Also known as Fer and Pinec, this dark-skinned grape is generally used for medium and full bodied red wines with strong tannins. Braucol has strong concentrated fruit flavours, including fig and redcurrant, and a deep ruby red colour. It is thought to come from Spain’s Basque region originally, although it has been in southwest France for hundreds of years.
Braucol is most commonly known for its inclusion in Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée wines of Gaillac, Marcillac and Béarn. Along with Duras and Syrah, it makes up an important part of Gaillac wines.
One trait of this variety of vine is its extremely hard wood stock, which is often credited with giving the grape its most common synonym, “Fer”, French for “iron”. However, others dispute this – arguing that the name comes instead from the Latin ferus, meaning feral.
The dark skinned Carménère grape is a native of Bordeaux, but is often associated with Chile, thanks to a strange fluke of history. Before the 19th century outbreak of phylloxera, Chilean growers took cuttings of what they thought was Merlot, and planted them in their country. It wasn’t until 1994 that DNA tests told the world the variety’s real heritage. Wines made from Carménère are, at their best, fine, full bodied and deeply-coloured. They have a slight herbaceousness and a granite minerality. Like Merlot, it has flavours of red and black berries. While Carménère is now primarily associated with Chile, it is thought to have been prevalent in Médoc in the early 18th century.
Clairette is a light coloured grape from southern France, known for producing full bodied wines with low acidity and high alcohol concentration. It is permitted in numerous appellations, including southern Rhône, Provence and Languedoc. Clairette is one of 13 grapes used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is the most commonly used white variety, and is also used in red blends. Used as a varietal wine, it most commonly comes in sparkling form. The name comes from the French for “light one” and is not to be confused with Ugni Blanc or Bourboulenc, which are also sometimes known as Clairette.
This black-skinned grape is known for its low yields and late ripening, making it a grape to be grown for its quality rather than quantity. It is most commonly used in blending red and rosé wines in southern France, especially Languedoc, Provence and Rhône. Its high level of acidity is its main appeal in blending, resulting in crisp rosés and the opening up of flavours and aromas in younger wines. It also introduces peppery and spicy notes, with stone fruit, strawberry and raspberry aromas. Its low levels of tannins and light colour mean it is seldom used for varietal wines, although this is increasingly common in Californian vineyards.
These days, Ondenc is found nearly exclusively in Gaillac, where it is known for making full bodied white wine with high acidity. However, it was historically far more prevalent, being widely used across the Loire Valley and Bordeaux to make dry, sparkling and sweet wines, as well as in Armagnac and Cognac. Due to the difficulties often encountered when growing the vines – namely, a susceptibility to rot and its low yields – it was generally left without being replanted following the phylloxera outbreak of the mid-19th Century. However, Ondenc is a survivor, largely thanks to those committed winemakers who have made it their mission to preserve the variety, and is today known for its fresh citrus and melon flavours. Growers are able to harvest the grape late in season, and it is also suitable for long term aging. The name Ondenc most likely comes from the town Ondes, which is situated between Toulouse and Fronton, where it still grows today. The grape was also exported to Australia, where it is known as Sercial in the south and as Irvine’s White in Victoria, and was only identified there as Ondenc in 1976.
Orbois/ Menu Pineau
This rare white grape variety is used largely for softening the acidity of other grapes, such as Chenin Blanc, Savagnin and Romorantin. It is thought to be native to Loire Valley (and has no relation to the Arbois appellation in Jura). Arbois is a sturdy vine that can easily produce high yields, and therefore a simpler flavour, if not carefully controlled.
Often known simply as Béclan outside Jura, this black grape is nearly extinct, with just one hectare known to exist in France. The first record of its existence is a 1732 document from the Besançon parliament that decrees the grape was to be kept as it was one of “the only good varieties”. The grape produces lively wine with a moderate level of alcohol, which can be blended or varietal. It ripens mid-season, and its tiny grapes grow in small, tightly packed bunches. Petit Béclan is known as such in Jura to differentiate it from Gros Béclan, which is a synonym for a different variety, Peloursin. It is thought that the name Béclan comes from the local word for climbing vine, beclé.
Pinot d’Aunis, also known as Pineau d’Aunis and Chenin Noir, is from neither the Pinot nor the Chenin families, but is rather its own unique variety. This French red variety is very rare, with only 431 hectares planted across the whole of France in 2000. It is mainly grown in the Loire region, especially in Anjou and Touraine, but has for some time been replaced with the more profitable Cabernet Franc in many vineyards. There are, however, a few producers still committed to using it to provide hints of pepper and fruit to rosé and red blends. It was once far more popular – so much so that King Henry III of England ordered barrels of it to be imported in 1246. The wines made from Pinot d’Aunis are often light, low in alcohol and complex.
Sylvaner was once the leading grape in Alsace as well as in Germany (where it is known as Silvaner). In the early 20th century it was the most popular grape in Germany, where it is now a distant fifth (and third most planted white, behind Riesling and Müller Thurgau). Some 1,000 hectares currently grow in Alsace, where it is now the tenth most planted vine, but was nevertheless included in Alsace Grand Cru (although only in the Zotzenberg vineyard) in 2006. Sylvaner is naturally vigorous, and when grown in high yields often produces rather bland wine. However, when yields are controlled it can produce wines that are crisp, with a flinty minerality. Care has to be taken when grown, because it is susceptible to spring frosts, budding and ripening before grapes like Riesling, for example. It is also an excellent grape with which to express terroir, and has the potential to be aged considerably. The grape probably has a central European origin, and DNA research has uncovered that it is a cross between Savagnin and the now obscure Österreich Weiss.