Local heroes: tasting and matching indigenous varieties

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Drinks: Drinks, Wines
Location: England, Hungary

To look at many restaurant wine lists, you’d think there were no more than half a dozen grapes out there, but Europe’s vineyards are full of undiscovered indigenous varieties. Clinton Cawood joined a panel of sommeliers to seek out some hidden gems from the Med and the Balkans


It’s not easy for a wine grape to break out into the mainstream. A handful of A-list international varieties continue to command the hearts and minds of the wine-drinking public, not to mention the vast majority of spots on the nation’s wine lists.

HOW IT WORKS
We asked UK agents to submit wines made from indigenous varieties in Hungary, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia, Georgia, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Our only additional criterion was that the wines were already available to the UK on-trade. Tasters were aware of each wine’s price,
grape variety and country of origin. Each wine was scored out of 20,
taking value for money into account. Scores were then collated to
obtain an overall percentage score. All prices listed are ex-VAT trade.

But there are countless undiscovered indigenous varieties in Europe’s vineyards. Less consistent, perhaps, and sometimes with undecipherable names, but with fascinating characteristics and flavour profiles nonetheless – and often at amazing prices.

So for sommeliers looking for hand-sell wines to add real interest to their list, the potential is obvious. We called in some of these potential rising stars that are already available in the UK, and put them to the test.


PANEL

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants; Megan Calvert, Galvin La Chapelle; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Jonathan Cellier, Wild Honey; Mark Deamer, The Wine Lovers Collective; Donald Edwards, Peckham Bazaar; Enikő Heidenwolf, Corrigan’s; Michael Moore, Room 24; Marcin Oziebly, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn; Igor Sotric, China Tang at The Dorchester; Gergely Barsi Szabó, Bread Street Kitchen

Local Heroes panel


INDIGENOUS VARIETIES: RESULTS

WHITE

CROATIA – MALVASIA

81 Benvenuti, Malvazija Istarska Anno Domini 2010, Istria
‘An excellent, fascinating wine, with an attractive balsamic aroma and a slight bitterness to the palate. Really attractive, with a bright finish,’ CC. ‘Baked fruit and tropical fruit compote, and some mouthfeel from the use of either skin contact or amphorae. Definitely a sommelier wine,’ IS.
£19.05, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

80 Kozlović Malvazija 2014
‘This would make a dream house wine. Simple, pleasant, well made and easy-drinking. Pure pleasure,’ MO. ‘Good typicity here – stone fruit and delicate perfume – all with good intensity. The palate is fresh, showing some of the same attributes as the nose, with the addition of a savoury, yeasty note, plus a great finish. Very good!’ JC.
£9.87, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

Local heroes76 Matošević, Alba Antiqua 2009, Istria
‘This wine has everything – fruit, minerality and some sweet spice, along with a touch of dairy-like aroma. An extremely well-made product,’ MO. ‘A lovely soft wine, with some floral notes building to a great mouthfeel, plus plenty of juicy nectarine,’ CC.
£18.75, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5469

73 Matošević, Alba Malvazija
Istarska 2013, Istria
‘Acacia and hay notes at the start, leading to citrus, gooseberries and almonds. Great balance, structure and price,’ IS. ‘Restrained at the outset, but opening up into a lively, fresh wine. The palate’s equally appealing. Overall, a nicely made, well extracted wine,’ CC.
£10.50, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5469

70 Benvenuti, Malvazija Istarska 2013, Istria
‘Plenty of Mediterranean flavours here. Nectarines, oranges and stone fruit on both nose and palate,’ IS. ‘Lovely ginger notes, delicate clementine and orange notes too. This would be amazing with scallop ceviche because of its citrus freshness and lovely acidity,’ MO.
£10.41, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

GREECE – ASSYRTIKO

85 Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2014, Santorini
‘Nice oak treatment, with creamy, toasty notes throughout, not to mention some minerality and a fresh finish,’ EH. ‘Outstanding wet-stone minerality on the nose – this smells of rocks and citrus. Screams out for oysters,’ MO.
£14.46, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

79 Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko 2014, Santorini
‘Assyrtiko always has a slight funkiness for me – in a good way. Hints of lanolin on the nose, with lemon citrus. Similar flavours on the palate, which is clean and fresh. A lovely wine,’ MD. ‘Bright, fresh and zippy, with an attractive edge of bitterness to it, and a big, fresh finish. A very attractive wine,’ CC.
£13.75, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

Also tasted: Oikonomoy Assyrtiko 2012, Crete

GREECE – OTHER

83 Ktima Gerovassiliou, Malagousia 2014, Epanomi
‘The nose is reminiscent of great Viognier. There’s stone fruit, a little nutmeg and basil flowers leading to nectarine and floral notes on the palate, and a lovely, big, fleshy finish,’ MD. ‘Pure fruit richness, with mango, melon, peach and pineapple. Very New World in style, this would be amazing by itself, as an aperitif on a warm day,’ MO.
£13.11, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

