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Unusual Varieties
Diversity in Wine
Page 16

Caves de Provins Valais
Fendant is the Swiss name for the variery known elsewhere as Chasselas. Chasselas has a poor reputation for making flabby uninteresting wines. But grown on the granite of Swiss mountain it gains a minerally backbone which, coupled with a refreshing acidity makes it a most welcome lunchtime drink when in the mountains.
This label slid off a chilled bottle in the mountains above Engelberg. We'd been walking along well signposted paths up the valley, pausing to pick wild strawberries, when it came on to rain. Increasing our pace and getting hot under coats and hats we hurried onto a mountain chalet. Fendant couldn't have been more welcome, and it was a perfect partner for a huge plate of crisp rösti with fried eggs.
Note the bottle size was 50cl. This measure is common in Switzerland, and most useful at lunchtime. This restaurant, like many, serve 50cl bottles as their house wine, so instead of getting a glass from a bottle behind the counter that could have been open for ages, you get a fresh screw-topped 50cl bottle.
Widely planted in Sicily Cattaratto makes a pleasant crisp white wine. The example pictured is organically grown bush vines. Wild Cat indeed!
Chateau St Martin de la Garrigue
Coteaux du Languedoc
Much of Picpoul finds itself making vermouth. Perhaps because of decline in interest in vermouth we are now seeing more varietal Picpoul. The word translates as 'lipstinger'. I found it a pleasant zippy white, with a tangy lemon flavour.
Story Winery
Amador County
Mission deserves the title of California's own variety, not Zinfandel.

Mission was the first wine made in California more than two hundred and fifty years ago. Spanish missions needed wine for sacramental puposes, and no doubt to make meals and life in general more pleasant, and so planted vines. The variety is known as Mission, and appears to be the same as the Spanish variety Criolla.

I'd only read the vaguest reports of it, but anyone who mentioned it was dismissive of the quality, but I really wanted to taste this historic wine, so when I was in California in June 2002 I searched for it.

I went to the Amador County Wine Fair on 22 June and wandered around winery tables till I found Nine Gables Winery had Mission. It was red, dry and good, like - well - a rustic Spanish wine. Then we visited Story Winery at its wonderful location overlooking a valley.

As I sat on a picnic table looking down a valley in the shade of trees with a glass of Mission in hand, next to huge ancient knarled Mission vines like small trees, I felt I'd have been quite happy as a Spanish settler drinking Mission.

Few wineries seem to make this most historic wine. I understand why they won't persevere with a wine no-one will buy, but it puzzles me that in a country that so prizes historic things there is so little interest in this most historic of all wines - the first wine made in the New World and still being made from descendents of those original vines.

If you're in California, look out for Mission and let me know what you think.

Mission label
Many thanks to Jorgen, Bruce and Jan for the warm welcome and most generous hospitality. Story Winery is 6 miles from Plymouth. See www.zin.com
Moutard Pere & Fils
Cepage Arbane
Until I drank this wine I thought that Champagne could be made from only three varieties - Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. As this label shows, it isn't so.

Over thirty years ago French wine laws limited the vines that could be planted in Champagne to those three varieties but vineyards that had older traditional varieties could continue making Champagne with them.

This is a varietal Arbane from old vines (vieilles vignes). It tastes wonderful, so soft and delicate, like feathery powder snow with a refreshing peppery uplift.

Many thanks to M. Francis Boulard, owner/winemaker of Raymond Boulard Champagne, who knowing my interest in unusual wines, found this one for me.

Gros Manseng
Domain de Graiches
Cotes de Gascogne
This is an incredible flavoursome white wine. I first had it at a dinner where it was paired with a starter of cantaloupe melon with berry fruit coulis. What would you match melon with? Well, Gros Manseng is perfect. A flowery bouquet is followed by intense fruit flavours of apricot and melon and spice.

We were so impressed by this wine we bought a case and haven't regretted it - we now have ordered another.

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1 September 2002