MORE than 30 years ago, I wrote a pocket wine-guide for Sainsbury’s, and one of the pieces in it was a list of what I considered to be the 30 most important wine-grape varieties. Recently, I tried to draw up a similar list for a group of wine-waiters I was instructing.
A number of grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc have held their place, but others, such as Müller-Thurgau and Aligoté, have been demoted. One that has thrust its way in is Prosecco.
Most of us consider Prosecco to be a sparkling wine rather than the grape from which it is produced, in the north-east of Italy. As has happened in the past, we have picked up on a wine that has become immensely popular in the United States, where, for ethnic reasons, Italian wines have had a much greater consumer following than here in Britain.
This popularity has caused a number of problems, the first being that demand is now outstripping supply. Some months ago, I said that there was likely to be a shortage by the end of the year, resulting in an increase in prices. Fortunately, this has not happened — yet.
Last month, there was a report that the cost of the base wine would double in the spring. In 2009, the Italian authorities extended the area entitled to produce the wine with DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) classification to more than 27,000 acres, and changed the name of the grape to Glera. (This was confusing, because Glera was previously used as a generic name for a number of grape varieties in the province of Trieste, where there is a village named Prosecco).
Within the wider region, there are two smaller areas where the wine has been raised to DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status: these are the widely available Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, and the much rarer Colli Asolani. These are the wines to look out for. The former is available at Sainsbury’s, Aldi, and Lidl.
Another grape that I failed to rate 30 years ago was the Malbec, which has largely fed the rise in popularity of Argentine wines in this country. It is not that Malbec wines have not been available to us; for they have been hidden from us under the name of Cot, both in Cahors and parts of the Loire Valley, particularly Touraine. Indeed, both regions now seem to have recognised the power of the Argentines.
A third grape that I had omitted, but which now would certainly feature, is the white Viognier. Then, it was restricted to the northern Rhône vineyards of Condrieu, and the minuscule adjoining appellation of Château-Grillet; now, its exotic nectarine flavours can be found as far away as Chile. Try Luis Felipe Edwards Signature Series Reserva 2014 (Majestic, £9.99, “Mix Six” £6.66).
That is what is so exciting about the world of wine: it is in a state of constant evolution. I tip Prosecco, Malbec, and Viognier as my three grapes for 2016; but I will not be surprised if I am proved totally wrong.