76 Monemvasia Asproudi White 2013, Peloponnese
‘Melon, grapefruit and orange peel aromas make this a soft, approachable wine, and one that would be good in combination with a fruit salad,’ MO. ‘An aromatic wine, with subtle tropical undertones, as well as some elderflower notes throughout,’ AB.
£10.20, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

74 Monemvasia Kidonitsa White 2014, Laconia
‘Abundant fruit salad notes, like honeydew melon. Eminently drinkable, without being overly complex,’ MD. ‘Lovely and fruity, ripe tangerine peel and white stone fruit throughout,’ DE.
£9.48, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

Local heroes73 Boutari Moschofilero 2012, Mantinia
‘Very herbaceous, with hay notes, reminiscent of the Rhône Valley. Garrigue in a white wine…’ MO. ‘Very approachable, slight toast and a citrus element, with richer apricot notes,’ CC.
£7.39, ABS Wine Agencies, 01780 755810

Also tasted: Ktima Ligas, Roditis 2013

HUNGARY – FURMINT

83 Szent Tamás, Dongó 2013, Tokaj
‘Very Burgundian in style, with a kind of Meursault richness. Stone fruit notes lend this a peach yoghurt note. Beautiful now, but this will definitely age gracefully for the next five or 10 years,’ MO. ‘Rich and complex, with good pineapple acidity. Very interesting, with good length and an elegant finish,’ AB.
£23.99, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

82 Dobogó Furmint 2012, Tokaj
‘Herbaceous and vibrant, with tropical, oriental fruit – papaya, green mango and banana. Impressive,’ IS. ‘Well made. Very nice creamy texture, ripe grape notes and some sweet oak spices’, EH.
£12.25, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

79 Szent Tamás, Percze 2012, Tokaj
‘Very well balanced – a spicy, creamy, ripe wine, with a long, slightly nutty finish. Very good,’ EH. ‘Nice creaminess, rich, full body, but lifted acidity keeps it together. Would be a great combination with meaty fish like turbot,’ MO.
£23.99, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

78 Chateau Dereszla, Prince Tamás Dry Furmint 2013, Tokaj
‘Citrus and honeysuckle, leading to a rich, mouthfilling palate with lime characters and a fresh, zingy finish,’
MD. ‘Gutsy and vibrant on the nose,
with abundant tropical pineapple and melon aromas, leading to a soft, attractive palate, all lifted up by some good acidity,’ CC.
£6.79, Expression du Terroir, 020 7241 1881

78 Szent Tamás, MÁD Dry Furmint 2013, Tokaj 
‘A bit of a flinty, struck-match note leads to toasty tropical fruit on both nose and palate. An interesting wine,’ CC. ‘Savoury minerality and good concentration, leading to very good fruit on the back palate, with a good finish,’ GS.
£10.99, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

77 Barsi Szabo Edwards 2014, Tokaj, Hungary
Although Edwards and Szabó were on the tasting panel, their scores in the blind tasting for this wine weren’t taken into account. ‘Quite restrained at first, with soft lime notes, leading to more fresh lemon and lime on the palate, accompanied by a light herbal note, plus a big hit of acidity,’ CC. ‘A zesty, aromatic and vibrant wine with good fruit expression. Fresh, youthful and mineral,’ IS.
£12, Theatre of Wine, 020 8858 6363

73 Chateau Dereszla Dry Tokaji 2014
‘Fruity on the nose, with elderflower notes, as well as some lychee,’ MC. ‘Plenty of tropical character, as well as a mineral, grassy element, with nettle notes. White stone fruit follows, with nectarine acidity on the palate,’ AB.
£8.00, Armit Wines, 020 7908 0600

69 Béres Tokaji Dry Furmint 2013
‘Bruised apple, as well as some warm spices, like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon,’ MO. ‘Hints of barley sugar and honey over lime citrus notes on the nose, followed by a fresh, citrus-peel palate. A very pleasant wine,’ MD.
£6.76, Matthew Clark, 0344 822 3910

OTHER WHITES

83 Galić Graševina Frisca 2013, Slavonia, Croatia
‘Lovely expression here in this youthful, fresh wine, with aromatic and floral notes, not to mention impressive value for money,’ IS. ‘Bright, fresh, clean and affordable. Nothing short of a perfect summer gastropub wine,’ CC.
£8.02, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

