Do we need new grape varieties in Bordeaux?

To cope with global warming (yes it is having an impact already here in Bordeaux) hotter climate foreign varieties are to be given the green card – (see article on this blog) and new hybrid grape varieties are being created. Yet recently with the advance in DNA analysis, a dozen or so ancient varieties native to Bordeaux have been rediscovered.

I recently discovered the existence of new breeds of dog like the Labradoodle (labrador cross poodle) and the bull-pug (English bull dog cross pug) or the Frug (French bull dog cross pug). Are there not enough beautiful different dogs to choose from (there exists 340 breeds that have occurred ‘naturally’ throughout history).

I tasted a couple of wines made from Hybrids (the crossing of two vitis species) that will apparently be allowed soon to be planted in Bordeaux appellation and Bordeaux Superieur. It was at a tasting organised by a group of Oenologist Laboratories of the 2019 vintage and new developments.

New Varieties and older varieited that may play a role with the global climate change. The new ones will be allowed in the future in Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior appellations only (and Entre Deux Mers for the white).

Arinarnoa (red) = Cabernet sauvignon x Tannat (full body raspberry, fruity grape of Madiran, high alcohol, not too long on skins as can get overly tannic). Developed by INRA Bordeaux in 1956, toay only found in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Late budding and ripening. Elegant, aromatic, caramel, fruity, spice, peppery, floral.

Marselan (red) = Cabernet Sauvignon x Grenache (raspberry flavoured alcoholic variety from Rhône, lacks tannin, acidity, colour so normally blended); Developed by INRA Bordeaux in 1961. Medium lateness of budding and late ripening, 1 week before Cab sauv. Spicy, perfumed, fruity.

Cal Blanc (white) = Sauvignon Blanc x Riesling (high acidity, highly aromatic, can be sweet). Resistant variety. Today found in Switzerland, Germany, Austria. Fruité, parfumé, fruits exotique, medium.

I think that it is dangerous to confuse what Bordeaux is. Its grapes grown in its unique soils give certain flavours and style of wine depending on the vintage. We are getting hotter summers and more extreme events such as late frost and hail. Its maritime moderate climate is changing slightly. More black fruits than red. More structured wines than lighter wines. More ripeness, so more alocohol.

Here is the background to these appellation Bordeaux changes from Jane Anson, Decanter.com *******************************

THE NEW RULES

  • All new grapes will continue to be seen as ‘experimental’ for another 10 years.
  • They can only cover 5% of plantings in the vineyard, and no more than 10% of a final blend.
  • The grapes can’t be mentioned by name on the wine label.
  • Only for AOC Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur for now, and AOC Entre-deux-Mers and Bordeaux Blanc for the whites. Appellations such as Pauillac or St-Emilion are not affected.

The grapes

Red

Arinarnoa: A cross of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon with the concern that, according to Lacoste, ‘it can be powerful and has a tendency to be a little green’.
Marselan: A cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that is found fairly widely in the Midi and now in China, where I have tried some really good examples, from Ningxia especially. This seems to me a pretty interesting option.
Castets: An old variety that was once fairly widely grown in the Gironde (and is one of the varieties recently brought to public attention by Liber Pater’s €30,000 example). This is certainly a rare grape that will be hard to find in any quantity in the short-term, but it’s definitely interesting to see how the variety reacts today, and it has real historical interest in the region.
Touriga Nacional: An adaptable variety best known of course in Portugal that gives wines that are powerful and aromatic. Lacoste has vinified with Touriga Nactional in Brazil and is extremely positive about its possibilities here: ‘it could modernise certain Bordeaux wines and bring them both richness and aromatic complexity’.

White

Alvarinho: Planted across Galicia, a brilliant grape although the climate conditions of Bordeaux are quite different from Galicia. If it works, it’s a popular variety with good potential.
Liliorila: A cross of Baroque and Chardonnay. Perhaps the least known of all the suggested varieties, reportedly low acidity when ripe so it seems like a strange choice.
Petit Manseng: Seems the most interesting of the three allowable whites, planted in the Jurançon region of southwest France, with an aromatic complexity that can be a great addition to blends.

*************************

It will be Merlot, the first to ripen, that will suffer first in cool clay and limestone soils. Only the warmest southfacing plots are suited to the later ripening Cabernet Franc variety and most are not at all adapted to later ripening varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Overripe Merlot becomes flabby, jammy with notes of prune – a far cry from its crunchy, cherry fresh flavours when it is picked at perfect ripeness.

The Cabernets have enough acidity and structure normally to take to over-ripeness well – it provides added silkiness and depth.

But lets not introduce completly new flavours from alien varieties to Bordeaux’s tradtional palate.

Why not put more focus on traditional late ripening varieties already allowed due to their historical origin in the region such as Petit Verdot or even Carmenère is not so late ripening, it is more a problem of skin ripeness.

Bordeaux’s existing varieties deserve a closer look.
Château Lascombes, Margaux

Or researching the characteristics of ‘new’ ancient varieties that have been rediscovered by DNA analysis in old abandoned plots of vines.

There are around 20 discovered old varietes but here are the main ones; St Macaire, Mancin, Pardotte, Castets, Sauvignonasse, Penouille and Bouchalès.

Féverole acting as a green harvest

There are some pioneering producers that are growing these old varieties despite the fact that they can only currently put ‘Vin de France’ on their labels; Cazebonne in the Graves, Clos Puy Arnaud in Castillon, Liber Pater in Graves, la Vieille Chapelle in Fronsac (who did a lot of DNA research themselves).

Château Cazebonne, Graves a pioneer of these ancient varieties.

This is David Poutalys at Cazebonne, an expert in biodynamics who is harvest for the first time these ancient varieties this autumn. There is a nursery in the Entre-Deux-Mer that specialises in the cultivating of these ancient heirlooms of Bordeaux, taking cuttings and propagating them.

Amphoras made from terracota (in the distance) and the Tava ones made from clay are being used more and more frequently in Bordeaux.

We mustn’t forget though that through natural selection of evolution, those that have survived, have done so for a reason – Merlot, (Carmenère – rare due to its uneven ripening), Cabernet Franc, Malbec (not so noble), Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot. They have been the most adapted to the climatic conditions.

Clos Manou in the Medoc, Liber Paterin the Graves, Trottevielle in St Emilion are using pregrafted old vines. Haut Bailly too has a mix of old pregrafted vines.

Château Coutet, St Emilion Grand Cru with the 14th generation of the same family who make the wine today, have managed to protect the genetic heritage of their vines. Today their vineyard is planted with baby vines that have been grafted from original mother plants. They have managed to keep alive their own type of Merlot called ‘Red-Tailed’ (Merlot à Queues Rouge) – smaller with higher skin to juice ratio. There is less juice and it is more concentrated naturally! The Noir de Pressac, the traditional local name as the variety was introduced to St Emilion via Château de Pressac from Cahors to the South of Bordeaux (where it is known as Auxerrois). They call their Cabernet Franc Bouchet, the tradtional name for perhaps the oldest of Bordeaux’s grape varieties possibly coming from the Vitis Burtica, the grape brought by Celts over 2000 years ago to Bordeaux.

Château Coutet, grand cru St Emilion, ‘organic since the beginning and who have created a wine just as they did 250 years ago ‘Cuvée Emeri’.

But with the change afoot, they are at least worth looking into rather than searching in foreign lands for exotic spices. Lets face it Bordeaux wines are classic; cedar, blackcurrants and tobacco. We’d like to keep it that way.

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