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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Clairette - Côtes du Rhône, France

Hello everyone and welcome to what will almost certainly my final post of 2012.  This is my 117th post of the year, just barely surpassing last year's total of 112 posts, and I hope that people have found them interesting and informative.  I'd like to send 2012 off by taking a look at the Clairette grape, which I thought would be relatively easy to find a bottle of, but which turned out to be more difficult to track down than I had thought.  There were about 6,000 acres of Clairette planted in France as of 2009, but this number has been declining dramatically over the past half century.  Plantings stood at almost 35,000 acres in 1958, but they were down to around 7,500 acres by the 1990's.  It is also grown to a limited extent in Italy (where, oddly enough, it is permitted in the blend for Nuragus di Cagliari), Australia and South Africa with a few hundred acres under vine in each of those countries..

The reason for Clairette's recent decline can mostly be chalked up to changing fashions.  Clairette is a very low-acid grape that has a tendency to oxidize very easily.  There was a time when white wines were expected to be a little (or a lot) oxidized, and when those characteristics were prized by consumers and connoisseurs, Clairette was a much more popular grape.  Furthermore, these characteristics also made Clairette popular for the production of Vermouth, but as the popularity of that particular drink has declined, so has the popularity of Clairette.  In today's world, Clairette is typically used as a blending grape and it is often paired with higher acid grapes like Picpoul de Pinet or with Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and/or Marsanne.  Clairette usually contributes aromatic elements and softness to the final blend when it is used.  There are a handful of appellations where Clairette is required to be the dominant or the sole grape in the blend and nearly all of them have the word "Clairette" right in them for convenience.  Clairette de Die, Clairette de Bellegarde and Clairette de Languedoc are probably the most common, but there's also Coteaux de Die and, somewhat surprisingly, Crémant de Die, which is a sparkling wine made predominantly from Clairette grapes.

References to a grape called Clairette can be traced back to the 16th Century, but it isn't clear whether this is the same grape that we know as Clairette today.  Clairette means something like "light white," and could conceivably have referred to many different grape varies through the years.  There's a bit of confusion even today, as Ugni Blanc is sometimes known as Clairette Ronde in some parts of the Languedoc (though the two grapes are not related to one another).  The Erbaluce grape in Italy has a similar etymology, and this study done in 2001 found that the two grapes shared 50% of their alleles at the microsatellite loci investigated, but further testing has not been done to see whether the two grapes are really related to one another genetically or merely linguistically.  There is also some evidence that suggests that Clairette may be related to Airén and/or Roditis, but further study needs to be done to determine just what the relationship might be.

I searched for well over year for a varietal Clairette wine, but was unable to find one.  I eventually picked up a bottle of the 2011 Jean-Luc Colombo "Les Abeilles," which is 80% Clairette and 20% Roussane, from my friends over at Brookline Liquor Mart for around $14.  In the glass the wine was a pale silvery lemon color.  The nose was intense with aromas of peach, grapefruit, melon, white flowers and lime.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly low acidity.  There were flavors of grapefruit and pear along with a touch of grassy herbaceousness and a stony mineral finish.  The flavor profile was broad and fat with a little bit of bitter citrus pith on the finish as well.  The nose was really lovely, but the lack of acid kind of sunk this for me.  The grassy flavor reminded me of Sauvignon Blanc, but it lacked the energy and vitality that really nice Sauvignon Blanc based wines have.  If you're not really into high-acid white wines, then this is probably right up your alley, but if you're an acid freak like me, then you won't find very much to like here.

1 comment:

WineKnurd said...

Congratulations to Fringe Wine for 2 years and 200+ posts!

It is interesting that Clairette is used in the production of a sparking wine yet has low acidity; seems counterintuitive. perhaps the acidification from carbonation, along with the bubbles themselves, help to remove the "flatness".

Happy Holidays and New Years to all!