78 Galić Graševina 2012, Slavonia, Croatia
‘Showing both minerality and tropical fruit notes, this is a pure and elegant wine,’ AB. ‘With distinct lemon and apple notes on the nose, this is delicate and subtle – it doesn’t taste like it’s from southern Europe at all! An elegant and pure wine,’ MO.
£10.23, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

77 Szent Tamás, Nyulászó Hárslevelű Dry 2012, Hungary
‘Very fruity on the nose, with great character on the palate. Lots of minerality, good texture, and a bit of white pepper to finish,’ EH. ‘A honeyed, complex nose, zesty lemon freshness too, with some savouriness on the palate. Great balance and structure,’ JC.
£15.99, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060


70
Avincis, Crâmpoşie Selecţionată 2013, Romania

‘Grapey, with some Sauvignon Blanc-like features. Overall, a balanced and elegant wine,’ AB. ‘Savoury on both the nose and palate, this is a wine for sommeliers to match with food,’ JC.
£8.14, Theatre of Wine, 020 3490 2147

70 Popova Kula, Zilavka 2013, Macedonia
‘Complex and intense on the nose, with some white pepper notes. Freshness on the palate, with a light grapey flavour coming through on the finish,’ JC. ‘Tropical fruit followed by some honey, as well as a grapefruit acidity. An intense wine with plenty of character,’ AB.
£8.25, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

69 Didimi Krakhuna White 2012, Georgia
‘The nose is pungent, like a lambic beer, with zesty lime leading to a fresh palate and great complexity,’ JC. ‘Plenty of ripe fruit character, from nectarine to pineapple, and some creamy custard too. All of that with nice mouthfeel from some skin contact. A little pricey,’ CC.
£14.90, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

69 Marjan Simčič, Ribolla Opoka 2010, Goriška Brda, Slovenia
‘Mineral and complex, with some skin contact, there’s oriental and stone fruit here, with some balsamic notes too,’ IS. ‘This is an intense and full-on wine. There’s good body and intensity –
and an overall richness,’ AB.
£26.95, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5469

66 Marjan Simčič, Ribolla 2013, Goriška Brda, Slovenia
‘Expressive, with some freshness on the nose, as well as great flavours on the palate, but there’s a little lack of primary fruit,’ JC. ‘Crisp and not too aromatic, there’s mineral and citrus character here, but overall quite neutral,’ AB.
£9.95, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5469

RED

CROATIA – PLAVAC MALI

79 PZ Svirče, Ivan Dolac Barrique 2008
‘Abundant ripe, clean fruit on both the nose and palate, including generous plum and cherry notes, as well as some milk chocolate and a slight violet note. A characterful wine,’ CC. ‘Brooding dark berries, with chewy tannins and some plum and dried fig on the finish,’ DE.
£14.75, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

71 PZ Svirče, Mediterano Plavac 2011
‘Ripe and mature, with chocolate and dark fruit, and a little funk too. Well structured,’ DE. ‘Juicy and rounded, with mocha notes. Complex and elegant,’ AB.
£10.15, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

64 PZ Svirče, Plavac Hvar 2013
‘Lots of forest fruit notes, as well as a meaty, savoury element, accompanied by soft tannins,’ AB. ‘Light and fruity, with smooth tannins and nice body. A very good wine for this price,’ EH.
£7.60, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

GREECE – XINOMAVRO

71 Boutari Naoussa 2011
‘This opens with quite a confected note, as well as an earthiness, but it’s beautifully fresh and zippy on the palate. Plenty of red fruit, and at a great price,’ CC. ‘A rustic wine, with big tannins, and plenty of earthy, leathery notes,’ AB.
£7.55, ABS Wine Agencies, 01780 755810

69 Alpha Estate, Single Vineyard Hedgehog Xinomavro 2010, Amyndeon
‘There’s a spiced strawberry note at first, along with Provence herbs, leading to a dry finish with good length,’ MD. ‘A slightly rubbery, tarry note leads to good fruity acidity on the palate – restrained but not astringent,’ CC.
£12.22, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

CROATIA – TERAN

73 Benvenuti Teran 2011, Istria
‘Full-bodied, fruity and fresh, this is a light wine but with integrated tannins. It would work well with game birds,’ EH. ‘Super-ripe, this is a very dark and intense wine that shows spiciness and good complexity,’ DE.
£20.35, TVB Wines, 020 3697 1263

67 Kozlović Teran 2013
‘Plenty of fruit on the nose: blueberry, plum, maraschino cherry. More lovely, acidic berry fruit follows on the palate,’ CC. ‘Rich, taut and rustic,’ AB. ‘Juicy and dark, with bright spiced cherry fruit,’ DE.
£9.87, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

