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Brian Carter Cellars
August 27, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

New Grape Varieties - How many are there anyway?

Brian Carter Cellars just released two new varietal wines under our ONE label. While we have been blending these two wines for several years, we have not bottled and released them separately until now. Since they are not common varieties, especially in Washington, it may be the first time you have been exposed to them.

Graciano is a spicy, aromatic grape used mostly as a blender in Rioja and has been used since 2010 in our Corrida Blend.  The second wine is a varietal named Souzao which we have been making for some time in a sweet wine variation as a part of Opulento. It is a very dark wine and one of the most highly touted of the many Port varieties.

If you have not yet tasted a 100% varietal Graciano or Souzao, you are not alone. These are examples of the many varieties that have become available to consumers over the last few decades. For many of us, this is an exciting time, with bourgeoning opportunities to try something new and different. For a few of you, however, it might also be a bit overwhelming - how many of these new varieties do I have to learn about?

You might remember the good ol’ days when store shelves were stocked with just a few varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and maybe a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc if you were lucky. Exposure to more exotic varieties such as Cabernet Franc or Grenache was rare. You probably had to have taken a wine class to have been exposed to varietals like Viognier or Mourvedre. Now, the shelves are crammed with dozens of different varieties. If you are naturally inquisitive, you can even search out exotic wines from Aligoté to Zweigelt.

So, how many of these varieties are there and why bother trying a new one? Nobody knows for sure how many varieties there are in the world; new varieties are being discovered all the time. Oz Clark, in his book Encyclopedia of Grapes states there are over 8,000 varieties. More recent publications say 10,000. The good news is you can’t possibly learn them all, so you don’t have to try!  There are 82 permitted varieties in Portuguese Port production alone, and I can guarantee that you have never heard of more than a half dozen of them.  

For me, the good news is that, if you want to, you can try a new variety every week for the next year and not get bored. If you’d rather stick to drinking Cabernet and Chardonnay the rest of your life, that’s great too (I have met people who only want to drink Chardonnay). However, if you are into exploring, these are a few varieties that I have discovered in the last few years that have particular interest to me: Albariño, Aglianico, Arneis, Carmenère, Frappato, Grillo, Grüner Veltliner, Lagrein, Picpoul, and Touriga Nacional.

What will be your new favorite varietal?

-Brian Carter