In 2018, candidates sitting their Master of Wine exams were asked…..
“If a world wide disease were to wipe out every grape variety, which two would you save and why?”
In between unloading pallets of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin, Syrah and Rose wines, I have thought long and hard about this question. At first glance it appears to be a simple choice; one red grape and one white grape variety, thereby giving us the opportunity to drink a red wine, a white wine and a rose wine which can be made from a red grape or red and white wine can be mixed to create a rose.
I am not going to get too technical in my reasons for saving the grape varieties – that is where the marks would be scored in the exam but I will answer the question.
Grenache or Garnacha as they call it in Spain for the red grape variety and I would also save Pinot Noir.
Grenache is the second most widely planted grape variety in the world, covering huge areas of Southern France where it is the main grape variety for southern Cotes du Rhones and used extensively in the blends of the Rousillon wines like Minervois, Corbieres etc. However, it really shines in Chateauneuf du Pape where diligent producers prune heavily and grow the vines on very poor soil, creating dense heavy reds capable of ageing for decades. It makes extraordinary sweet reds in Maury and Banyuls. In Northern Spain, it is the main grape variety for Navarra, making fun Rose wines and simple to great Reds. It is the preeminent grape used in the amazing wines of Priorat. Grenache is also grown in Australia and until, relatively recently, was their most planted variety. Grenache has also proved to make really interesting wines in California especially in the hands of the maverick wine makers who became known as the Rhone Rangers.
My other choice is Pinot Noir. I have chosen Pinot because it is a grape variety that prefers the cooler climates where it can make unbelievably amazing wines and I am thinking Burgundy. The great crus of Burgundy are beyond the reach of most people’s pockets but the lesser village wines are worth seeking out. Pinot can make really good wine in New Zealand and is one of the three permitted grape varieties in Champagne. I actually think that the Champagnes made using the red grapes are more interesting than those made from predominately Chardonnay – there is more weight to the wines. Pinot Noir is increasingly used in English and Welsh wines
So, in a world where only two varieties are allowed I have chosen Grenache for the basic reds and the serious, dark heavy reds. Grenache for fun Rose wines and I hope that we can replicate Provencal rose wines too from Grenache Gris. Similarly, Grenache Blanc can make some really interesting white wines and I can only hope that the Gris and Blanc slip through the net as Grenache as they are just mutations of Grenache Noir. We know Grenache works well in France, Spain and in Australia – the climates of these countries are replicated elsewhere so we can expect Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Southern Italy to soon plant up Grenache and produce easy drinking to great wines. I have chosen Pinot Noir for the sublime Burgundies and because we can keep Champagne and the English Vineyards can survive too. New Zealand can continue to produce good wines and areas like Northern Italy and Germany, both of whom already make some good Pinot, can experiment and perhaps make a name for themselves. Again, I hope that the Pinot variety is the permitted survivor and perhaps its mutations – Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (Grigio) can slip through the net.
In this strange other world, I suspect that nearly all wine producing countries can continue to make great wine and good wine and make enough of it for us all to enjoy at every price point. There will inevitably be a shift of fortunes for some regions but many local economies that rely on wine should survive this hypothetical grape pandemic.