BULGARIA – MAVRUD

86 Zagreus Vinica 2011, Thrace
‘An attractive, sweet nose with dark cherry jam and blackcurrant notes, lifted by menthol and camphor notes. Pepper, spice and black cherry on the palate,’ CC. ‘Eucalyptus notes on a fruity, fresh, light nose. A very good and unusual wine – finally, something new!’ EH.
£10.20, Theatre of Wine, 020 3490 2147

78 Zagreus St Dimitar Mavrud 2013, Thrace
‘Cherry, violets and plums, full of luscious red fruits and soft tannins,’ AB. ‘I love it. Best house wine choice ever!’ DE.
£5.44, Theatre of Wine, 020 3490 2147

OTHER REDS

84 Oikonomoy Liatiko 2006, Crete, Greece
‘Gorgeous bruised strawberries on the nose, with something like cough sweets and a cola bottle element. Mouthfilling, spicy and, ultimately, different,’ MD. ‘Looks innocent, judging by that brown colour, but has grip, with dried fruit, tea and a volcanic minerality,’ MO.
£19.47, Theatre of Wine, 020 3490 2147

74 Popova Kula, Vranec Reserve 2011, Macedonia
‘Red cherry and berry fruit on the nose, leading to a lovely balance of tannin and acidity, with a great spicy finish,’ MD. ‘Big, juicy red with muscles. With the right steak this would do the job,’ MO.
£8.95, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

CONCLUSIONS

  • The scores here really warrant the extra work involved in seeking out these lesser-known varieties.
  • For the wines in the tasting, Croatia led the pack in terms of number of submissions, with 12, closely followed by Hungary and Greece with nine each. Of the three countries, Hungary achieved the highest average score, 77.3%. Greece wasn’t far behind, with 77.1%, ahead of Croatia’s 74.6%.
  • Faults were something of an issue here, with the Greek whites in particular plagued with oxidation.
  • Our sommelier panel agreed that there’s good potential here when it comes to selling these in restaurants, given the overall food-friendliness, and the opportunity to hand-sell these to customers.

SELECTED PANEL COMMENTS

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants
‘These varieties allow sommeliers to think outside the box and show off their skills. Hard-to-pronounce varieties are not an easy sell, but there are a few tricks to help selling them. First is availability by the glass – Coravin is an excellent tool. Second, match them with food, in a tasting menu or with a particular dish. Last, associating these
with international varieties to a customer can change
the perception of a scary variety.’

Jon Cellier, Wild Honey
‘I’m grateful I had the opportunity to taste these wines but I felt a bit disappointed by the overall quality. I found that when a wine was showing an interesting bouquet, the palate would lack structure, and vice versa. When talking indigenous grapes I always have in mind those coming from Italy or Portugal, which can produce outstanding wines that actually suit high-end restaurants’ needs. They have higher concentration, better intensity, as well as the ability to age and develop over time.’

Mark Deamer, The Wine Lovers Collective
‘I’ve been a champion for Greek wines for many years, and native grape varieties in particular. There has been a gentle but steady growth in their representation on wine lists but mainly through Hallgarten Druitt & Novum, so it tends to be the same wines. The newest of my discovered pleasures is the Vranec variety. This red wine of Macedonia has lovely complexity and subtle tannin. I’ve only come across it in the last four years and it’s a wine I would certainly champion.’

Enikö Heidenwolf, Corrigan’s
‘In the white selection the Hungarian wines showed the most consistency above £10. Well made, balanced wines with character. The Furmints showed really well; they are far beyond the weirdo wine category, sooner or later I think they’ll be considered varietal classics. The craziest of all was Popova Kula from Macedonia. The best way to describe this is an orange red wine. If you’re bored of the classics and fed up with predictable newbies, try this upside down wine!’

Marcin Oziebly, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn
‘I was really impressed with the dry Tokaji category. Not many wine lovers in restaurants realise that there is such a thing as a dry Tokaji. They know the name though, and if they’ve enjoyed sweet Tokaji it’s easy to convince them to try dry wine from the region. You need a passionate sommelier to persuade guests to try these wines. I think they would be a great addition for wine flights on tasting menus, though. One of my favourites is Tokaji and scallops.’

Gergely Barsi Szabó, Bread Street Kitchen
‘Out of all the wacky varieties, the ones that really shone out were the Furmints. They were really rocking it, with great structure and very good expression of minerality and fruit. Among the reds, the Mavruds were the ones making a difference. Altogether this tasting was full of hidden gems, but as a somm if you choose some of these you really have to be on top of your reasoning, as every drop of wine is a hand-sell to a rather distrusting clientele.’

About Author

Clinton Cawood

Clinton has been writing about drinks since landing in the UK in 2006 from his native South Africa. He's partial to all things agave, and is dependent on good coffee. He's still not a morning person. Follow him on @clintc.

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