High Street Hospitality Group, the culinary outfit from chef Eli Kulp and partner Ellen Yin, has carved out a niche in Philadelphia for excellent food and drink—be it bready things at High Street on Market or small production, minimalist intervention wines at a.kitchen and a.bar. Wine director Mariel Wega is responsible for those finds, and she's especially keen on unexpected and unusual bottles. Below, Wega considers the future of wine and varietals that could be big down the road.
Q: Are there any long-forgotten or totally new grape varietals unknown now that you think will be big in the next 10 years?
Wega: At a.kitchen and a.bar, our wine program focuses on traditional winemaking—hand harvesting, organic farming with native yeasts, minimal intervention in the cellar—so I spend a lot of time exploring underrepresented regions and unusual varieties. It is an exciting time for drinking indigenous varieties and discovering long-lost grapes. What’s old is new.
Over the next ten years, I think we’ll see a growing interest in off the beaten path wine regions, even in Old World powerhouses like France and Spain. In France, wines from small regions like Isère and the Côte Roannaise will become more common, and in Spain, exciting wine discoveries in the areas of Castilla y León and Extremadura, historically known for other artisanal products like jamón ibérico, will rise to the top.
One of my favorite wine discoveries this year is the Rufete grape from the mountainous Sierra de Salamanca in Western Spain near the Portuguese border.
Isère, located in the Rhône-Alpes between Lyon and Grenoble, is a wine region you’ve probably never heard of. Nicolas Gonin is the winemaker to watch here. He has made it his personal mission to identify rare, abandoned grapes in his small corner of France and resurrect them from near extinction. On weekends, Gonin seeks out old vineyards to find cuttings of these forgotten grapes. Persan ($18) is his prize grape, which produces rustic, refreshing reds that any fan of the Loire or Burgundy might enjoy. Delicious in their youth, these wines are also structured and age worthy. Currently, only 10 hectares of Persan are planted in the entire world!
Another area to watch in France is the Côte Roannaise. Technically part of the Loire, it’s nicknamed the "11th Cru" of Beaujolais because of its granite soils. A particular variety of Gamay is planted here called Gamay Saint-Romain, which is notably different than the Gamay planted in Beaujolais. Domaine des Pothiers is a benchmark producer in the region, and the Paire family has farmed here for over 300 years. They make their wines traditionally, farming biodynamically, using native yeasts, and harvesting by hand. I’m particularly fond of their pétillant naturel, or pét-nat, called "Bulles" ($12). Modeled after the slightly sweet, low alcohol rosé Bugey-Cerdon, Bulles makes a wonderful late afternoon aperitif.
One of my favorite wine discoveries this year is the Rufete grape from the mountainous Sierra de Salamanca in Western Spain near the Portuguese border. Sierra de Salamanca is one of Spain’s smallest and youngest D.O.s (2010), so this is really an up and coming area for wine. Winemaker Agustin Maillo of La Zorra ($25) is determined to elevate the status of the native Rufete grape and garner it more attention. He farms old vine Rufete organically on granitic soil. Fresh, bright cherry fruit and vibrant floral notes, Maillo’s Rufete is a knock out.
Further south in Extremadura, a massive region on the Portuguese border, grapes are being rediscovered, too. Two friends, Juan Sojo and Ángel Luis González, have dedicated themselves to proving the winemaking potential of their home, and in doing so have saved the native white grape Eva de los Santos from near extinction. Believe it or not, they are the only organic producer within Extremadura. Their Vegas Altas ($14) bottling has an intriguing salinity and almost oxidative notes reminiscent of sherry. Not surprisingly, the wine is a wonderful pairing for raw oysters and grilled fish. It has been one of our most popular wines by the glass all summer.