I had danced around the idea of putting in some vines on my parents’ property for a few years. I thought, speculated, hypothesized, asked questions and looked around to determine what would actually do well in that site.
It was my friendship with Jeff Miller – and his not having a use for the 75 Aglianico benchgrafts he’d already bought – that led to my current enthusiasm for the three varieties with which I now work: Fiano, Montepulciano and Aglianico.
Jeff recently returned from Israel where, among other things, he tasted a good amount of the local wines. From our conversation after his return; it seems that, while Israeli wine regions have placed most of their bets on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and some Syrah and other “international” varieties, the wines made from these grapes are innocuous at best. Their distinction is that, when clean, they are indistinct, generic and lack varietal character (with the possible exception of Merlot, says Jeff).
These grapes are grown and turned into wine because over the past half-century, as the brand equity of wines shifted from region of production to their grape composition, there rose to the forefront a small number of varieties, with Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay making up the “holy trinity” of “It” varieties.
So, as consumers sought out those varietal wines, anybody who wanted to be anybody in the wine biz planted them to meet demand, regardless of how crappy the resulting wines were.
All the while, growers in all parts of the world were cultivating and experimenting with obscure varieties. Some blended these varieties into jug wines, some put them into proprietary, estate filed blends, others used them to bolster the wines labeled with one of the desirable varieties – if only to make a better wine and not a better Cabernet Sauvignon. So, these vines, probably much better suited to the particular locations than the Cabs and Merlots they supported, persisted in near total anonymity.
As the curiosities of consumers and producers begin to extend beyond the “holy trinity”, there is new attention being paid to these obscure varieties. Sometimes, it is with the hopes of creating a new, “hot” trend. At other times, it’s just about doing something different and reveling in a bit of wine geekness.
It is out of a sense of solidarity with the producers of these three varieties that I created “affinity and advocacy” sites devoted to the North American incarnation of these wines: EnjoyFiano.com, EnjoyMontepulciano.com and EnjoyAglianico.com.
These sites are intended to connect passionate North American growers and winemakers with wine enthusiasts who may or may not be familiar with these special varieties. They currently are pretty bare-bones, dry and without much personality. I have never been a fan of dressing up an idea or a product in gimmicks schtick to make it more widely accepted or adapted. Nevertheless, the point of these sites is to get wine lovers consumers connected with the people who make these wines. It is to them that I will defer any stylistic direction.
In the process, I hope that wine lovers will learn about these varieties, find examples that suit their preferences and use the sites to share their experiences, impressions and finds. The producers and growers of these three varieties can utilize these sites as platforms to expose their wines to a wide audience, share share news about their wines and showcase accolades and reviews of their wines.
Anyone wishing to be added to these sites, exchange an appropriate and relevant link or interested in organizing a more formal, advocacy, group of producers may contact: