Growing out of obscurity

News editor Joanna Goodman profiles some of the lesser-known indigenous grapes to make an appearance in The Society's List.

Auxerrois

This grape is a distant relative of chardonnay and was once widely grown in eastern France. Today it is only really found in Alsace and Luxembourg where it makes characterful slightly spicy wines, somewhere between pinot blanc and pinot gris in style. In Alsace this grape hardly ever appears on the label however much of what is sold as pinot blanc includes, quite legally, auxerrois.

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Muscadelle

The third white grape of Bordeaux and Bergerac is making something of a comeback with quality-oriented producers. It went out of fashion because it is prone to all sorts of pests and diseases in the vineyard, but get it right and it adds fragrance, flesh and charm to a blend. It is the same grape that produces the glorious sweet Topaque (previously known as Liqueur Tokay) wines in Australia, but is not related to any of the muscat family of grapes. The sweet Muskadel wines of South Africa are actually made from the widely spread muscat blanc à petits grains grape.

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Romorantin

A white Loire grape behind the wines of Cour-Cheverny, not to be confused with, and, when it's good, altogether more serious than, the nearby Cheverny appellation, whose wines are sauvignon-based. Cour-Cheverny lies to the south of Blois and is the only appellation in France for the romorantin grape, which tends to be high in acidity and difficult to ripen so requires attentive care in the vineyard. When ripe, it produces pure, fresh wines more suited to a meal than to drinking on their own, though the locals often serve the off-dry version as an aperitif.

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Godello

This high-quality variety from north-west Spain is undergoing something of a revival and is being championed by some of the country's brightest young stars, such as Telmo Rodríguez and Rafael Palacios. It is thought to originate from vineyards on the banks of the Sil river in the Valdeorras DO of Galicia and makes for concentrated, intense wines with a distinct minerality.

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Agiorgitiko

Also known as the St George grape, agiorgitiko is native to the Peloponnese and is Greece's most widely grown, capable of producing a wide variety of styles from fruity rosé to full-bodied reds for ageing. We list the Beaujolaisstyle Semeli which, with its evocative aromas of cherry and blueberry and appetising flavour, makes a good introduction to the grape.

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Négrette

The deeply coloured and perfumed négrette grape is most widely found in the vineyards of the Frontonnais in south-west France. It is an ancient variety whose origins remain something of a mystery, some saying it was brought to this part of France by the Knights Templar. The wine we list is doubly unusual in that it comes not from the south west but from the Fiefs Vendéens, an outpost of the Loire Valley to the south of Nantes near to the coast. Here the Mourat family's old vines can make supple, fruity wines of dark colour with distinctive flavours and aromas of kirsch or even violets.

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Touriga nacional

The premium port variety is now becoming equally revered for Portugal's fine dry reds and is increasingly found further afield in Dão, Bairrada and Alentejo. It is also finding acclaim overseas in Spain, South Africa, Australia and even Uruguay. The grape is highly suited to hot, dry conditions and is prized for its deep colour, concentrated dark-fruit flavour, perfumed aroma and keeping ability. On its own it can be too much of a good thing and is often blended with other varieties.

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Lagrein

This ancient red grape from the Alto Adige and Trentino regions of northern Italy is finding new favour at the moment. The wines are deep in colour with red-berry flavours, brisk tannin and fresh acidity. It is this freshness, together with an attractive spicy character, that make it much appreciated in blends where winemakers use it like pepper to 'season' the wine.

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For help in getting your tongue around grape names, view our Guide to Grape Pronunciation.

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