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What was old is new again in the wine world

How some wine producers are bringing back grapes and winemaking techniques that were close to disappearing from use
Stock image shows a qvervi, an ancient clay vessel used in winemaking

Grape Varieties 

In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on grape varietals that have generally disappeared up until now. Carmenère would be the best example of this. Having disappeared in France after phylloxera devastation of the vines in the 1860s, it was rediscovered in the 1990s in Chile and has become quite popular.    

I didn’t know that the oldest officially designated wine region (AVA) in the United States was in Missouri. Most of the grapes that were grown there were native to North America – today’s popular varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. originated in Europe. It is early days, but efforts are now being made to bring some of those lost varietals back - who knows what kind of wines they will make. 

Something similar is happening in Israel, where vines going back to Roman times or earlier are being re-cultivated. At Cremisan Winery on the border of Israel and the West Bank, Italian Salesian Monks are working with ancient indigenous varieties long thought extinct, like Marawi, Dabouki, and others. Perhaps someday they may find their way to our shelves. 

Many wine-producing regions in Europe are looking to older, forgotten grapes. While there could be a ‘curiosity effect’ at work here, there is also great interest and some urgency in finding alternatives to the classic types grown as global warming and the greenhouse effect take their toll on what has been working up until now. 

Wine Vessels 

We are accustomed to our wine being made from grapes that, when pressed, are placed in wooden vats or barrels, or stainless steel or concrete tanks. Today, we are seeing many innovative winemakers turning to a far more ancient practice, the use of clay vessels. They come in various sizes and shapes, at times are buried to the rim, and at other times are flat bottomed and set on the ground.  

The practice never went out of use in Georgia, the country in the Caucasus lying on the north side of the Black Sea – we are seeing more and more of their wines coming through Vintages.  

Huge clay pots called “qvevri” are buried in the ground. The clay allows the wine to breathe as it ferments, giving the wine added complexity. Both white and red grapes can be treated this way, with the skin contact giving the whites a more amber colour –what we are coming to know as ‘orange’ wines. 

In the 2021 Decanter: Wines of the World magazine, a British importer of qvevri offered that with the skin-contact wines made in this fashion, “the appeal is a texture I can only describe as 'cashmere'. They feel unmediated and natural.” 

Proponents of clay vessels are enthusiastic about their properties and impact on the wines made. In an online SevenFiftyDaily article by Peter Weltman in May 2018, Italian winemaker Elisabetta Foradori states, “there is a direct transfer of the message of the terroir from the grape to the wine,” she says, “with an incredible purity and energy.” 

In Oregon, ceramicist and winemaker Andrew Beckham, who makes both the vessels and the wine, experiments with vessels fired at different temperatures, and sees advantages at both ends of the spectrum. Those at the lower end produce wines that are fresher and brighter. Among other things, the shape of the pots during fermentation allows the wine to stir itself, and the nature of the clay does the fining, removing unwanted particles for a clearer wine. 

Of the resurgent use of clay vessels, Patrick McGovern, Ph. D., the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia suggested: “this area of research and practice should dramatically transform the world of wine.”  

Wine and Cheese 

How long have people been serving wine and cheese, whether it be at parties, receptions, or just for friends? Now, the March 31 2021 Wine Spectator reported that medical science is suggesting that there is a “correlation between red wine and cheese consumption and higher performance in FIT tests.” 

A 10-year UK study of diet involving more than 1700 participants between the ages of 46 and 77 included an initial Fluid intelligence Test and two follow-up tests during and at the conclusion of the study period. Results indicated a “strong clear relationship between eating more cheese or drinking more red wine and having a higher fluid intelligence score over a six to 10-year period,” according to the principal investigator.  

As a decline in FIT scores can be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, this suggests that moderate but regular consumption of red wine and cheese might be beneficial in warding off dementia. We can only hope! 

Old grapes, old pots, and sharp old minds…what more could we ask for? 

Wines to Try 

The following wines should all be available at the Great Northern Road store as of this weekend. Note: they don’t always get put out right away, but they are all slated for our store. 


The 2016 Vintage was excellent across the board in Europe. From Italy, consider these wines: 

Monte Antico Toscana, $15.95, is a Vintages Essential. It is #61 on the 2021 Top 100 Best Buys for The Wine Enthusiast which explains “made with Sangiovese and drops of Cabernet and Merlot, this has aromas of dark-skinned fruit, underbrush and baking spice. The medium-bodied palate shows ripe black plum, tangerine zest and sage alongside smooth tannins.” – 88.  

