Cabernet Sauvignon. Shiraz. Chardonnay. What do these grapes have in common? Fame. These grapes are members of an exclusive group of 20 or so varieties that have spread throughout the world, and dominate our options when it comes to finished wine. Now, there is good reason for their success, but it does come at a cost.
There are estimated to be more than 10,000 unique grape varieties on our planet, so why do we have such a narrow field of these “celebrity” varieties. The short answer is: Money & Market Forces. When a grape becomes fashionable, demand increases and so does the price the farmer can charge for their grapes. Nothing happens overnight in the world of grape-growing, but a farmer will pay attention to these market forces, and if Cabernet Sauvignon turns out to be their most profitable crop, then it makes the most sense for them to rip up anything that is not that, and replace it with Cabernet. Over time, this has led to a degree of sameification (not a word, but I like it) of vineyards – as profit margins are squeezed, the more interesting grapes are the first ones to go.
In the New World, this is a shame, but really because it can just get a bit boring for a consumer. In the Old World though, its particularly tragic, as those vines that get ripped up are often living relics of a winemaking culture that has existed for thousands of years, and our thirst for international varieties is unintentionally damaging the exciting diversity of the world of wine
But it’s not all bad news! In recent years native grape varieties have seen a renewed interest, and the tide is shifting back towards the appreciation of the nuance that unique grape varieties provide. You, as a drinker, can help support this movement by drinking curiously, and being willing to step out of your comfort zone! Your reward - an entire different world of flavour and identity, and a deeper expression of terroir - one created by not just growing grapes in a place, but by the characteristics developed by raising countless generations of grapes in one place.
Here are a few bottles for you to try!