Categories : Wine
France is the ultimate winegrowing country and the birthplace of many grape varieties, some famous and others not as well-known. Over the centuries, some varieties were left behind, forgotten or even forbidden, though they now experience a renewed interest from winemakers and wine lovers.
Over the centuries some varieties, once famous, were left behind for different reasons.
Some of them economic, where the more productive and resistant varieties were favored, and some of them technical, where viticultural advances made some varieties obsolete.
Sometimes, it may just be that the market’s preferences and trends have just evolved, leaving some varieties to stay in the shadows. These particular varieties, though still used in small quantities, are often rediscovered for their unique potential and capacity to produce distinct wines.
The history of forbidden grape varieties in France is mainly linked to the phylloxera crisis as well as the economical and technical difficulties in the 20th century. Some hybrid varieties, developed in answer to the vineyard’s destruction caused by the phylloxera, were forbidden despite their resistance against the disease. The reasons were mixed : concerns about wine quality, methanol content or even overproduction. Strict regulations were established to control the quality and reputation of french wines, leading to the prohibition of grape varieties such as Clinton, Noah, Isabelle and others. These varieties, although forbidden in professional viticulture, still exist in some regions and are sometimes cultivated by amateurs and private individuals in permaculture.
If some are internationally known and widely cultivated, some remain in the shadows and are preserved only by a few passionate winemakers. These rare, often ancient, varieties are precious witnesses of the french viticulture’s evolution.
‘Savagnin rose', from Jura, is an emblematic example. Producing aromatic and well-balanced white wines, it is often confused with Traminer. Its rarity is due to its low productivity and sensitivity to certain diseases. The wines produced, with their notes of citrus, walnut and exotic fruits, are however very highly sought-after by wine experts.
‘Mollard’, a red variety from the Hautes-Alpes, is another example. It produces fruity wines with a beautiful acidity, perfect to accompany mountain dishes. Its rarity is due to a phasing-out in favor of more productive varieties, more resistant to diseases.
Though rare, other grape varieties such as ‘Terret noir’ from Languedoc or ‘Meslier Saint-François’ from Champagne are essential to the diversity of the french viticultural landscape. They offer unique flavors, aromas and textures which can not be replicated by more common varieties.
These rare varieties offer a unique identity, an important story and, above all, a treasurable gustatory experience for wine lovers. Their preservation is essential to maintain the vine’s genetic diversity, especially when facing the great challenges of climate change and new diseases.
Recognizing a great vine variety is an art, requiring a combination of skills, experience and passion. Great varieties stand out with their history, terroir, influence on viticulture and ability to produce quality wine.
'Chardonnay', for example, is one of the most famous white grape varieties in the world. It is appreciated for its finesse, versatility and ability to express the terroir it comes from. Whether it is grown in Bourgogne, California or Australia, Chardonnay produces elegant, aromatic wines with notes from citruses to tropical fruits, hazelnuts or even butter.
'Cabernet Sauvignon' is another emblematic variety, known for its tannic structure, aromas of black fruits and overall longevity. Originally from Bordeaux, it is now cultivated in the whole world, producing powerful and complex wines.
But how do you recognize a great grape variety? It is essential to familiarize yourself with its aromas, texture in the mouth, color and aging abilities. Regular tasting, training courses and discussions with other wine lovers and experts are all essential in order to refine your skills and abilities to recognize and appreciate the nuances of each grape variety.
In the end, recognizing a great grape variety is a personal quest, an adventure leading to the discovery of new flavors, new stories and new experiences. It is a never ending journey since the wine world is in constant evolution.