for
example? If you prefer reds, there are many alternatives to the Big Four.
For light wines, try a Cinsault or Grenache from southern France or an
Italian Bardolino. If you prefer something full-bodied, look for a Carmenere
from Chile, a Malbec from Argentina or a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Italy.
If you normally drink
reds, you could venture into uncharted waters and try a rich full-bodied
white, like an oaked Chardonnay from Chile which has a buttery flavour,
loads of vanilla and sometimes slightly smoky overtones. It makes a splendid
accompaniment to roast pork, turkey or chicken and some Thai dishes too. The
Viognier makes quite full-bodied whites and the Alsatian Gewürztraminer is a
dry, rich and satisfying wine which goes well with many spicy foods.
Riesling can produce powerful dry wines and the most rewarding come from the
Mosel, the Rhein or Alsace.
Castillo del Moro Airén-Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (white), Spain
(Bt. 599 @ Wine Connection)
Airén grapes come from
the largest plain in the Iberian Peninsula - La Mancha. It’s a wind-swept
place over 1,500 feet above sea level yet, in parts of this hot and arid
plain, the Airén (i-REHN) grape thrives. It’s been around at least
since the fifteenth century and twenty years ago, it was the world’s top
This pale gold wine
has an attractive, delicate floral aroma with pineapple and gooseberries up
front and hints of fresh oranges. You may also notice the grassiness that
tends to come with Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is very smooth on the palate
but has a pleasing tang of apple-like acidity. It doesn’t have the
toe-curling bitterness of some Sauvignons, because the Airén in the blend
has successfully softened Sauvignon’s characteristic bite.
light and refreshing, ample fruit on the palate and an attractive lingering
finish with delicate hints of grapefruit. The wine is dry, but not in the
dinosaur bones class because there’s a tiny hint of sweetness to the taste.
In many ways, this is a real charmer - an unassuming crisp wine that is a
delight to drink. At just 12% alcohol content, it would make a lovely
apéritif or you could enjoy it with seafood and salads. Perfect I’d say, for
summer evening drinking.
Molino Loco Monastrell 2012 (red),
Spain (Bt. 599 @ Wine Connection)
Molino Loco wines come
from the Castaño vineyards, at over 2,000 feet above sea level in Spain’s
Murcia region, about sixty miles from Alicante. The name means “crazy
windmill” and refers to one which stands at the edge of the vineyard. Unlike
normal windmills, this one evidently springs into action only on days when
there’s no wind at all. Now if you ask me, that sounds a little bit spooky.
The Monastrell grape
is better known by its French name Mourvèdre. It’s thick-skinned and
needs plenty of hot sunshine to ripen. The high hills of Murcia are just the
place. The 2011 vintage of this wine won a Silver Medal at the Decanter
World Wine Awards. It’s a rich, dark red with an intense aroma of cherries,
black plums and a dash of spicy licorice. At first taste, the wine seems
quite powerful but it has a soft mouth-feel with a lively touch of acidity.
It’s very dry with plenty of fruit and you might also pick up an attractive
oakiness. The tannins are quite firm and there’s a long earthy, dry finish.
This is a wine with
character. It’s very assertive in style and it’s not for wimps, wusses or
those of a delicate disposition. At 14% alcohol content, it begs for rich
foods to absorb the high tannin. Rich beef or lamb dishes spring to mind or
vegetarian meals made from lentils and rich mushrooms tarted up with pepper
and soy sauce. If you’re cooking at home, Monastrell goes well with
lavender, rosemary and thyme. Nutmeg is wonderful for enriching flavours, so
don’t forget the spice.