Why you should be crushing on grape juice
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I was at a wine tasting for fashionable sommeliers in east London when I first came across the grape juices of the Austrian winery Nibiru. “We’re selling loads,” said Modal Wines founder Nicolas Rizzi as he poured me a glass of its organic Frühroter Veltliner juice. “It’s proving hard to keep them in stock.” The cloudy amber juice tasted of crisp apples, elderflower and peach, with a pleasingly sharp, lemony finish – a million miles from the synthetic purple grape juice of my childhood.
It’s not unusual for wine growers to make small amounts of grape juice, usually as a means of using up lesser fruit. But Nibiru is one of a growing number of producers in central Europe that are now making (and exporting) grape juices with all the seriousness of a wine. Single-variety, vintage, low-intervention and additive-free, they’re as close as you can get to tasting grapes straight off the vine.
Flein is a new collection of artisan grape juices from different winegrowing regions along the Alps. A collaboration between Gross & Gross in southern Styria (Austria), Cantina Kurtatsch in Alto Adige (Italy) and Schmidt Winery on Lake Constance (Germany), the label was conceived by Veronika Mitteregger (sister of Gross & Gross winemaker Michael Gross) after she struggled to find decent non-alcoholic drinks during her pregnancy. “As children, we walked through the vineyards with our parents and playfully tried to find out what the grape varieties were. I asked myself whether it was possible to capture these aromas in a juice.”
All the Flein juices are made from region-typical grape varieties grown in vineyards specifically cultivated for juice production. They are also harvested earlier than wine grapes to prevent the juice being overly sweet (which can be a problem with grape juice). I tasted a selection from Gross & Gross and was particularly impressed by the almost Riesling-like Gelber Muskateller 2020. The bell-bright Flein Fizz 2020 – a carbonated blend of Gelber Muskateller and Sauvignon Blanc – was very refined and fresh too.
Also delightful is L’Antidote, a sparkling blend of Gamay grape juice, vineyard botanicals and apple juice from Domaine des Grottes, a biodynamic wine producer in Beaujolais. Imagine a spritzy cross between apple juice, red wine and vermouth.
Prize for best-looking grape juice must go to Austrian winemaker Weingut Weninger’s biodynamic red Traubensaft, which has a label clearly designed with wine bars, rather than breakfast tables, in mind. The juice is made from Sankt Laurent – an Austrian black grape that combines the “bright acidity of Pinot Noir with aromatics that are more wild, like a Syrah”, says winemaker Franz Weninger.
As Weninger acknowledges, grape juice isn’t much of a money-spinner. But I get the sense from many of these producers that it’s more about a return to a holistic, polycultural type of agriculture, which involves estates making a whole variety of things. And if that means more choice for the rest of us, then it’s all to the good.
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