unusual white varieties
blackpoolmatt's wine club likes to find unusual wines that you're not going to easily find in most retail outlets and as there are so many producers around the world making wines from unlikely grape varieties there are lots of choices. Producers make wine from lesser-known varieties to stand out from the crowd (how much Chardonnay does the world need?), but also because they feel different grape varieties can express a sense of place in various ways. This can happen in two ways: returning to grape varieties which have been neglected but long planted in the region, which is how Rías Baixas revived its reputation with Albariño, or by planting new grape varieties to expand and explore styles of wines, for example in younger wine countries like New Zealand.
Here are some wines recently featured in blackpoolmatt's wine club which are not from the usual suspects and show that there is always new wine to discover.
In my early days as an MW candidate, I attended sessions in Woodinville, outside Seattle. We were given flights of wine, one of which was four wines from the same country. Wine 1: Sauvignon Blanc, easy. Wine 2: Chardonnay: easy. Wine 4: Pinot Noir: easy. Wine 3: didn't have a clue. The wines were from New Zealand, and the third wine was Grüner Veltliner. The whole room groaned on the reveal—we're supposed to know about New Zealand Grüner Veltliner?!?!
But it is a thing, even if the first plantings were only in 2008. New Zealand is a young country, and its rise has been based on its popular style of Sauvignon Blanc. Producers realize, however, that they need to make other styles of wine to create a broader range to attract consumers. That's difficult because imports of any live matter are expensive and strictly monitored, which makes planting new varieties difficult. So getting a new variety like the Austrian Grüner Veltliner is significant, even if on a small scale. Huia (pronounced hoo-yah) has been making wine since the mid-1990s but this is only the second vintage of the Grüner, which is perfectly suited to Marlborough's moderate climate. I find this wine fleshier than Austrian versions, and eminently drinkable.
Dan Petroski, formerly of Larkmead in Napa, has Italian heritage which is why he makes (only white) wines from Italian varieties. "Annia," named after his Italian grandmother, is a blend of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay. It's my favorite of his consistently good wines, elegant but with a subtle power. Ribolla Gialla is quite trendy in California right now, often made with some skin contact for tannin and color. But here it's used with Friulano and Chardonnay for a fresh, crisp style with some body and weight. California's climate, which is warm but with strong coastal influences, is ideal for Italian varieties and I hope there are more plantings in the future.
However much you know about wine, there's always something to learn. Malvar is a grape variety about which I knew nothing before tasting this wine. However, it's historic, first mentioned in 1513. It probably originates from Andalucía, but has also been long grown in warm Castilla where it is one of the more commonly planted white varieties with a total of a massive 266ha. While Marlborough Grüner Veltliner is a new thing, helping advance the region beyond Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is drawing on the past to reimagine a region where wine has been made for hundreds of years.
I have nothing against Chardonnay: there are wonderful wines made from the variety in traditional and new regions. But I love tasting what's new and exploring the experimentation of producers around the world. The wines of course have to be good, but they help us reimagine regions we may otherwise have drawn simple conclusions about. And that is what blackpoolmatt's wine club is for!