Mutated grapes make for winning wines

Genetic mutations happen a lot in life. On a cellular level, genes can change or morph into something else taking an otherwise normal, predictable entity and altering its character somewhat.

Sometimes it’s a natural crossing of several different things. We see this phenomenon in medical science, biology and even in wine grapes. Such is the case with two grape varieties: “Chardonnay Musqué” and “Caberlot.”

Regular Chardonnay for the most part tastes pretty much the same, whether it’s produced in a cool or warm climate. Notes of apple, pear, flint, white peach and mineral are common and, if oak treated, then additional elements of vanilla, butterscotch, fig, nuts and smoke are added.

The Musqué clone is different. Sure it is typically reminiscent of the grape, but it takes on an added perfumey, musky note that is indigenous to the Muscat grape – thus its name! This mutation smacks of tropical fruit, honeysuckle, orange blossom and spice. More often than not, off-dry in sweetness and medium-bodied, this version of Chard is a crowd pleaser indeed. Apparently discovered by a French farmer by accident a couple hundred years ago, it began being propagated separately from the rest of the Chardonnay.

This clone tends to work best in cool climates where the aromatic character of the grape is maintained and intensified. Warmer climates like California, Australia, Chile and Argentina, for example, would simply cook these elements away. That’s why cool viticultural regions of the world like northern and eastern US, Canada, and some northern European countries can produce decent examples. Some wineries blend this clone with other varietals like Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer.

Most Chardonnay works well with or without oak treatment. However, I believe this clone shows better without oak, as it tends to detract or mask its muskiness. Because of Musqué’s floral, perfumey nuances, food matches for it are slightly different. To a lesser degree, it can be treated somewhat like other aromatic varietals such as Gewürztraminer, Muscat and even Riesling. It makes a great aperitif before a meal or a delightful digestive afterwards. Check it out with less sweet, fruit-based desserts; nuts and cheeses like Gruyere and Brie; milder exotic cuisine such as Indian, Thai, and Mexican or even lightly spicy dishes like chili and ceviche. It’s also yummy with melon and prosciutto, fish and seafood entrees such as fried mackerel and crab cakes or lentils adorned with lemon and fresh herbs.

Then there’s “Caberlot.” This is a rare black grape, believed to be a natural crossing of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. One would think that a crossing of two popular red grape varieties would be widely propagated, but this is not the case. It is grown exclusively at Podere Il Carnasciale in Tuscany. It was first identified in an abandoned vineyard in the late 1960s in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Only about 3,000 bottles of this wine, wearing the IGT denomination (table wine with a geographical description), are produced yearly.

In some vintages, the Cabernet character seems to shine, while in others, the Merlot dominates. Occasionally, it is Rhone-like. Usually an intensely coloured red wine, and oak treated, it delivers dark fruit, pepper, tobacco, coffee, earth and roasted notes and can age decently. Although unknown to most people, it’s a very sought-after wine and available in 27 countries worldwide. Great with grilled/roasted red meats, seasoned cheeses, stews/casseroles and, of course, Italian fare, it’s well worth a try, if you can get hold of some.

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