X Marks the Spot – a Tuscan Mystery

Pietro Beconcini Agricola – even lovely on a rainy day

San Miniato is not a big place, but midway between Pisa and Florence it is part of a landscape that has produced wine since Etruscan times. Unlike the more famous areas of Tuscany though the wine has traditionally been seen purely in local terms. In the past it seems that many of the region’s big producers have bought grapes or wine from the farmers of San Miniato to beef up their own wines and give high quality at a good price. Much like Fronsac in Bordeaux it has historically been something of an insider’s secret.

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Gru-Vee Baby – or Grüner Veltliner conquers the world

Beautiful Wachau Vineyards

Sadly I have yet to visit Austria’s vineyards, but I greatly admire the wines they produce and what I have seen of Austria appeals to me immensely.

I am especially drawn to Austria’s signature grape – Grüner Veltliner. Some of you will know that I am keen for people to drink a wider spread of grape varieties than the normal small group of suspects, so I am excited that Grüner is starting to break through in the UK. Apparently it has become so popular in the United States that the trendy set over there call it ‘Grü-Vee’ – strangely predictive text makes it more time consuming to type or text Grü-Vee than to actually give the grape it’s proper name.

In her book Vines, Grapes and Wines, Jancis Robinson states; Grüner Veltliner ‘produces wines that are almost always good, but never great. It is incapable of not giving great pleasure and delight, but would never warrant intellectual study. Producing a wine for quaffers rather than connoisseurs.’

I sort of know what Jancis meant, the grape does produce a type of wine that is easy to enjoy, it can be very direct and pleasurable and for me this puts it on my list of the white grapes whose time has come – indeed in many ways it is the standard bearer of these grapes. I really do think that the quality of most wines has improved since Vines, Grapes and Wines was published in 1986 as growing techniques and winemaking skills have developed and this is especially obvious in fresh, dry white wines.

I could list a huge array of white wines that have improved beyond all recognition during my time in the wine trade, chief amongst them would be the wonderful whites of Galicia in Spain, Italy’s Verdicchio, Friuli and modern German wines as well as the seldom seen wines of Slovenia, Jura, Savoie, Luxembourg and the French Moselle region. I could also add Switzerland and the Alto-Adige in northern Italy to the list for good measure, but it is Austria’s Grüner Veltliner that is starting to enjoy real success and is hopefully breaching the walls of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio obsessed wine market.

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