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 13, 2013

Weird Blend Wednesday - Araignan Blanc, Riveirenc Gris, Riveirenc Blanc & Grenache Gris, Cotes du Brian, France

Araignan Blanc grapes
(aka Picardan)
It has been several months since I last did a Weird Blend Wednesday post, which is entirely too long, so today I'd like to dust the old feature off and talk a bit about a really interesting white wine I tried a few months ago from the Cotes du Brian region of the Languedoc in southern France.  Back in August of last year, I wrote about a red wine from Clos Centeilles which was made from Picpoul Noir, Riveirenc Noir, Morastel Noir à Jus Blanc and Œillade grapes, all of which are pretty rare and very unusual.  Clos Centeilles also makes a white wine made from a handful of local heirloom varieties, and today I'd like to take a look at some of those grapes and the wine that is made from them.
The Clos Centeilles "C" blanc is made from 35% Araignan Blanc, 30% Riveirenc Blanc, 30% Riveirenc Gris and 5% Grenache Gris*.  Since we've already covered Grenache Gris, I'll mainly be focusing on the other three grapes that make up 95% of this particular wine.

Riveirenc Blanc
Araignan Blanc (pictured above) is perhaps the most well known of the bunch, but most people know it as Picardan, and it is one of the 18 approved varieties in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC of the southern Rhone Valley.  It is a very old grape variety and the first mention of it in print can be traced back to 1544 AD.  It shares some synonyms with Bourboulenc and Clairette, though it doesn't appear that it is related to either of those grapes.  The name Picardan is thought to come from a combination of the French words piquer (to sting, as in Picpoul de Pinet) and ardent (burning) because of its high acid content.  The grape's primary synonym of Araignan was first mentioned in print in 1715, and is thought to come from the word araignée, or spider, because of the small hairs on the underside of the leaves which resemble spider's silk.  There are currently only about 1.2 acres (less than a hectare) of Picardan in all of France and though a little bit finds its way into some Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends (like Chateau Beaucastel), chances are pretty good that this particular bottling has the highest percentage of Picardan of any wine in the world.

Riveirenc Gris
Riveirenc Blanc and Gris are color mutations of Riveirenc Noir, which we took a brief look at in my post on the red wine from Clos Centeilles.  This group of grapes is more commonly known as Rivairenc or Aspiran, though very little acreage is devoted to any of the three varieties in France or elsewhere.  The Noir is the most common of the three and it is thought that the grape may be referenced as early as the 15th Century under the name Esperan, but it is difficult to say for certain.  The French registry of grape varieties spells the name of the grape Rivairenc and this is how it is listed in Wine Grapes, but the producer uses the Riveirenc spelling so that's what I've used as well.  The name Rivairenc is thought to come from from the word ribairenc, which in the Occitan dialect means "riparian," or having to do with river banks, possibly because the vines were discovered on a river bank or because they grow particularly well there.  Vouillamoz reports in Wine Grapes that his personal research indicates that there may be a parent/offspring relationship between Rivairenc and Cinsaut, but more markers need to be tested and since the third member of the family has not yet been identified, it is impossible to say what the precise nature of the relationship between the two grapes is.  I cannot find any planting statistics for Rivairenc Blanc or Gris, so there is also a really good chance that the 30% of each in this particular wine is the highest proportion you're likely to find anywhere.

I picked up the 2009* Close Centeilles "C" Blanc from my friends at Curtis Liquors for around $20.  This wine is a vin de pays from the Cotes du Brian, which I believe is in the area around Minervois in the Languedoc.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of green apple, apple cider, Meyer lemon, pastry dough, pineapple and melon.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity.  There were broad, creamy flavors of pear, red apple, Meyer lemon creme and a touch of apple cider.  This wine is fermented on its lees before being drawn off the heavier lees into a neutral container.  It is stirred weekly for several months before being bottled for release and this stirring and lees contact definitely gives it a rich, creamy mouth-feel, though it does sharpen up a bit as it approaches room temperature.  Rosemary George reviewed this wine on her website in 2010 and remarked that it is "not a wine to age," and I agree with her assessment, having tasted the wine about a year and a half after she did.  It was an enjoyable wine, but I thought it was probably more interesting than good and much preferred the red from this estate.  It is a rare opportunity to try grapes that you may otherwise never taste, though, and is good enough that I wouldn't consider it a mere curiosity.

*These figures are for the 2007 vintage.  The winery website does not offer any more up-to-date information than this.

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