IN THEIR book Wine Grapes (Allen Lane, 2012), Jancis Robinson and her co-authors have identified 1368 different grape varieties used around the world for producing wine — and yet how many of these do we drink regularly?
Most wine consumers are, by their nature, conservative, and we tend to select wines that we recognise. This means that, for the most part, we drink wines made from perhaps just one per cent of the world’s varieties. Similarly, we tend to choose wines from regions that are familiar to us.
Of the main wine-producing countries, it is perhaps Spain that has the most hidden gems, in both regions and grapes. Now, some of these are beginning to appear on the high street. As far as white wines are concerned, most of the interest is in the north-west corner of the country.
Over the past few years, the Albariños of the Rías Baixas have become widely available; my favourite is the Palacio de Fefiñanes 2014 (Waitrose, £15.99), but now the fuller-bodied wines of the Godello are attracting fans, including such experts as Oz Clarke.
Majestic has recently introduced As Caixas 2014, from the small D.O of Monterrei, right up against the Portuguese border (£8.99; £7.99 if in a mixed 6), and Laithwaites has the mature Sendero das Meigas 2009 (£12.99; £11.69 in a dozen). Rarer still, from Spain’s most northerly vineyards in the Basque country is the delicate Chacoli de Getaria Txomin Etxaniz 2013 (Waitrose £14.99). Fortunately, you can pluck a bottle off the shelf without having to ask for it by name.
The red grape from the north-west of Spain that is creating a reputation is the Mencia, which gives fruity, aromatic wines. It is particularly successful in the D.O of Bierzo. Majestic has the strikingly labelled Pizarras de Otero 2014 (£7.99; mix six £6.99), and Laithwaites has the Palacios Corullen 2013 (£30).
The heartland of lesser-known red grapes in Spain is in the south-east of the country, in the provinces of Valencia and Murcia. Although more common grapes, such as the Tempranillo and the Syrah, are widely grown, this is the homeland of the Monastrell and the Bobal.
The Monastrell has now spread around the world under aliases such as Mourvèdre and Mataro. Its wines are high in alcohol and tannins, and generally have the distinctive flavour of blackberries. I have recently enjoyed Laithwaite’s Camino de Seda 2014 from Jumilla (£8.49; mix 12 £7.64), and also their Gran Calera 2013 from Yecla (£8.29; mix 12 £7.46).
The Bobal gives similar wines in style, although they tend to be softer on the palate. A newcomer to Majestic from Utiel-Requena is Vox Populi 2012 (£9.99; mix six £8.99).
If you want to taste a real rarity, from a grape variety all but extinct, from the remote south-west of Spain, do something that I have not done yet, and that is to sample the Finca Moratilla Vidadillo 2009 from Laithwaites (£9.99).
There is so much to be discovered in the Spanish world of wine. Happy hunting!