A Century of Wine

November 9, 2009

How many different grape varietals have you tried?

5? (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc)

10?  Okay, add Zinfandel, Riesling, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Syrah

20?  Malbec, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, maybe something crazy like Petite Sirah

How about 100?  This was the challenge posed to me about two months ago by Dale Cruse who runs an awesome site called DrinksAreOnMe.net.  There is a group called the Wine Century Club, currently boasting 622 members, of which I am now one of, who can say that they have tried 100 different varietals and have a cool little certificate to show for it.  Basically how it works is you go to their site, print out the application that has a list of 185 grapes and space for you to write in others, check off what you’ve tried and send it back.  You don’t have to have tried the grape as a single-varietal wine; blends are permitted.  The process works entirely on the honor system (I won’t spoil their threat), but if you’re lying about trying grape varietals to get a piece of paper there’s something wrong.  A quick statistic for motivation: apparently less than 3% of applications downloaded are completed.

Obviously there is much more to a wine than grape varietal; consider California Cabernet versus Bordeaux, Sancerre versus New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Chardonnay vs. Blanc de Blanc Champagne, Zinfandel vs. pink juice… you get the idea.  Focus on varietal is a uniquely American phenomenon, and I think a major set of blinders for today’s wine drinker, but that is a discussion for another time.

Now that I’ve made that disclaimer, let me counter it with my recommendation: DO THIS!  In the big picture the acute focus on grape varietal is harmless, and going through the process will inevitably get you to try new wines and learn more about wine and yourself, which is always a good thing.

My own adventure began on September 2.  I printed out the list, and began to check off everything that I had tried up to that point.  I had 42 to start with (actually 41, I somehow overlooked Grüner Veltliner, but I discovered this in a couple of days).  In case anyone is curious, this is where I began:

Albariño

Barbera

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Sauvignon

Carignan

Carmenère

Chardonnay

Chenin Blanc

Cinsaut

Dolcetto

Gamay

Gewürztraminer

Greco

Grenache

Grüner Veltliner

Malbec

Marsanne

Merlot

Montepulciano

Mourvèdre

Muscat Blanc

Nebbiolo

Nero D’Avola

Petit Verdot

Petite Sirah

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Gris

Pinot Meunier

Pinot Noir

Pinotage

Prosecco

Riesling

Roussanne

Sangiovese

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Gris

Semillon

Syrah

Tannat

Tempranillo

Viogner

Zinfandel

Not bad, I was almost halfway.  My prediction was I would cruise along pretty steadily and then get stuck somewhere in the 80’s or 90’s.  I began deliberately buying wines that contained grape varietals I had never tried, or couldn’t remember trying, and got another 5 or so in the next couple days with some red and white Italian blends.  The next major chunk came at a gala tasting at Brookline Liquor Mart of about 70 or so wines; I paid particular attention to what grapes were in the wines I was less familiar with, and scribbled down varietal names on my notes.  I quickly added a few more white Italian grapes that I had never heard of but possibly have had before.  The Israeli table required me to do a little research when I got home, but that took care of at least another 4 or 5 grapes.  Then there was the Wine Riot about a week later, where I had a similar experience at the Greek table.  I also discovered that I really liked a lot of the Greek wines.  During the next couple of weeks I bought some more wines based entirely on the fact that they contained varietals I had never tried, a Lemberger for instance.  I went to dinner at Sportello and ordered two bottles that I was not familiar with – a Falanghina and a Gaglioppo (side note, Barbara Lynch’s restaurants are a great place to try awesome and unique wines, props to wine director Cat Silirie).  I tried a few more new varietals at smaller tastings, like the Grolleau at the Loire Valley tasting described below.  By the way all four of the wines that I just mentioned were fantastic.  Over the course of these few weeks I also checked off a few grapes that I had had before but didn’t realize when I did my initial tallying: I had missed all of the grapes in Port, and didn’t realize that the principle grape in Amarone was called Corvina, though Port and Amarone were no strangers to me.  On the other hand, I refused to check off Torrontés without trying another one even though I am positive that I have had several in the past, but I couldn’t remember.  I finally finished about six weeks in, with a Schioppettino coming in as varietal #100 at another large tasting, this one at Bin Ends.

All in all this was a good experience that led me to try wines I most certainly otherwise would not have, discover some things I really liked, and learn a little about what varietals are in what wines.  I recommend to anyone with the time and the curiosity, and it requires more of the latter than the former, to take up this challenge as well, though I don’t want to overstate its value – checking Mandilaria off of a list is likely not as important as understanding the difference between Pomerol and California Merlot, but you will certainly benefit from doing this and as a bonus have a pretty certificate to show for it.  In case anyone cares, here’s the rest of my final list:

Agiorgitiko

Aglianico

Aidani

Alfrocheiro

Alicante Bouchet

Aligoté

Aragones

Arinto

Assyrtiko

Athiri

Auxerrois

Avesso

Blaufränkisch

Bobal

Bonarda

Brachetto

Canaiolo

Colombard

Colorino

Corvina

Falanghina

Folle Blanc

Frappato

Freisa

Furmint

Gaglioppo

Garganega

Godello

Grenache Blanc

Grolleau

Hárslevelü

Kotsifali

Loureiro

Malvasia

Mandilaria

Melon de Bourgogne

Molinara

Mondeuse

Moschofilero

Muscadelle

Negroamaro

Passerina

Pinot D’Aunis

Ribolla Gialla

Roditis

Rondinella

Schioppettino

Tinta Barroca

Tinta Cāo

Torrontés

Touriga Franca

Touriga Nacional

Trebbiano

Trincadeira

Verdejo

Verdicchio

Vilana

Zweigelt

As an endnote, in case 100 varietals is not enough, the Wine Century Club recently introduced a new tier of membership, the Doppel Members – those who have tried 200 varietals.  I’ll keep you posted.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “A Century of Wine”

  1. Ben Says:

    Aragones is the same as Tempranillo. In Portugal, Tempranillo goes by both Aragones and Tinta Roriz.

  2. Ben Says:

    Unfortunately, Portuguese wine is the only area I know well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s