I wonder whether you’ve come across the expression “noble grapes” before. It sounds slightly old-fashioned perhaps because few people talk about noble grapes these days. Even so, theyare the grapes that have become international names. While some of the noble grapes are grown in many countries, others need specific conditions - the right soil, climate and environment (collectively known as terroir) for them to develop successfully and produce fine
wine. And of course, fine wine doesn’t happen by chance; it requires the experience of years:
the skills of both the farmer and the wine-maker. There are only six varieties that are considered
“noble” so they are not difficult to remember. But do you know what they are?
A survey conducted some years ago in the wine section of a well-known British supermarket
revealed an astonishing fact. A significant number of the customers who were buying wine
couldn’t name a single grape variety. It seems difficult to believe, especially when many bottles
of wine – especially those of the New World - display the name of the grape on the label. If you
cannot manage to come up with any of the noble grape varieties, then clearly you are not alone.
There are thousands of others, walking among us.
You have almost certainly encountered at least one of the “noble” grapes. There are three red
grapes and three white grapes that quality for this honour. The reds are Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot and Pinot Noir. The whites are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Now write
those down and don’t forget them, because there will a test next week. Although there are some
notable exceptions, it’s generally agreed that the finest Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the
Bordeaux region of France and so does the finest Merlot, a grape which is used almost
exclusively in the highly sought-after and astronomically expensive Château Petrus.
If you want to taste the best of Pinot Noir, you’ll have to look to France again and the wonderful region of Burgundy which makes some of the finest Pinot Noir the world has ever seen. It’s the only red grape permitted in the region. Chardonnay is used to make the complex and fascinating white wines of Burgundy and also is used in the making of Champagne. In this part of the world we don’t see Riesling all that often, but on the banks of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers in Germany the grape is crafted into incredible dry and razor-sharp wines that are considered the finest
expression of the grape.
The green Sauvignon Blanc is the star player in the Loire Valley of France and also plays an important supporting role in Bordeaux. In recent years, they’ve been making splendid Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand where the climate brings out the characteristic sharp acidity of the grape.
You might be wondering about all the other grapes, the grapes that are not considered noble.
There are around 5,000 varieties of wine grapes all together, though only about 150 are planted
in significant commercial quantities.
They may not have the honorific “noble” yet many of them produce superb wine given the right conditions. One of these is the green Chenin Blanc grape, which is pronounced s bit like “shen-ang blong” and thought to have originated in France’s Loire Valley sometime during the ninth century. In that region it’s also known as the Pineau de la Loire among other names. Today it’s grown all over the world especially in South Africa and more recently in California and its high acidity makes it ideal for producing sparkling wines. The classic Chenin Blanc of the Loire is an extremely dry, slightly acidic yet fruity wine which brings fresh flavour of quince and apples. In warm years, the grapes are left on the vines to produce an intense, honeyed and oily dessert wine.
Rhanleigh Chenin Blanc 2020 (white), South Africa (Bt 459 + tax @ Vines to Vino) - In-store only
Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape variety in South Africa. The grape is historically known as the Steen and was probably the variety ever to be planted in the region sometime during the middle of the seventeenth century. Rhanleigh Winery is in the hilly Western Cape Province, between the towns of Robertson and Ashton. Their Chenin Blanc is a pale gold colour fading to transparent at the edges of the glass – the usual sign of a young wine. The liquid has a pleasing oily appearance and a distinct greenish tinge.
Yeasty aromas emerged on opening, followed by attractive sweet pineapple, pomelo and dusty
herbs. I don’t know whether you can imagine the smell of dusty herbs, but it’s more pleasant
than it sounds. The wine reminds me slightly of a Chardonnay but without the usual buttery
overtones. At 13% ABV, it’s a dry, light-bodied wine with an unmistakable sharpness of bright
acidity which is fairly typical of this grape variety. It has a reasonably long sharp citrusy finish
too. I have to admit that this is a fairly basic wine, but if you enjoy lively, racy whites, this
summer-style wine would probably make a good partner for creamy chicken or fish dishes. And
at this price, it’s a real bargain too.
Review by independent Thailand-Based wine expert Dr. Colin Kaye Dr. Colin has a regular wine Column in The Pattaya Mail newspaper.