Getting caught up in the swirl of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, cabernet, merlot, pinot noir swirl is easy. That’s the heart, soul, bone and sinew of all the wine lists out there. So, let’s blame restaurateurs for the malaise of wine sameness out there.
But wait a minute. Restaurants wouldn’t offer the same tired wine varieties if we didn’t buy them. So, let’s blame ourselves for lacking a sense of adventure and not demanding a wider variety of varieties.
We could blame the media for constantly focusing on the usual suspects. I’ll have to plead the fifth on that one.
But wait another minute. Let’s not bicker and argue about who offers this wine or what customer orders that wine. Let’s get to the heart of the problem: There are a lot of wine grapes out there.
What exactly do I mean by “a lot”? Bear with me for a second.
A colleague of mine recently introduced me to The Wine Century Club. The club was started five years ago by Steve and Deborah De Long. The De Longs (she’s a designer born in England, he’s an architect raised Oregon’s wine country) both love the many faces of wine. For fun and profit, they designed and published the De Long’s Wine Grape Varietal Table, a poster featuring 184 wine grapes fashioned to look like the periodic table of elements (www.delongwine.com). They have since produced a number of easy-to-use wine reference materials.
Somewhere during the development of the Wine Grape Varietal Table, they came up with the idea for The Wine Century Club. If you have tasted wines made from 100 different grapes during your time on the planet, you’re in. Using the honor system, you list the types of grapes you’ve had, send them the list and they send you a cool membership certificate. Members can buy the club’s nifty, silver-plated tastevin for $24.95.
Always looking for creative ways to waste time, I headed to www.winecentury.com to fill out the application. When I got there, I found out that there are nearly 800 members worldwide and 13 local chapters in three countries. I also found that there are folks who’ve tried 200 (doppel members), 300 (treble members) and 400 (quattro members) different varieties of wine.
There are 400 varieties of wine? Yes, indeed. Quite a lot more, in fact. In 2009, Century Club member Thomas Mercer-Hursh set out to figure out just how many types of wine grapes there are. This is not an easy task. Grapes have different names (sometimes multiple names) depending in which country the vineyard is located and there are many, many hybrids and crossed varieties of grapes.
In what I believe must have been an exhaustive and exhausting search, Mercer-Hursh came up with 57,288 grape names, which he distilled down 9,235 unique grape varieties. Mercer-Hursh describes in detail his research on www.a-muse-in-the-cellar.com.
Using Mercer-Hursh’s list I counted 163 different varieties that I either have notes on or I can specifically recall tasting. My certificate is in the mail.
“Sure, Gil, it’s easy for you to join The Century Club. You are an old and wise wine seeker-adventurer,” you might be saying. Well, it’s really not that hard if you have half a mind, which I qualify for, to expand your wine horizons. On the very day I was going through Mercer-Hursh’s very long list of wine grapes, I met a colleague at Soho in Vinings, where I ordered a Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul de pinet is a white grape generally found in the warm regions in the South of France. The Hughes Beaulieu version of this lesser known grape was refreshing and delicious.
On my way home from the meeting, I swerved into Cakes & Ale in Decatur for an impromptu dinner sans family. Bantering with expert mixologist, Corina Darold, we agreed that I should have a rosé of zweigelt with my whole-roasted North Carolina trout with pea shoots and baby mustard greens. Having traveled in Austria (home to this crossed grape) and southern Germany, I’ve had a few zweigelts, but never a pink version (Tegernseerof from Austria). Six words: Yummy and perfect with the trout. Just because it was a rosé, it unfortunately doesn’t count as a different variety for purposes of club membership.
You see it’s not our fault or the fault of restaurants that we are chard/cab crazy. It’s easy these days to be an intrepid, bold wine lover; and there are plenty of helpful retailers out there who are happy to assist you in finding that next grape.