Q: When is a variety not a variety? Bear with me, for I have an answer…
Having unexpectedly won Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #19 (#MWWC19) with this entry on choosing a Burgundy, I was given the winner’s prerogative of choosing the theme for #MWWC20. The least I could do is enter myself – and it has pushed me into finally starting on a topic I have been meaning to explore for nearly two years – clones. In the fullness of time I will get into more detail (and that article will of course be called “Attack of the Clones”), but for now here’s an introduction.
“Variety” has lots of different meanings, even within the sphere of wine. The most common usage is for a type of grape, cépage in French. Thankfully, Jeff the Drunken Cyclist has already dealt with my bête noir of confusing variety (grape type) and varietal (wine made from a particular grape). The most technically correct term is actually cultivar, as pretty much all wine is made from cultivated grapes, but variety works for me.
Why is variety so important? Overall, it’s the single most important factor affecting the taste of a wine. Yes, terroir can be very important, but that’s actually shorthand for a whole host of factors. Additionally, (and subsequently), the way many wine drinkers outside Europe express their vinous preferences is by grape – and a fair share of those within Europe as well.
However, there are different versions of most grape varieties, and they are known as clones. These clones have subtly different characteristics, often adaptations from centuries of growing in particular places. Sometimes grape growers assist in this process by taking cuttings from the best performing vines and propagating them.
The last few decades have seen an increasingly scientific approach taken, with institutions and nurseries classifying existing and developing new clones which will thrive best in different soils and climates, or give a particular style of wine at the end. For example, producers aiming to make a richer, buttery style of Chardonnay might often chose to plant Mendoza Chardonnay clones, as their thicker skins and smaller berries make them suitable for a Meursault style.
So now for a varietal wine which involves a lot of variety from within a single grape variety (it will make sense, I promise):
Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (€23.99, jnwine.com)
Quinta da Falorca is one of four vineyards which are part of the larger Quinta Vale Das Escadinhas in the Silgueiros sub-region of Dão in central Portugal. It was established on south-facing steep banks of the river Dão over a century ago by the Costa Barros de Figuerido family.
The Dão is home to dozens of indigenous grapes varieties, with the most popular being Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro Preto and Encruzado. Indeed, the region is actually the original home of Touriga Nacional which is so vital in the Douro. To honour this fact the Dão DOC regulations require a minimum 20% of Touriga Nacional in red wines.
So it’s a good producer, but what’s so special about this bottle? The name “T-Nac” gives us a clue that it’s made from Touriga Nacional, but that’s just the start. It’s made from 100% Touriga Nacional, but 31 different clones of that variety! It says something of the history of the area that over 30 clones of a single grape have been identified, and a lot more about a producer that can grow and vinify them!
Unlike some traditional style Dão wines it isn’t chock full of tannins from over-extraction, nor is it sullied by oak like some of the more modern style wines. Instead it plots a happy medium course with excellent juicy black fruit fruit and fine-grained tannins that give it a real savoury edge. This is a wine to pair beautifully with a steak or a hearty beef stew – in fact, a small glass in the stew would be perfection.
My thanks for the sample to JN Wines who will be showing this (and many other wines) at their Portfolio Tasting:
Time: Friday 6th November 18.00 – 20.00
Venue: Smock Alley Theatre, 6-8 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8
Tickets €15 online from Smock Alley