Year of the Dog!

by Richard Harvey

When is a “critter wine” not a “critter wine”? This widely used term often speaks of the bouncing image and name to be found on some mass-produced wines.
Far from being a “critter wine”, the misleadingly named Perro Chico (Spanish for “little dog”) is actually named after a local variety of mushroom found in the region of Somontano. Not a dog to be found on the label (or in the bottle)!

Somontano is a tiny freckle of a Spanish wine region, tucked just under the serious eyebrows of the Pyrenées mountain range. The cool climate of the region is ideal for fresh and delicious white wines, in this case a dry, unoaked Chardonnay with an exotic fillip of Gewürztraminer!! Believe it or not, this is a classic blend for this area!

Diversity in life is to be celebrated, especially in these times of a countercurrent against it, as some people head towards some fictitious identity solely based on things in life that are perennially mutable and usually exclusive rather than inclusive.
Embracing diversity is better than resisting it, and the same approach can be extended to wine. I’ve often plunked my money down on a wine made from a grape variety unknown to me, and granted, with mixed success. But each one added to my storehouse of experience, allowing me to see all wines in a global sense, not a parochial one.

There are unidentified grape varieties in many Old World countries (and even some in the New World when the origins were less than scientifically recorded), and many also that though identified, are obscure and highly localized in production. Seeking these out for me is the same pleasure a rabid “twitcher” (bird watcher) experiences when sighting a rare species. The bird doesn’t have to be big, beautiful or melodious- it’s the joy of experiencing a rarity. In a world of increasing homogenization, rarities provide the thrill of discovery, even on this modest scale.

I only recently discovered a UK website that pleased me greatly. This young couple set themselves the delicious task of exploring a different grape variety every week of the year. You have some catch up for the first few weeks of 2018, but after you hold a party or two, getting up to speed should be easy! I love their open minds and embracing of diversity. Already the bulk of the world’s vineyards are planted to just over a dozen grape varieties, when there are thousands more to explore! Get cracking!

Explore the shelves of your local wine store and when your hand reaches for your favourite Chardonnay, let it wander to a Roussanne or a Pecorino (yes, a grape!). Shy away from the Shiraz and pick up a Mondeuse or Sumoll! I never liked mushrooms as a kid (without even trying them- such youthful ignorance!) and now I can’t get enough of these fungal beauties.

So, one of these days, I’m going to make a special pilgrimage to the “Land of the Little Dogs” (Somontano) just to taste the Perro Chico mushrooms and glug back their unique little red of the Moristel grape. Then I’ll dream of where I can go next to add to my experiences of the beautiful diversity of wine!