In France especially, I never come across grapes I've never heard of. Well, this week I was excited to try one that was brand new to me. Tressallier is an ancient grape grown almost exclusively in the tiny region of Saint Pourçain in central France. With just 90 acres of vines currently being cultivated worldwide (about 1,250 tennis courts if you want to visualize it), you could consider this grape nearly extinct! Apparently, it was a favourite of Kings and the Popes in Avignon, and it was written about as far back as the 1300’s.
‘Pour boire de ce Saint-Pourçain
Qui me fait souvent le couer sain!’
[Oh, to drink the wines of Saint Pourçain
Which keep my heart happy and hale!]
- Jean Bruyant, 1332
Tressallier is usually blended with Chardonnay and almost never bottled alone, so a 100% Tressallier is quite unique indeed! One wine expert described this grape as “if Chablis and Muscadet had a baby.” Based on this wine, I would add “and dressed in ballet shoes.”
This wine is ethereal, uplifting, and full of minerals. On the nose it has lemon vetiver grass, which just lifts my senses. It pirouettes down my throat with notes of gooseberry, and damp gravel, and finishes with a hint of apricot. Fabulously good and so expressive. The neighbors will start finding excuses to come over just to see if you might have a bottle open. Fresh brie cheese, charcuterie or a light fish like sole will go beautifully with this. Help keep this ancient varietal alive by buying a case!
From Saint Pourçain, I could travel to our next wine by jumping into a rowboat on the Loire River and furiously paddling 500 miles toward the Atlantic. I would pass a few chateaux, some troglodyte caves and finally arrive at the Domaine du Haut Bourg, which sits in Bouaye, just southwest of Nantes, where the ocean meets the sea.
This is a top-class Muscadet that feels like the big sister of the Trassalliers. It is a little broader on the palate, but still exceptionally bright and crisp, with notes of kiwi and guava, underpinned by the minerality from the schist vineyards. Drink this with oysters, scallops and even a wonderful seafood pasta or risotto.
Finally, our treat this week is an incredible Amarone from Musella in Italy.
Valpolicella, in the province of Verona, Italy, is the home of three grape varietals: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinare. To make Amarone wine, they hang the grapes to dry after picking them to intensify the flavors. It is tricky to get right. Too much time, and it tastes like over the hill port. Too little, and it tastes like normal Valpollicella wine. But if you get it just right you end up with a wine that is intense, with wonderful fruit flavors, but incredibly bright and balanced, too.
This wine is full of fig, hibiscus, persimmon, and honeysuckle. It should be paired with rich dishes like Osso Buco, duck, or braised ribs, where it will match the food and lift it to another level. And then, there is just simply sitting there with a super ripe Gorgonzola and a bottle of this and settling in for the evening. Wonderful!!