Most everyone knows the wine made from the world’s most popular grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are more than 5,000 different kinds of grapes used to make wine and some of the lesser known varieties are absolutely delicious.
If you’re not from Austria or a serious wine aficionado, chances are you don’t know that Zweigelt is a grape that makes an easy-drinking, food-friendly red wine.
To highlight some of the lesser-known wine-making grape varieties, a trio of wine professionals from Jacques Scott - Lee Royle, Paul McLaughlin and Sergio Serrano - sat down over a lunch at the Cracked Conch to discuss four red wine grapes: Zweigelt, Carmenere, Petit Sirah and Aglianico.
To see how the wines paired with food, Cracked Conch Chef Gilbert Cavallaro prepared and eight-course menu that took us on a three-hour tour of the West Bay restaurant’s lunch and dinner offerings.
We had four red wines and the lunch started with conch ceviche, so a bottle of white wine was ordered. Although the white wasn’t from a lesser-known grape - it was Sauvignon Blanc - it did come from a lesser known Sauvignon Blanc producing country, Italy.
2008 Vie di Romans Friuli Isonzo Sauvignon Blanc Pierre is a Sauvignon Blanc of a different ilk than those from France or the New World. Rich and complex with more minerality than fruit, this is a food wine that those who like unoaked Chardonnay would likely enjoy. The conch ceviche had several bold flavours and the wine held up to them nicely.
“Who would have thought that Italy made such good Sauvignon Blanc,” Serrano said of the wine that comes from northeastern Italy, where some of the best Pinot Grigio wines are also made.
“And a 94-point Sauvignon Blanc at that,” added Royle.
“This is an elegant wine,” chimed in McLaughlin.
Some of this wine was saved for later to pair with the seared local snapper, which we didn’t think would stood up to any of the red wines.
Austria has started to gain popularity as a wine-growing region in the past decade or so, thanks in part to the soaring popularity of Grüner Veltliner, the white, crisp, food-friendly wine that was once the rage of the New York City hip set.
With most of Austria’s wine production consumed in-country, many don’t know that it produces some solid red wines to go with its more widely known white varieties. One of those is Zweigelt (pronounced: TSVYE-gelt), a grape that has a history of less than a century. It was created in 1922 by crossing to of Austria’s other red wine-producing grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.
Tasted at lunch was Austrian Cherry - The Dot ($21.99), a product of Pfaffl, one of Austria’s top wine producers.
This is a juicy wine with flavours and aromas of cherries, a hint of spice and soft tannins.
It was tasted first with honey-jerk tuna tartar and paired surprisingly well.
“Austrian wines are very food friendly,” said Royle.
McLaughlin said he thought the Austrian Cherry would also go with pasta and salmon.
“But it would have to be grilled salmon,” he said.
Other recommended food pairings for the versatile wine are burgers, pizza and even steak.
Because seared local snapper was served during lunch, we saved some of the Sauvignon Blanc because we didn’t think the fish would stood up to any of the red wines. However the Zweigelt was an acceptable pairing, partially because the snapper was served over a tomato a scotch bonnet sauce.
With a low alcohol content of 12.5 per cent, Austrian Cherry Zweigelt is good lunchtime red wine choice and since it’s the type of red wine that can take a little chilling, it’s a good outdoor choice here in Cayman as well.
Like Malbec, Carménère (pronounced: car-men-YEHR) is a red wine grape that fell out of favour in its native France, only to find a resurgence in South America, in this case Chile.
The grape was brought to Chile from France in the mid-19th century and until 1994 it was mistakenly believed to be Merlot and usually processed along with it. Although it’s still used to blend with other grapes, Carménère is now also used to produce a pure varietal. One such wine is 2008 Montgras Carmenere Reserva ($18.99) from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This bold, dark violet wine has powerful aromas of spice and on the palate it is fruity with a creamy texture and soft tannins that made the young wine perfectly drinkable now.
Carménère has gained popularity in the last few years as a wine that pairs well with spicy cuisine, including curry. It was therefore no surprise that it paired well with the jerk pork belly served on crostini, a mini version of the Cracked Conch’s jerk pork belly sandwich on garlic bread.
The Carménère also paired fabulously with the short rib ravioli with mushrooms, truffle and Parmesan foam. Of course, this ultra-delicious dish really paired well with all four red wines.
Other recommended food pairings for Carménère include pork sliders, hard cheeses and steak.
Although Carménère is a powerful wine with a relatively high alcohol content of 14.3 per cent, its elegance and gentle tannins give it a lighter body than its cousins, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, making it a good wine for outdoor drinking, especially when chilled to between 50 and 55 degrees.
There is nothing petite about Petite Sirah (pronounced: puh-TEET see-RAH), which is known as Durif pretty much everywhere else except the United States and Israel. It’s another French grape that has all but disappeared in France, only to reemerge elsewhere, primarily in the United States and Australia.
2007 Ravens Wood Vintners Blend Petite Sirah ($17.95) is a great value blend of 84 per cent Petite Sirah, 13 per cent Syrah, and 3 per cent other red grapes.
This is a full-bodied California red wine with firm tannins and lots of concentrated dark fruits on the palate.
First poured out of the bottle, it seemed too ‘hot’, but he alcohol content is only 13.5 per cent, so it shouldn’t have.
“This wine could probably do with a good decanting,” Royle said.
Indeed, at first the wine seemed too tightly wound and not food-friendly at all, but once it got some air and opened up, it proved to be a nice accompaniment to the beef tenderloin that came toward the end of the meal.
“I knew we would find a place for this in the equation,” Royle said, referring to the afternoon’s food and wine pairings.
As good as everything was over the lunch, star of the wine show was the 1999 Feudi di San Gregorio ‘Piano di Montevergine’ Taurasi Riserva ($59.99).
This wine is a varietal made from 100 Aglianico (pronounced: Ah-LYAH-nee-koh) grapes, a grape of Greek origin which came to Italy with its early settlers.
Although not nearly as well known as the Italian grapes Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Aglianico produces excellent world-class wines.
The Piano di Montevergine was a full-bodied, well balanced wine that even at 12+ years old had firm tannins and the structure to age for many years more. This 95-point wine from the Campania region in southern Italy had a wonderfully complex bouquet of berries, cherries and spice, along with a some hints of cedar. On the palate, it was intense and elegant with a lush mouth feel and a long finish.
It paired divinely with the beef tenderloin served with pan-seared foie gras and buttered scalloped potatoes.
This was the calibre of wine you’d expect to pay $100 a bottle or more for, especially aged as it was. Not surprisingly, it was the one bottle of the four red wines that was completely empty when we left.
After six courses, Chef Gilbert wasn’t done with us, serving not one, but two courses of dessert, the first a sampler of popular menu items and the second a special made for the day.
As we lingered over coffee and crossed into our fourth hour of lunch, we agreed it was one of the best lunch any of us had experienced in a long time.