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Meet the ‘new’ Bordeaux wine grapes

Do you know your Marselan from your Castets? Six 'new' grape varieties have now been approved for use in Bordeaux wines and the first plantings are expected in 2021.

Six new grape varieties chosen to help Bordeaux wine producers adapt to climate change have been approved by France’s national appellation body, INAO.

Bordeaux’s wine council, the CIVB, announced the news in January 2021 and said the first plantings were expected this year.

There are four new red varieties – Touriga Nacional, Marselan, Castets, Arinarnoa – and two white grapes, Alvarinho and Liliorila. A seventh proposed variety, Petit Manseng, didn’t make the final list.

Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur producers applied to use the varieties in 2019, for their potential to mitigate the impact of climate change without diluting the identity of Bordeaux wines.

Potentially useful characteristics among the grapes listed below include naturally high acidity, structure or strong aromatics, as well as good resistance against specific vine diseases, from mildew to grey rot.

The varieties below could only collectively make up 5% of a producer’s vineyard area and 10% of the final blend, said the CIVB this week.

New red Bordeaux grapes

Marselan

What is it? A crossing between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir.

Why it could be useful: Marselan ‘follows a classic harvest date pattern for the Bordeaux vineyard’ and is pretty good at resisting grey rot and mildew, according to the Bordeaux appellation & Supérieur union. Its small berries can make richly coloured, full-bodied wines with supple tannins.

Did you know? Marselan features in the new Chinese wine from the owner of Lafite RothschildIt can also be used in Côtes du Rhône wines, at up to 10% of the final blend.

Touriga Nacional

What is it? A late ripener that needs little introduction for fans of either Port or Portugal’s burgeoning reputation for quality red wines.

Why it could be useful: Expect lots of black fruits, high tannins and generally full-bodied, structured wines that can gain complexity with age. It also has good natural resistance to diseases in the vineyard, according to the Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur union.

Did you know? John Downes MW quipped in a 2001 article for Decanter that we might one day see ‘Touriga d’Oc’, if anyone in the warm French region of Languedoc were to discover the grape’s potential for red wines. It turns out he wasn’t completely off the mark…

Castets

What is it? Castets is a mostly forgotten variety, believed to either emanate from the Gironde or the Pyrenees. Just 2.9ha were left in France in 2016, according to the Agropolis Foundation – an alliance of major French research agencies.

Why it could be useful: Castets has good resistance to downy mildew and can produce deeply coloured wines suitable for ageing, according to the Bordeaux Supérieur union. However, it is also known for wines with high alcohol and relatively low acidity, according to the Agropolis Foundation’s ‘Pl@ntGrape project’.

Arinarnoa

What is it? This is a cross between Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, developed by France’s national research agency INRA in 1956.

Why it could be useful: Buds tend to burst late, which protect against spring frosts, according to the Agropolis Foundation. It has good resistance to grey rot and, as you’d expect from its lineage, it can make structured, tannic wines that also maintain natural acidity, says the Bordeaux Supérieur union.

New white Bordeaux grapes

Alvarinho

What is it? It is known as Alvarinho to Portugal’s Vinho Verde producers, and Albariño in Spain’s Galicia.

Why it could be useful: It is capable of producing bone-dry white wines with relatively high acidity, and it isn’t very susceptible to grey rot.  Strong aromatic qualities ‘make it possible to compensate [for] the loss of aromas that global warming usually causes’, said the Bordeaux Supérieur union.

Liliorila

What is it? It is a cross between Baroque and Chardonnay, developed by INRA in 1956 like Arinarnoa.

Why it could be useful: Its small berries are known for producing powerful, aromatic wines, albeit with relatively low acidity, according to researchers.  Like Alvarinho above, the Bordeaux Supérieur union said Liliorila’s aromatic qualities can help it to retain character in warmer temperatures.

This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated in January 2021 following approval for the six new varieties.

Full credit for Agropolis Foundation project: ‘Pl@ntGrape, le catalogue des vignes cultivées en France, © UMT Géno-Vigne®, INRA – IFV – Montpellier SupAgro 2009-2011’.


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