These Seven Grape Varieties Could Help Bordeaux Wine Survive Climate Change

The grapes were chosen for their ability to maintain the wine's integrity in the face of global warming.

Photo: Brycia James/Getty Images

Bullheaded politicians can continue to deny climate change all they want, but in France, winemakers are already taking action to deal with the effects. Last year, France's Institut national de l'origine et de la qualite (INAO) — the organization that oversees the country's AOCs — approved new rules for "grape varieties for climate and environmental adaptation," allowing limited use of grapes previously unapproved for specific regions thanks to their potential to thrive in the face of global warming. And more recently, the Bordeaux Wine Council reports that their region is looking to take advantage of this policy change.

On June 28, the General Assembly of Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superieur winemakers unanimously approved a list of new grape varieties that, assuming they receive INAO approval as expected, will be allowed in limited quantities in Bordeaux blends. The Council says these specific varieties were chosen in an effort to maintain the integrity of Bordeaux wines while also adapting to climate change.

As a refresher, currently, Bordeaux allows six red grape varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot — and eight white varieties — Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Muscadelle, Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Merlot Blanc, and Mauzac. But now, seven more varieties are INAO-approval away from joining the list: four reds — Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional — and three whites — Alvarinho, Liliorila, and Petit Manseng.

Listed as varieties "of interest for adapting to climate change," all of these new grapes would be "secondary varieties" that cannot account for more than 5 percent of vineyard area nor can they make up more than 10 percent of any final wine blend. They also cannot be listed on the label.

As for the varieties themselves, each comes with its own story. Arinarnoa is a cross between Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon first bred back in 1956. Marselan has a similar profile, bred in 1961 as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Meanwhile, Castets is billed as a "historical and long-forgotten Bordeaux grape variety," whereas Touriga Nacional is from Portugal. On the white side, Alvarinho (aka Albarino) is a well-known variety, while Liliorila is a cross between Baroque and Chardonnay, and Petit Manseng comes from the Pyrénées-Atlantique part of France along the Spanish border.

But for now, Bordeaux waits. "The collective vote amongst winemakers to allow new grape varieties is a huge step for Bordeaux adapting to climate change, and the decision needs time to be approved by the INAO to fully integrate the project between the INAO and Bordeaux," Tali Dalbaha, market advisor for the Bordeaux Wine Council, told me via email. As a result, the first plots of new grapes aren't expected to be planted until the 2020/2021 season. But in the end, any approval will almost certainly come sooner than global action on climate change, in which case Bordeaux might be seeing a lot more of these grapes in the future and for a long time to come.

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