Alistair Gibson: On Grape-grazing Italian sheep

jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine
jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine
Picture: GinFestival.com

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They say variety is the spice of life. Well, when it comes to wine nothing could be closer to the truth.

The shelves may be dominated by the likes of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, merlot and shiraz, to name but a few, but there are literally thousands of wine grape varieties – although it is probable that the number actually used to make wine commercially worldwide is closer to 1,000.

jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine

jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine

A little like new foods (remember sun-dried tomatoes?), unheard-of grape varieties tend to almost appear from nowhere and then suddenly become very fashionable for a period.Spain’s Albariño is a current great example of this.

So this week here are a few wines made from less familiar grapes which may or may not already be known to you.

Pecorino is one and confusingly it’s also the name of a cheese in its native Italy. Rather like the cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk, this white grape variety, which is native to central parts of Italy, takes its name from the Italian word ‘pecora’ which means sheep. But in this case it is so-called because sheep enjoyed eating the grapes as they were driven from pasture to pasture.

Contesa Pecorino 2015, Colline Pescaresi (Majestic £8.99 or £7.49 in a mixed six) is a lovely example of this grape. It’s really fresh with citrus, stone fruits and blossom on the nose, followed by some peach and zesty acidity. It’s a perfect summer wine to match with antipasti or maybe even some cheese of the same name, but just don’t mix up the two!

jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine

jpwm-09-07-16-006 gibbo wine

Zinfandel may be a slightly better-known variety, but sadly it is all too often associated with semi-sweet rosé . But it is capable of producing some really interesting, full-bodied red.

Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2013, Paso Robles (Majestic £14.99 or £12.99 in a mixed six) is actually a blend of zinfandel with a little syrah, petite syrah (another obsure red grape) and grenache produced by Chronic Cellars which is a cult Californian winery. It also has wines named Dead Nuts and Mr Nibbles. Enough said!

This is a modern style of wine with bramble fruit, liquorice, vanilla and chocolate. It is very ripe and a little jammy, but has just enough acidity to make it work. A bit like the label, the wine may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly interesting. Try with some home-made burgers and fries.

Another funky label and wine is Snake + Herring Calypso 2013, Margaret River (M&S £16 down from £20 until August 1). This is a blend of cabernet franc, the lesser-known cousin of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and shows cherry and raspberry fruits, a little eucalyptus and mocha before a palate that has layers of plush fruit and ripe tannins before a surprisingly elegant finish.

Try this lovely wine with a roast leg of lamb at a Sunday lunch.