Kingsland Drinks champions alternative grape varieties

04 March, 2021

UK importer Kingsland Drinks is championing alternative grape varieties that have the potential to drive excitement and experimentation among consumers.

Drinks International caught up with the firm’s European wine buyer, Kathryn Glass, to hear her top tips for varietals that have the potential to burst into the mainstream.

She points to the success of Picpoul de Pinet, which came out of nowhere to become a consumer favourite after a major supermarket gave it an own-label listing a few years ago. Glass believes retailers and on-trade groups will find “find very good commercial reasons” for expanding their ranges and including more lesser-known varietals. “They could own something new and interesting, that is not present everywhere in the market, and drive people back into the wine aisles,” she says. “Wine is losing customers to other types of drinks. These wines will drive people back. We need their [retailer] involvement so that it can begin to become a trend.

“Consumers trust their premium own-label brands. Picpoul de Pinet proved really successful. We have had a lot more interest in alternative grape varieties. In the last 12 months, with major retailers we have had three separate tenders based on ‘beyond the norm’, pushing the boundaries.”

Her tips for lesser-known varietals with the potential to follow in Picpoul’s footsteps include Zweigelt from Austria, Feteasca Neagra and Feteasca Alba from Romania, Saperavi from Moldova, Rhoditis and Moschofelero from Greece, Godello from Galicia, Graciano from Rioja and Marselan from the Languedoc.

“We work with a producer in the Languedoc that makes around 13% of all the Marselan in the region,” she says. “They’ve highlighted it for a massive growth in production in the next couple of years, because these grapes are adapted for the temperature increase that’s going to happen in these regions.

‘Marselan thrives in the heat. It’s good in drought. It’s resistant to a lot of pests and disease. Because of that, it’s actually good in organic viticulture as well. The yield just has to be controlled well. It’s a response to the climate, but it’s a particularly good wine in its own right, and it has been around since 1961. Bordeaux just authorised the use of six more varietals, including Marsalan and Touriga Nacional.”

She also notes that producers in Rioja are starting to devote more attention to Graciano and Maturano for similar reasons.

“Graciano was historically one of the varieties you would find in Rioja blends,” she says. “Over the years it fell out of favour, but Baron de Ley [a winery Kingsland works with] is rediscovering those interesting varieties. They wanted to create a single variety to show what Graciano does when you treat it with respect. It’s grown 460m above sea level. It’s very well suited to very warm, arid climates

“ Now when we are very conscious of climate change, it’s quite a pressing thing that a lot of producers are looking for other grape varieties that are going to perform well even in very tough heat, with very little water.”

Kingsland is also increasingly working with producers in lesser-known regions of Portugal, and ramping up its focus on Moldova and Romania, and it hopes more trade partners will consider expanding their ranges.

“The wine industry has always been asked to be more innovative, but it’s actually all already there to be explored. It’s a very minor part of our overall business [these lesser known grapes] but it’s really interesting and it’s something we want to develop. We want to push it. That variety has maybe been lacking on the shelves in recent years.”

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