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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grolleau - Loire Valley, France

Grolleau is not a popular grape.  It is grown almost exclusively in the Loire Valley where it has few fans and a large number of very famous detractors.  In the Oxford Companion to Wine, the entry on Grolleau reads "it is to the benefit of wine drinkers that it is so systematically being replaced with Gamay and, more recently, Cabernet Franc."  Robert Parker has also bashed the grape, urging growers to replace all of their Grolleau vines with higher quality grapes like Gamay and Cabernet Franc.  As you may remember from my post on sparkling Gamay, Gamay isn't exactly a universally beloved grape itself so to see it held in such high esteem over the lowly Grolleau is cause for concern indeed.

The thing about Grolleau is that you have probably had the grape at some point but were unaware of it.  It is the main grape in the fairly common Rosé d'Anjou, which at one point in time accounted for over half of all production in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley.  It is permitted in a few other AOC rosé wines in the Loire Valley, but is not allowed in anything other than rosé wines.  The grape is thought so little of that the AOC does not allow red wine production from it at all, so Grolleau has ended up as one of the workhorse grapes for rosé wines, especially Rosé d'Anjou.  The popularity of Rosé d'Anjou has fallen off over the past few decades, though, and as a result of the lack of demand (and possibly of the pressure from high-powered wine critics), plantings of Grolleau have fallen substantially as well.

If nobody likes poor old Grolleau, then why grow it in the first place?  For starters, it's a reliably high-yielding vine, producing a large, steady crop which is a sure sign that growers are going to love it.  The name "Grolleau" comes from the French word grolle, which means crow, and when the berries are ripe, they can take on a very dark, almost black appearance which is thought to be reason for the name.  Though the skins can get very dark, they also tend to be fairly thin which means that it has problems in the vineyard and in the winery as it is susceptible to a large number of diseases and is unable to contribute a great deal of flavors since the thin skins lack the phenolic punch of thicker-skinned grapes.  It is thought to be related to Gouais Blanc, a seldom grown grape that is one of the parents of Chardonnay, Auxerrois, Gamay and a host of other grapes.

I was excited to come across a bottle of the 2010 Olivier Cousin "Le Cousin Rouge" at City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain for about $24.  The winemaker, Olivier Cousin, is a biodynamic farmer who has about 12 hectares of land under vine and who only uses indigenous yeasts for his wines.  He also submits many of them to extended skin contact to extract more color and flavor.  The grapes for this wine come from 30 year old vines that yield a paltry 30 hl/ha.  His total production for this particular wine is around 3,500 bottles.

In the glass, the wine was a deep purple-ruby color which was nearly opaque in the center.  The combination of the grape's naturally dark skins and an extended maceration period yielded a very dramatic result in this case.  The nose was nicely aromatic with brambly purple and black fruits like cherry and blackberry with more than a hinty of sweaty, leathery, barnyardy aromas.  This wine was powerfully earthy and funky with a touch of smoke in the background.  On the palate, the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and a touch of residual CO2.  There were purple fruit flavors, some black cherry, a bit of grape soda and a lot of sweaty, horsey funk.  The fruit is more subdued on the palate than on the nose and the finish comes up a little short.  In my notes, I have a description of the wine that reads "tastes like what might happen if you dipped a sweaty horse in a vat of Dornfelder or Beaujolais," and I stand by that assessment.  Your enjoyment of this wine will line up almost exactly with your tolerance for and enjoyment of funky secondary flavor and aroma characteristics.  If you like your wine squeaky clean, steer clear of this as it has nothing that you're looking for.  If you love the smell of a horse barn on a screaming hot day, then you may have just discovered your vinous Nirvana.

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