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In Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine, Jason Wilson takes readers along a journey to learn more about the lesser known of the 1,368 known wine grape varieties. Wilson shares his personal experiences as his quest to learn more about these grapes and wines takes him to Switzerland, Austria, Northern Italy, Portugal, and even southern New Jersey.
So why pursue Godforsaken Grapes? Highly Influential wine writer Robert Parker once ranted about wines made from lesser-known grapes, such as Trousseau, Savagnin, and Peloursin, labeling them godforsaken grapes. He declared that the wines made from obscure grapes were rarely very good and those that were advocating for them were snobs. Wilson knew this to be untrue, and in a way turned it into a mission to learn more about these grapes, their wines, and the stories behind them. The world of wine does not need to completely revolve around the Noble grapes, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and we don’t need wine critics telling us what were supposed to like! And where does the 1,368 number come from? That’s the number of wine grape varieties listed in Wine Grapes: A complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavors.
Wilson begins his journey by recalling a dinner of all things raclette cheese at a Swiss villa while enjoying a wine made from a grape native to the area called Humagne Blanche. Wilson next takes us to Bordeaux and the Piedmont region of Italy. His adventures continue as a series of whirlwind trips throughout Europe, including Montefalco, Italy (Sagrantino!), the French Alps, Austria, Portugal, and southwestern France (Tannat!). Just reading about these trips is dizzying and captivating at the same time. Wilson also digs deep into the historical significance of these wines, their importance to the culture of their origins, and the people that have dedicated their lives to these wines. Wilson’s writing makes it easy for readers to imagine being there in person. He also brings insight into the business of wines, what sells and what typically scares away consumers, and how chasing fads sometimes works and often falls flat. The book concludes with Appendix: Gazetteer of Godforsaken Grape, a well thought out appendix of 101 rare grapes referenced in the book. I did find myself counting how many of these grapes I’ve had as Texas wines, seven if I counted correctly.
While bouncing around Europe enjoying fantastic wine and food in scenic locals sounds wonderful, it was Wilson’s trip to The Outer Coastal Planes of southern New Jersey that made me connect to Godforsaken Grapes. It was here Wilson experienced Heritage Vineyards wines made from Semillon and Petit Verdot. What drew in Wilson was the less popular Bordeaux varieties, but the revelation was seeing how Heritage was using these varieties in their own way. They stepped away from the call to make copies of typical Bordeaux-style blends, and embraced what these grapes can do on their terroir. In the end this has led them to make better wines they can truly call their own. I think in a way this is what we’re experiencing in Texas right now. We’ve stepped back from trying to make our Cabernets taste like California Cabernets. We’ve embraced varieties like Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. We’re experimenting with everything from obscure Rhône varieties to the new Andy Walker varieties, all done to make better wine while further defining what Texas wine means.
Title: Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine
Arthur: Jason Wilson
Publisher: Abrams Press
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
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