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The Grape Glossary: A guide to hip varietals

Godello – one can't help but love the name, don't you think? – sounds like the clumsier half of a comedy troupe or a character out of Cervantes or Shakespeare. "Pray, my good Godello, I beseech thee, descend from yonder oak and help me find my fair Penelope, for she is sweeter than any late-harvest riesling and more faithful than a monastery of blue nuns."

If wine were in fact drama, godello might be closer to one of those born-again reptiles from Jurassic Park. The grape variety had declined to near-extinction by the 1970s, with just a few hundred vines to its cheerful name, according to Wine Grapes, the book by Jancis Robinson et al. Then a restoration effort was undertaken in its homeland of Galicia in northwest Spain, bringing its land coverage up to more than 1,000 hectares by 2008. It's still a drop in the bucket compared with, say, chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. But the numbers have been enough to bestow a certain rarefied cachet to the white variety, so much so that it's found its way onto the radar of prominent American and British critics. Robinson, the esteemed English expert, has called it "perhaps my favourite white wine grape discovery" of recent years.

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Comparisons have been drawn with chardonnay, though that's not saying much because, as with chardonnay, the wine can exhibit a range of flavours depending on how it's grown and whether it's given time to ferment or mature in warm oak instead of cool stainless steel. Those I've sampled (offerings are sporadic in Canada, with the exception of Quebec, which seems gaga for godello) have tended to be leaner and cleaner than most chardonnays. At its best, godello displays that magic quality referred to as minerality, a sort of bracing tingle that seems to suggest the wine had been pressed in part from pulverized rock.

The finest godellos tend to hail from granite and schist hillsides in such appellations as Valdeorras, Bierzo, Monterrei, Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra, located to the east of Rias Baixas near the Atlantic coast, where the more famous and similarly mineral-like grape albarino dominates.

Producers turning out fine godello – it's in fact pronounced goh-DEH-yoh – include Godeval, Telmo Rodriguez, Rafael Palacios (brother of Spain's famed Alvaro Palacios), La Tapada and Casar de Burbia. In Portugal, godello's other stomping ground, where it's known as gouveio, the grape tends to find its way into blends with other varieties from such regions as Douro and Dao rather than getting marquee billing by itself on labels. But, then, "gouveio" may lack the same Shakespearean ring.

The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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