Recently I wrote about three white grapes I think you should try and I realise while doing so I was sipping a glass of red. In much the same vein, in my capacity as buyer for Novel Wines, I come across lots of weird and wonderful wines. So in the spirit of sharing the best bits, here’s three delightful red grapes you should give a go:
I first discovered Nerello Mascalese when I tasted the Calmarossa Etna Rosso 2014 from Santa Maria La Nave, a boutique winery located in Mt Etna, Sicily. One of the best descriptions of this grape comes from Jancis Robinson: “Nerello Mascalese […] retains its acidity well and is responsible for some dense and haunting reds on the slopes of Mount Etna”. I love that: haunting. These reds are certainly amongst the most memorable I’ve had.
It’s a dark-skinned grape that takes to volcanic soils well – handy given its home is Etna. Volcanic soils add a lively element to the wines, which are full of plum and a savoury, earthy note. They are complex but tangy with freshness, leading to an aftertaste that seems to go on and on.
I’ve always been a fan of Italian wines since I fell into the wine trade, but there’s something about Nerello Mascalese wines that pitch them above a fond reminder of one of my favourite wine regions.
Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch, Frankovka, so on)
The most planted grape in central and eastern Europe is starting to gain traction in the UK. Last year, Wines of Hungary hosted an acclaimed event in London called “Blue of the Danube”, featuring producers of Kekfrankos from across Europe.
Kekfrankos is, like Chardonnay, immensely versatile. It produces wines that can be light with pops of sour cherry and gentle tannins, through medium-bodied wines with grippy tannin, mouth-watering summer berries and lashings of dark cocoa, to the full-bodied, oak mature reds that brim with prune, sweet vanilla, smoke and a cranberry-like acidity.
Terroir and winemaker are the key to the variety on offer, but it’s credit to the grape that its fruit is not lost in the big styles and not too simple in the lighter style. The wines are often peppery, always lively, and if you’ve not tried one before, start with Kekfrankos from Szekszard, Hungary, or a Frankovka from Slavonia, Croatia.
I remember first tasting Areni Noir at the London Wine Fair in 2017. It’s a largely unknown grape variety, unless you’re from Armenia, where it’s quickly becoming the country’s most-promising vino export.
Areni is extremely disease resistant and its thick black skins make it the perfect variety for growing in regions with a large diurnal temperature variation (where daytime can be as high as 40°C before rapidly dropping below 20°C at dusk). These thick skins also contribute to notes of cassis, spice and berries on the palate, adding an astringent tannin that softens overtime to juicy notes of black cherry and mulberry.
The wines are often medium-bodied, which makes them similar to Dornfelder or new world Pinot Noir, by which I mean it looks dark and deep in the glass but is surprisingly fresh and restrained on the palate.
Although Areni is fairly unknown on the export market, it’s so prised in Armenia that some of the vines have been cared for into their 120+ years and are mostly hand-picked. This means the wines are expensive. Nonetheless, not as much so as big names in Burgundy or Bordeaux, so if you’re after a treat you can try an exceptional Areni for around £20-£30. It will definitely be worth your while.