This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jun. 30, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080630.php.
The root of the matter
Phylloxera ("Fil-LOX-eh-rah") is a root-gobbling aphid that was accidentally exported to France in a shipment of American grapevines in 1862 and spread so quickly that it all but wiped out Europe's vineyards within a generation. For the full-length story, I strongly recommend Christy Campbell's excellent book, The Botanist and the Vintner.
To put it in a nutshell, the phylloxera nibbled its way through Europe's vineyards, killing the vines by eating their roots. Eventually vine growers learned that the roots of native American grapes are naturally resistant to phylloxera, so they began grafting European grapevines (Vitis vinifera) to American rootstocks, and the industry was saved.
To this day, vinifera grapevines are grown on American rootstocks, not only in Europe but in the New World as well. Botanically, the grafted plant should produce fruit exactly as one grown on its own roots. But no one is still alive who was tasting wines in the 1860s through 1880s, so it's difficult to be certain whether "pre-phylloxera" wines tasted exactly the same as those made from the fruit of grafted vines.
We may never know the answer to this question when it comes to wines from France and the rest of the Old World. But one New World growing region, surprisingly, remains phylloxera-free. Thanks to its protected location in a narrow strip between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the aphid has never reached the main growing regions in Chile.
Today's featured wine, like most Chilean wines, is grown on ungrafted roots, celebrating that fact in its name - "Root: 1" and a striking botanical drawing of a grapevine and its deep root painted on the bottle.
Says its importer, Click Wine Group, of Seattle: "Chile's unique geographic and climatic forces make it one of very few grape growing regions in the world where original European rootstock has been unaffected by phylloxera. While most vineyards around the world are planted with grafted rootstock, Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are grown on original, ungrafted roots, producing wines with intense flavors and authentic varietal character."
In my opinion, the distinction in aroma and flavor between grafted and ungrafted vines is subtle at best. But if you want to give an ungrafted wine a try, look to Chile - which also happily tends to produce relatively affordable wines - and if you can find it in your market, don't overlook Viña Ventisquero 2006 "Root: 1" Colchagua Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Juicy, ripe and tart, its a noteworthy value at $10 or thereabouts. My tasting notes are below.
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Viña Ventisquero 2006 "Root: 1" Colchagua Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($10)
Dark garnet, deep reddish-purple at the center. Very distinct cassis (blackcurrant) aroma with a fruity back note of red plums and a whiff of fennel. Mouth-filling and ripe, fresh and juicy fruit flavors follow the nose, nicely shaped by tart, mouth-watering acidity. U.S. importer: Click Wine Group, Seattle. (June 28, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Good with red meat or grilled chicken; fine with hamburgers made from local natural ground beef.
VALUE: This wine was a gift from a friend. Wine-Searcher.com shows it at prices from $8.45 to $12.99, typically around $10, at which point it is an exceptional value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made for immediate drinking and not really in a cellaring style, but a few years in the wine rack or cellar shouldn't do it any harm.
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Uva di Troia (June 27, 2008)
Cooking wine - an experiment (June 25, 2008)
Offbeat grapes - Blauer Zweigelt (June 23, 2008)
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