Friday, June 7, 2013

Greco: A Noble Choice



Greco grapes in vineyard in Italy.

Walk into any wine store and ask for a bottle of Chardonnay, or Cabernet, or Pinot, and you will get a variety of choices, with offerings from many different countries. But ask for a bottle of Greco, you just might get a blank stare. That’s too bad, because Greco, my latest discovery, is an Italian white wine that should not be missed. 

But before looking deeper at Greco, let’s look at “international varietals” and “noble grapes.”

Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir are grape varietals. They are three of 13 International Varietals, which are those grapes that we’ve all heard of as their names are likely to appear on wine labels. These grapes have been successfully grown and vinified in many places other than their original homeland. Chardonnay, for example, is a white International grape varietal, whose origins can be traced back to Burgundy, France, but is now successfully grown in such far-flung places as California, South Africa, South America, and New Zealand. The other white International varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy) Viognier, and Muscat. International red grape varietals include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (known as Shiraz in Australia), Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain), Sangiovese, and Tempranillo.

The term Noble Grape has been applied to those grapes that make what are considered the highest quality wines. Traditionally, the term has been attached to just six of these varietals — Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot — all of which, coincidentally, are grown in France. Since the wine industry is now recognized as more than French, however, this term is used to describe many other types of grapes in different geographies.

The 13 International grape varietals have become so widespread and popular that they often overshadow – and literally overtake production of – the hundreds of other indigenous grapes being used for wine production worldwide. Some of these lesser-known varietals make up a small percentage of blended wines, others are only well known in their country of origin (vine origin is often debated), and still others are only grown where their very specific growing conditions allow.

Greco Bianco was introduced to me as “an up-and-coming white grape varietal” at the “Vino California Grand Tasting” (http://www.vino-california.com/) in May. Grown in Southern Italy (Campania and Calabria) and considered a Noble Grape there, it is believed to originate in Greece, hence its name. It has a floral aromatic quality which I find similar to one of my favorite international varietals, Viognier.  Greco Bianco offers so much more depth and character than the ubiquitous Italian white import, Pinot Grigio. Although extremely popular in the US market, Pinot Grigio is not so popular in Italy. Maybe the Italians have been holding out on us?

The two Greco wines I sampled are:

La Guardiense Greco Sannio (http://www.laguardiense.it/?lang=en#).  This has a floral, aromatic nose, and a light, refreshing body, making it a nice wine for pairing with light appetizers, salads, and shellfish.  It has an average US price of $9. Great  … if you can find it. I searched the Internet for a US retailer, and found just one. 

Statti Greco Calabria (http://www.statti.com/en/vini/index.php).  This has similar floral aromatics to La Guardiense, and seems to be more widely distributed in the US, just not at my local stores. You may have more luck finding it locally. Prices ranged from $11 to $18. 

A more available version of this varietal is called Greco di Tufo, which comes from the village of Tufo in Campania, Italy. Names you may find on wine store shelves include Feudi di San Gregorio, Terredora, La Cicogna, and Benito Ferrara, and prices range from $18 to $28. An Internet search brought up several options. 

I talked to my local merchant, The Los Angeles Wine Company (http://www.lawineco.com/), about Greco, and, although he had none in stock, he listened and informed me he will likely get some cases soon (so it pays to ask!).

Finally, don’t confuse Greco Bianco, which is white, with Greco Nero, which is red. The latter is more widely planted, mainly around Calabria, Italy, and it is often blended with another red varietal called Galioppo.

So try something new, explore a little, and expand your wine horizons. 

Until next time, cheers!

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