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Abouriou: An Endangered Species of Wine

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.

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80-year-old, head-trained Abouriou vines in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. [Photograph: Darek Trowbridge]

Do you care about saving the endangered pygmy three-toed sloth? What about protecting the long heritage of the Roxbury Russet apple? If you believe in preserving species diversity or heirloom varieties, add Abouriou to your list. Only four acres of this spicy red grape remain in California—and all of the U.S., as far as anyone can tell. In its home in Southwest France, there are barely 800 acres left, and they're quickly diminishing.

Which is why Darek Trowbridge, owner and winemaker at Old World Winery, has taken Abouriou under his wing. Darek considers himself this grape's "museum curator," tending California's last remaining plot of head-trained, 80-year-old Abouriou vines on his family's ranch in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. "I am upholding the planting history and tradition of my family as well as the curiosity of this heirloom variety," Darek explains.

Since 2009, Darek has worked the vineyard biodynamically and made the wines using minimal intervention to gently craft his Old World Winery "Abourious," a wicked-spicy number that piles smoked meat, leather, cloves and sarsaparilla over blackberry pie, muddled raspberries and baked plums.

At a dinner I hosted with a lovely cohort of friends similarly interested in "endangered species," we had the amazing opportunity to try three consecutive vintages of Old World Winery Abourious. Anticipating what Wine Grapes calls out as a "deeply colored, spicy and tannic" red, and in line with our Americana theme, I made bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

The meatloaf was lackluster (my first attempt); the 2009 Abourious was anything but: dark, rich, opulent and almost sweet with luscious berry fruit, dark roast coffee and hints of candied orange peel. And those tannins we were warned about? They turned out be velvety smooth, taking a relaxed back seat to the powerful, smoky spice. The 2010 was similarly deep and intense, with gentler BBQ smoke curled around cocoa beans and cassis, smooth and comforting in its spiciness. But the 2011 was my favorite, the tannins firmer while still countered by soft fruit and easy acidity. It seemed to let a little more light shine through, a little more red fruit bursting through black, less smoke, more purity.

I left the dinner feeling honored to live in an area where I can visit Old World Winery, pay homage to these rare vines, keep tabs on future bottles and see how they grow up. At the same time, I recognize that most of you may never get to try this... just like I may never spy my pygmy three-toed sloth.

Alas, it's nice to have them both around anyway.

2009, 2010, 2011 Old World Winery Abourious
The Grape: Abouriou
The Region: Russian River Valley, California
Retail Price: $55

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.

Wines provided as samples for review consideration.

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