Tommasi Arele, $18.95, gets its name from the wooden trays upon which grapes are laid out to dry in the appassimento method, and so the wine will be reminiscent of Ripasso and Amarone wines. A deep ruby, it carries aromas of dark cherry plum and crushed blackberry. These flavours follow through in the mouth, along with impressions of dried herb and spice. Good concentration, a smooth mouthfeel, and a long enjoyable finish.   

Lornano Chianti Classico, $19.95 Decanter tells us to expect “deep, ripe blue fruit, red currants and cherries, with the oak adroitly blended in, then revealing touches of nuts, thyme and Earl Grey tea.” – 91

Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Manduria, $22.95, is “richly saturated and thick with a long trail of dark fruit aromas that run the spectrum from black cherry and cassis to candied plum or prune. All that fruit is infused with spice, smoke and tar. This wine is both generous and intense.” – – 90

From Bordeaux, consider Chateau Fontaine de Genon, $15.95. France’s highly respected Guide Hachette tells us that with this wine, “elegant woody notes (vanilla, mocha), floral and fruity make up an engaging bouquet. We find the [wine] woody, quite sustained but racy, in a rich, round, ample mouth, with tannins well in place.” The guide gives it one star, which in its system means it is excellent. 

Chateau le Grand Moulin, $17.95, According to, “generous, nicely ripe, and fruit-forward aromas of dark currant, blackberry, cassis, mint, and spice with touches of earthiness lift out of the glass. The medium+ bodied palate has nice balanced aroma replays supported by refined, textured, and gritty tannins, and balanced acidity. The finish is a touch drying, with savoury and earthy flavours, and very good length.” – 89.

Chateau La Croix St-Pierre Grande Réserve, $18.95, “is a densely textured wine packed with dark tannins as well as black fruits” Wine Enthusiast – 90. 

From Spain, try the Ramirez de la Piscina Crianza Rioja, $2016. Josh Raynolds of tells us it is “sweet and penetrating on the palate, offering cherry preserve, red berry, vanilla and rose pastille flavours that spread out slowly on the back half. Shows very good clarity and appealing juiciness on a long, supple finish framed by well-knit tannins.” – 91 

Beronia Reserva Rioja, $21.95. wrote this: “Vivid ruby. Pungent, oak-spiced cherry and blackberry scents are complemented by smoky mineral and vanilla notes and a hint of candied licorice. Sappy and incisive on the palate, offering juicy dark berry, cherry-vanilla and violet pastille flavours underscored by a vein of juicy acidity. Finishes smooth, smoky and long, with gently framing tannins and a repeating vanilla note. Drinking window: 2023 – 2030” – 91.

Other wines to enjoy 

Paul Mas Single Vineyard Réserve Marsanne 2019, $13.95. Paul Mas is a champion value wine producer. Of this white wine, references “honeyed stone fruit”, good weight and richness, and “plenty of complexity and concentration.” – 89

La Fortezza Greco 2018, $15.95, from the Campania region has good reviews, and Vintages reports that it is “fragrant, tangy and bright, with lemon citrus and refined minerality.” 

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2020, $13.95. Made from grapes grown specifically for this rosé, this wine is a steal. It has some real depth, and bright fruit, along with a pleasing coppery tinge. Enjoy it on its own or with roasted chicken.  

Muga Rosé 2020, $15.95, from Spain is another great value. A blend of 60 per cent Garnacha, 30 per cent Viura (a white grape) and 10 per cent Tempranillo, it is salmon-pink in colour and carries impressions of wild strawberries and ripe citrus, with notes of fresh herb, brioche, and a wisp of vanilla. It has a good, balanced, fruity impact with appropriate acidity kicking in to complete the finish. 

From Australia, the Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, $19.95, is not to be missed. It was the top red wine $20 and under at the 2019 World Value Wine Challenge. Satiny, fresh and vibrant, it is a “palate-pleasing, juicy Cabernet overflowing with fruit and herbaceous style.” – 91

El Enemigo Syrah/Viognier 2017, $24.95. From Argentina, it has James Suckling’s firm approval. He says the wine is “bathed in rich, ripe dark-berry flavour with a spicy thread and long, fine-cut, silky tannins, holding super-rich and pure. Very intense flavours on the finish - a real crescendo!” – 95