by Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 25 July 2015

Fed up with your old favourites?  This week our tasters have been assessing a range of very quirky white grapes to find something suitable for serving as an alternative to your regular Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc this summer.  Here are ten of our favourite picks from our ‘lesser-known white grape’ tasting:


SMEDEREVKA RKACITELI 2013 (£7 Marks & Spencer)

Origin: Tikves, Republic of Macedonia

Alcohol: 12%
Rkaciteli is a fascinating ancient grape.  It originates from Georgia, but grows across the Balkans. This dry white hails from old wine growing region of Tikves in Republic of Macedonia: the Macedonians have always been great drinkers since the days of Alexander the Great.  This area is usually better known for its big reds, but the whites made from vines grown high in the cool mountain air, create very appley, light appealing summer whites with quince and stone fruit flavours, falls a bit short on the finish – but a quirky wine certainly.

MESTA ORGANIC OLD VINE AIREN 2014 (£8.00 bt reduced to £6.00 until 3rd August at Marks & Spencer)

Grape: Airen
Origin: Castile, Spain
Alcohol: 11.5%   
Note that this is an ‘old vine’ Airen.  There are a lot of very dull neutral Airens in Spain, but Bodegas Fontana with winemaker Tomas Buendia has carefully selected mature bush vines for this wine – which tend to give better fruit concentration.  This dry slightly oaked white shows hints of what this much maligned grape can taste of.  Floral with ripe orchard aromas, light bodied, fresh with a very moderate alcohol.

BLAU CEL 2014 (£9.50 Oddbins)

Grapes: 60% Xarello, 40% Macabeo
Origin: Tarragona, Spain
Alcohol: 13%

Winemaker Moises Virgili is a bit of a maverick.  After working his way around the world picking up tips in the cellars of South Africa and Chile, in 2010 he returned to his family vineyards.  He focuses on a huge number of different vine plots dotted around, in different aspects and directions.  In this wine, he blends two Spanish grapes Xarello and Macabeo, grapes which we normally find in a Cava blend.  This is an aromatic just off dry white – a still wine – but just imagine drinking a ‘still Cava’ – and this is what it is like.  Our tasters remarked that they found it refreshing, but slightly high in alcohol.

TERRAZZE DELLE LUNA NOSIOLA (£7.99 Aitken Wines, Dundee; Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry; Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan)

Grape: Nosiola
Origin: Trentino, Italy
Alcohol: 12%

Nosiola originated from the beautiful Alpine northern Trentino / Alto Adige region – its name is said to derive from ‘hazelnut’ (nocciola in Italian).  It does have an enticing nuttiness in flavour.  This old grape is used for both sweet Vin Santo and – here – for very characterful zesty whites with flavours of apricot, quince and fennel – like this fresh vibrant summer dry white with a light spritz on the tongue.

THE RUDE MECHANICALS ‘SUCK IT AND SEE’ FRIZZANTE 2014 Magpie Estate (£9.99 Vino Wines, Edinburgh; Wineraks, Aberdeen; Woodwinters; Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; Reuben’s Wine Store, Dunfermline)

Grapes in blend: 73% Muscat de Frontignac & 17% Gewurztraminer
Origin: Barossa Valley, Australia
Alcohol: 8%

This unusual collaboration between English winemerchant Noel Young and Rolf Binder of Magpie Estate was born from their passion for unusual Rhone varieties, which Binder is attempting to source down-under from old vineyards.  Don’t think I have ever had a blend of mature Frontignac with a touch of spicy Gewurztraminer.  This will appeal to those who enjoy light Moscato d’Asti or similar styles.  Imagine a honeyed frothy nectar infused fizz – not too cloying sweet – with a gentle alcohol level at 8%.  An intriguing summery quaffer.

LES CEPAGES OUBLIES 2012 (£8.75 Kirkness & Gorie, Orkney; St. Andrews Wine Company; Vino Wines, Edinburgh)

Grapes: 70% Gros Manseng & 30% Colombard
Origin: Gascony, France
Alcohol: 12.5%

I am a big fan of the Manseng grape, you find it in Jurancon, Bearn and across south west France.  Often blended with other grapes – here with Colombard – it can make entrancingly floral tropical fruit dry white with zippy fresh acidity.  Our tasters loved the pink grapefruit notes and the soft creamy palate.  A fun label too with handy screwcap access for those out on picnics.    STAR VALUE BUY

PICPOUL DE PINET PRESTIGE 2014 Château des Lauriers (£7.95 bt or £95.40 for 12 bts case www.fromvineyardsdirect.com)

Grape: Picpoul
Origin: Languedoc, Southern France
Alcohol: 13%

Known as the ‘lip-stinger’ grape, due to its vibrantly high sharp acid giving the wine freshness and bite, Picpoul is a perfect accompaniment to a seafood platter acting like a squeeze of lemon.  Hence its name, the Muscadet of the Languedoc.  This style suited those who preferred a lean crisp zippy aperitif dry white.

ASSYRTIKO SANTORINI 2013 Hatzidakis (£12.99 Waitrose)

Grape: Assyrtiko
Origin: Santorini, Greece
Alcohol: 13.5%

We are seeing more of this wonderful white Greek grape in the UK, which is great news as the ancient Assyrtiko grape has the best of everything you would want in a summer dry white.  Full of spicy flavours, adequate acidity, lovely minerally core and a delicious underlying herbiness.  This comes from my favourite winemaker on the volcanic island of Santorini, where the grape is very much a speciality.  Serve this zippy spicy white with grilled halloumi.

MALAGOUSIA 2014 Gerovassiliou (£13.94 www.thedrinkshop.com; £15.99 Inverarity One to One, Glasgow)

Grape: Malagousia
Origin: Macedonia, Greece
Alcohol: 13.5%

The ancient Malagousia grape was virtually extinct until winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou revived it up in vineyards in Epanomi in northern Greece in the 1970’s.  This wine comes from the oldest parcel in the vineyard produing a rich enchantingly citric dry white.  It might suit those who usually buy Chardonnay – this is partly oaked – and would match well with a rich chicken dish with feta salad or Asian cuisine.

CLOS BAGATELLE BLANC 2014 (£13.95 Vino Wines, Edinburgh)

Grapes: 60% Roussanne with 15% Grenache Blanc & 20% Carignan Blanc
Origin: Languedoc, Southern France
Alcohol: 13.5%

Roussanne is a little known, but superb quality Rhone grape which adds an extraordinary perfume to classic northern Rhone white wines..St Chinian appellation in the Languedoc is better known for its rustic reds, but this old chateau north of Beziers now run by Christine Deleuze and her brother Luc Simon makes stunning dry whites here from very old vines.  This dry white was very popular in our tasting with those who liked explosively aromatic textural styles with nutty almond flavours with a touch of oak.  Its subtle honeyed character make it suitable for serving with rich textured seafood dishes like monkfish or scallops.   STAR BUY


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