Grape experiences

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There’s endless enjoyment from the bottom of a wine glass, says expert wine merchant Sadie Wilkins – but make sure you keep an open mind.

One of the things I love about wine is the fact that each glass becomes an experience. There are so many variables that are tightrope walking in any given bottle that’s it’s hard not to feel excited or like there’s an opportunity to feel something new from the bottom of each glass.
So, I suppose the question I am posing is: can we ever truly suss out a single grape variety? There are so many factors at play, from climate and terroir to winemaking processes and blending; the easy (and, enthralling) answer is, simply, no. However, does this mean that we never know where we stand? To an extent, yes – but we can of course always fall back on tradition, long-standing terroir conditions and appellations to protect the typicity of a given region, right? Though, even in these contexts, we can’t account for climate change and the individual personality of a winemaker, which influences their unique style – they are human after all.

Do you take your Malbec French or Argentinian?
Let’s take Malbec for example; a grape which has risen to heady heights over the last 20 years, it is often a grape that customers feel confident in claiming as a variety they ‘know and love’. Interestingly though, we can often bet that 75% of the time when they say ‘I like Malbec’ that they mean they like Argentine Malbec, as the recent popularity is thanks to the South American revival.
Malbec from this region, most notably Mendoza, is incredibly different to a glass of Malbec (or ‘Cot’) from France – the country of origin. If it’s made in Argentina, you are going to have a warmer climate and grapes that ripen at a faster rate. Therefore, you can expect a very fruit-forward plummy style alongside a fuller body, which quite often has more in-your-face oak ageing than its French counterpart – which is still plummy in flavour, but has a drier, more subtle freshly-picked-from-the-hedgerow style. The same goes for many other wine grapes: a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for example offers a greener palate, with vibrant vine tomatoes, gooseberries and cut grass notes in comparison to a leaner, more mineral French take from the Loire.

Handy benchmarks
But what I’ve done here is rely on my previous experiences to create a ‘typical grape experience’, an expectation, in my mind. But wine is much more than that. We source wines at Vineyards that are both typical and unusual examples of a grape variety – but that’s where having a benchmark standard comes in handy. It gives you a point of comparison. The actual beauty of wine is being taken on a journey from a single sip – whether that be to a place of surprise or somewhere within your comfort zone.
So, is it ever worth pigeonholing a grape when there’s so much at play in each given vineyard? For us, an open mind is the best approach and is the thing that makes a career in wine so fun!

by Sadie Wilkins, Indie Wine Merchant Vineyards of Sherborne

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