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, February 22, 2012

Terret (Gris or Blanc) - Vin de Pays d'Oc (Languedoc), France

Weird Blend Wednesday is only a few weeks old but I am already in a position where I need to put it off for a week or two.  The post I was planning to write actually will rely on two other posts that I haven't written yet so rather than jump the gun, I'm calling an audible and will be talking about an unusual, inexpensive little wine that I found while I was visiting my mother in South Carolina over the Christmas holidays.

While scouring the shelves in the local wine shop, I found this bottle that said it was made from the Terret grape.  Sounds simple enough, but things are never quite that easy around here.  Terret is actually a small family grapes, much like the Pinot family, with (at least) three members.  The Terret family has been around southern France for a long time and is marked by the frequency and ease with which it mutates.  The three main members of the family are differentiated by the color of the skin of the berries, but some authorities have reported that the grape is so genetically unstable, there are some vines that have all three berry colors within the same cluster.

There is the red-skinned Terret Noir, which is perhaps best known as one of the official Chateauneuf-du-Pape grapes.  In the early 19th Century it was very widely planted in southern France, but by 2007 total plantings throughout the country stood at under 200 hectares total.  There is also Terret Gris which, as you might expect, is the pink-skinned version of the grape.  Terret Gris is grown primarily in the Languedoc region of France and is officially allowed in the Corbières, Minervois and Coteaux du Languedoc AOCs.  By the numbers, Terret Gris is the most commonly planted member of the family, covering about 2,500 hectares, but those numbers (and most official registers and statistics), for whatever reason, lump both Terret Gris and Terret Blanc together.  Terret Blanc is the most unusual of the three and most sources indicate that it is a white-skinned mutation, meaning it is probably the newest member of the Terret family, though it isn't clear whether it mutated from the Noir or the Gris version.  The heyday for the light-berried members of the Terret family was the 1980's when, taken together, Terret Gris and Terret Blanc were the ninth most planted grape in France, covering almost 5,000 hectares of land.

We would all like to believe that quality revolutions are inherently good things, but they can leave some innocent bystanders in their wake.  The quality revolution going on now in the Languedoc has been very good for many of the winemakers and for many consumers as wines from this region are increasingly sought after both for their high quality and their relatively affordable prices.  This revolution started to happen when producers in the Languedoc began to pull up high-volume, low-quality vines and replace them with the international varieties that are well known to virtually all wine consumers.  Vines like Terret, which are capable of making very interesting wines, are now also being pulled up and replaced with the recognizable international varieties to meet the new demand for wines from this region.  The problem with Terret isn't that it makes bad wines.  No, the problem with Terret is that it is called Terret and, like it not, most consumers are only interested in buying wines made from grapes that they have heard of.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay based wines will almost always outsell wines made from grapes like Terret, but, hopefully, there will also be some producers who are dedicated to preserving these unusual little vinous outposts for the more adventurous among us as well.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2010 Marc Roman Terret for the paltry sum of $7.  As this post from another blog tells us, this wine was bottled by the Cellier Jean d’Alibert, a cooperative located in the Minervois region of the Languedoc.  There is no indication given as to whether the wine itself is made from Terret Gris or Terret Blanc, though if I were a gambling man, I'd put money on Terret Gris.  Given the large amount of space dedicated to his name on the label for this wine, you might be inclined to wonder just who Marc Roman is.  Frankly, I have no idea.  The importer's website says: "Marc Roman is the 'nickname' of our winemaker who lives among the vineyards of Southern France near Montpellier. 'Roman' hails to the Roman history of the vineyards in this part of France, still evident today in the many frescoes and ruins that can be found in the vineyards."  The Marc Roman "winery" or whatever it is only makes two wines: this white Terret and a red made from Malbec grapes.

In the glass, this wine was a pale silvery gold color.  The nose was nicely aromatic with ripe pear and melon fruits.  It was pretty one-dimensional with the pear stealing the show, but that's somewhat understandable at this price point.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with medium acidity.  There were flavors of ripe pear, ripe apple, green melon and a touch of lemony citrus.  In my notebook I wrote "pears, pears & more pears," which lines up pretty well with my memory of the wine as well.  It represents a tremendous value at only $7 a bottle and will probably appeal most to fans of Pinot Grigio or other light, refreshing wines with a lot of up-front fruits.

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