A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Valdiguié - California Style

Valdiguié suffered for many years from a case of mistaken identity. For a long time, growers in California were cultivating and selling what they believed to be a clone of the Gamay grape used in Beaujolais under the name "Napa Gamay," or sometimes just plain old "Gamay." In 1980, Pierre Galet, a French ampelographer, determined that what had been called Napa Gamay was actually Valdiguié. Genetic testing later confirmed Galet's diagnosis, though it took the US government another 19 years to ban the Napa Gamay moniker. Valdiguié grapes were still allowed in wines labeled "Gamay Beaujolais" produced in California until 2007. Valdiguié also has a host of synonyms in its home country of France: Valdiguer, Cahors (not to be confused with the region Cahors which makes wine from the Malbec grape), Gros Auxerrois, Jean-Pierrou at Sauzet, Quercy, and Noir de Chartres. Now it seems that Valdiguié, what little of it is produced, is finally flying under its own banner, in California at least.

Valdiguié has never been considered a noble grape variety. It was first commercially propagated in France in 1874, though its history prior to that is unclear. There are three conflicting accounts of Valdiguié's original cultivation all revolving around three different gentlemen with the last name Valdiguié. At one time it was a workhorse grape in Southwest France due to its high yields and resistance to powdery mildew. Overproduction was a problem, though, and the wines were not considered to be very good. Plantings in France have declined precipitously so that there is virtually no Valdiguié left. In 1958 there were over 4000 hectares devoted to Valdiguié, a number which shrunk to fewer than 300 hectares in 1988. I haven't seen any figures more recent than that, but most of what I've read indicates that it has probably dropped below that figure as well with the few lingering patches mostly located in Languedoc and Provence.

Valdiguié made its mark in the United States following the repeal of prohibition. It was popular with growers in the US for the same reasons it was popular with growers in France: high yields and disease resistance. There were over 6000 acres devoted to Valdiguié as late as the 1970s, but total plantings are currently estimated at lower than 1000 acres. Much of what is bottled as Valdiguié in California is vinified the same way that Gamay is vinified in Beaujolais. Carbonic maceration, the technique where whole grape clusters are fermented prior to crushing so that the fermentation happens within the grape skins, is the preferred process, producing wines that very closely mimic Beaujolais wines.

For a grape with such limited plantings, Valdiguié can be surprisingly easy to find. J. Lohr produces a varietal Valdiguié bottling called "Wildflower" which is readily available in many wine shops. They source their grapes from the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County, California. They actually only use carbonic maceration for about 20% of the crop with the rest vinified in the traditional method in stainless steel tanks. I picked up a bottle of their 2009 offering for around $10. The color was a bright, purply magenta color, though it didn't have a lot of saturation. On the nose there were aromas of cranberry sauce, tart cherries and raspberry jam. The wine was medium bodied, though it felt a little thin on the palate, with medium acidity and very light tannins. "Fresh red fruits" really encapsulates the flavor profile of this wine with light red cherry and cranberry flavors along with some fresh raspberry as well. It's a pretty simple wine, but it's also very enjoyable and easy to drink on its own, though it would be a great match for poultry and light pork dishes as well as some heavier fish. It would be a great wine to serve at Thanksgiving. It is definitely for fans of Beaujolais wines or any soft, fruity, juicy red wines. This is a wine to drink young, as it doesn't really have the structure to endure very much aging.

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