I must confess to being a vinifera chauvinist. The best wines in the world are made from the grape species vitis vinifera of which all the familiar varietals–Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc.—are sub-species. But vinifera is fussy. It doesn’t survive really cold winters. It is susceptible to rot and disease pressure in humid environments and needs warm days and cool nights to develop structure. In most of the U.S., growing vinifera is a struggle. Thus, outside the prime grape-growing regions of the Western states, there is a long history of seeking out other species or hybrid varieties that can survive in harsh climates. Today, most wineries across the U.S. make wine from vinifera but they are constantly experimenting with non-vinifera varieties or hybrids hoping to find varietals that will make great wine without the liabilities of vitis vinifera.
I haven’t found any non-vinifera wines that truly impress but that is in part because I’m not used to tasting them. But as wine lovers we should be open to trying them. The successes will make our future much more interesting.
One of the most comprehensive attempts to find, catalogue and ultimately cultivate non-vinifera grapes was carried out by Texas viticulturist T.V. Munson who developed the Lomanto grape in 1902 as a hybrid of Salado and Malaga (AKA Semillon or Pense). Vox Winery in Kansas City has taken on the project of making wine from some of these traditional varieties under the TerraVox label, including this Lomanto.
Dense purple in color, the initial impression on the nose is bold, intense blueberry with equally prominent layers of earth and eucalyptus. The earth/eucalyptus pair is quite unusual in that they are not mere hints or nuances but share center stage with the fruit.
On the palate the entry is rich and juicy but develops a pronounced lemon character midpalate as the sweet fruit fades and sourness takes over on the finish. The tannins are extremely soft so the tart flavors are exposed causing some puckering. The lemon character in a red wine is again unusual but it grows on you. The texture is soft and tranquil really quite lovely. And when I paired it with a roasted tomato salsa, the match was extraordinary. It’s also one of the few wines that will really pair well with catsup. This wine needs tomato like Astaire needs Rogers.
I know you’re asking “well is it any good or not”. Compared to what?
The mouth feel is promising, the bold, in your face aromas intriguing and impressive, if only the lemon character was dialed back a bit. I have never tasted a wine like this; originality has value. This won’t make anyone forget Pinot Noir but the point of revitalizing these long forgotten varieties is that they expand the expressive range of wine and give it more things to be. It will take winemakers decades to figure out how best to grow and vinify these varietals.
It’s time we got curious about non-vinifera grapes. This is my first encounter with Lomanto so no score can be offered. But I look forward to trying more.
As Elvis says “Would it kill you to show us a little sweetness?”