Four grape varieties thriving in unexpected places

From Pinot Noir in California to Chardonnay in Italy – grapes growing well in new homes

This week I am looking at four well-known grape varieties that have found happy new homes in other parts of the world. A couple of the wines featured  are a little off the beaten track, but believe me it is worth making that detour.

It is only recently that producers around the world have mastered Pinot Noir. In California, Carneros and Russian River were once the sole two regions with a reputation for quality Pinot. Now, cooler coastal vineyards north and south of San Francisco are producing some mouth-watering wines, sadly often at prices that bring a tear to the eye.

Critics argue that the Sonoma Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), the US equivalent of Appellation Contrôlée, is far too big. Real Sonoma Coast wines typically come from vineyards found close to the beautiful rugged, foggy Pacific shoreline. Here, the cool climate produces wines of great delicacy and purity. The Failla Pinot I give tasting notes for here is very reasonably priced in context and produced by one of the pioneers in this area. Look out too for wines from Anthill and Hirsch.

In contrast to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay has been successfully transported from Burgundy to virtually every wine-producing country in the world, decades ago. Producers love Chardonnay because it gives decent yields and ripens early. The wines usually have attractive broad fruits and good acidity that appeals to consumers. Winemakers get the opportunity to play a little with techniques such as lees-stirring, oak ageing and malolactic fermentation. The wonderful Italian Chardonnay I highlight here is from a small grower in Collio on the border with Slovenia. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it has a mix of nationalities. At the moment it is part of Italy, although many inhabitants speak Slovenian. This very beautiful area produces some excellent white wines.


If you want to tease the wine anorak in your life, ask them where the Côte Roannaise is. Sometimes called the lost cru of Beaujolais, it is technically part of the Loire Valley. Yet it is a mere 50km west of Morgon, one of the finest Beaujolais Crus. The soils here are granite, as in the Beaujolais Crus, and the grape variety is Gamay St Romain, apparently a clone of Gamay as used in Beaujolais. I can vaguely remember coming across it before, but never a wine as good as this.

Like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon has adapted easily to most wine regions, including Chile, where it has been grown since the 1850s. Some 25 years ago, pioneering producer Aurelio Montes planted the first vines in the Colchagua Valley. This is a perfect example of how Cabernet has been adapted to suit local conditions and tastes. In Bordeaux they would blend it with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and possibly Petit Verdot; here the mix includes 15 per cent Syrah and 15 per cent Carmenère.

Mont Gras 25th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Colchagua Valley
14%, €12.95 down from €16.95
Rich ripe red fruits and cassis overlaid with spice and a soft rounded finish. The perfect partner for roast or grilled beef and lamb.
From O'Briens,

Eclat de Granite 2018, Côte Roannaise, Domaine Sérol (Organic)
12%, €23-24
Wonderful ethereal floral aromas, beguiling soft ripe dark fruits, fresh and vibrant with an earthy touch. At home, we fought over the last drop. Great with white meats. 
From Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure Road North, Dublin 6,; Sweeneys D3, 117 Phillipsburg Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3,; Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rockhill, Blackrock, Co Dublin,; 64wine, 64 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin,

Borgo del Tiglio Chardonnay 2015, Collio 
13.5%, €43.50
This is one the finest Chardonnays I have tasted in a while. Developing rich soft fruits with a honeyed touch, all kept in check by a firm backbone of acidity. Impeccably balanced. We enjoyed our bottle with salmon baked in parchment with fresh herbs, butter and lemon.
From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co. Meath, Galway,;

Failla Pinot Noir 2018, Sonoma Coast, US
13.5%, €45
A very seductive ripe Pinot with elegant sweet dark cherry fruits and cassis. Smooth and rounded, this slips down all too easily. Light enough to drink alongside salmon or tuna, but rich enough to match with grilled chicken or duck.
From Whelehan's Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin,