In praise of diversity

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.
– Albert Einstein

We thought of this wisdom when we toured Galicia recently. There we tasted wines made from two dozen grape varieties and recalled the infamous rant by Robert Parker a few years ago and detailed below.

Galicia is a region which lies in the north-west of Spain on the Atlantic Coast. In Vigo, the most populous city, in the Rias Baixas sub-region, we drank lots of wine made from the local Albariño grape, then, over a few days, we drank wines made from the following grapes, Dona Branca, Palomino, Garnacha Tintorera, Mencia, Caiño, Treixadura, Godello, Lado, Sousón, Ferran, and many others! We visited, among other producers, one Bernardo Estevez in the Ribeiro region who farms 28 varieties.

One of the most joyous aspects of the natural wine world is the discovery of native, or indigenous grape varieties, such as Poulsard and Savagnin from the Jura, Pineau d’Aunis or Menu Pineau from the Loire, Macabeu from the Roussillon and Catalonia, and those above-mentioned from Galicia. There are hundreds of others.

However, there was a moment at the start of the twenty-first century when it seemed nothing could stop the reduction of the wine world towards a handful of French grapes become known as “international varieties”. They were everywhere and, like Starbucks, seemed to offer the same experience wherever you went outside their native areas (still a few great wines from Cab’s Sav. and Franc and Merlot in Bordeaux and, from Pinot Noir in Bourgogne, or from Syrah in the Northern Rhône and Grenache in the Southern Rhône). The French wine authorities decreed that growers in many parts of southern France must plant Syrah to “improve” their wines and even in the southern Rhône a Côtes du Rhône cannot be 100% Grenache. Chardonnay and Merlot were planted all over the Languedoc. And Spain. And Italy. And Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile, etc.

As the natural wine movement gained traction, not least in response to this homogenisation of wine styles, wines from indigenous grapes were frequently belittled. Robert Parker wrote that such wines were from “godforsaken grapes that in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc., have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest …”.

Such grapes are of great interest to the people who farm them. And they’re of great interest to those who live in regions where wines are made from local grapes. For they are a celebration of local and regional culture. They usually make a fantastic marriage with the local food. For those visiting such regions, tourists, adventurers, and the curious who get to taste the wines when exported, such grapes open up new worlds.

For those really interested in wine, the best way to to learn about it is with an atlas, a reference book of grape varieties, some basic tasting skills, an open mind and some curiosity for the cultural context of the wine.

Indigenous grapes are usually those best adapted to the given terroir, the soil and climate. They will have been tried and tested over hundreds of years prior to the arrival of international varieties and modern farming methods. Chardonnay or Merlot or Syrah might well grow just about anywhere. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. For the results are often excess fruit and alcohol, considered a good thing only by those looking for quantity not quality – or excess fruit and alcohol.

The key to the success of wines made from indigenous grapes is the intention and competence of the winemaker. To grow the grapes sustainably, caring for the soils, and making the wine as naturally as possible, eschewing chemicals, additives and processes that will manipulate and mask nature. Cooperatives and large Brands are rarely going to treat the grapes with the respect necessary to reveal the quality inherent because of the production methods they use.

This year we’ve talked a lot about Beaujolais. Gamay is the sole, native grape of this region. Every time we drink good Beaujolais, and there are many, we marvel at the combination of finesse, fruit purity, balance and pleasure. Gamay may be the ultimate indigenous variety but all indigenous grapes tell a great story.



皮肉なことですがアペラシオンのルールが土着品種でなく新しい品種を取り入れているところもあります。 土着品種により伝統的に造られたワインがこれによりアペラシオンを名乗れずにVDFやIGPなどになっていることもあります。
まだ4年前の話ですがロバート・パーカーは2014年に、土着の品種で造られるワインはブドウ栽培を考えても、消費的にも”godforsaken (滅びた)品種”からできるワインと投稿しけなしました。さらにこれらが注目を浴びることは決してないと。。トゥルソーやサヴァニャン、などを具体的に挙げていました。


もちろん国際品種を否定しているのではなく、本来あるべき場所にあるものを見るべきではないか、、と思うのです。 我々日本人はヨーロッパの文化をあまり知りません。 (母国の文化すら危ういですが)ワインに関しても残念ながらパーカー標準以降が我々の知識の基準であると思います。 多くの日本のレストランでは未だにシャルドネ、ソーヴィニヨンブラン、カベルネ、ピノノワール、など白、赤4品種づつくらいに分けられたワインリストを多く見ます。 それ以外はその他。。として括られているイタリアとスペインのみ。。