Some ripe Sumoll grapes hanging around on the vine in Catalonia.

Some ripe Sumoll grapes hanging around on the vine in Catalonia.

If you are unfamiliar with the red Sumoll varietal then don’t get down on yourself. With less than 100 hectares planted in Catalonia today it’s certainly not a grape that many are familiar with, and until last week I had never tasted it myself.

Native to the Penedès region, the Sumoll is often viewed as being a particularly rustic varietal, but given the right care and attention is a grape capable of some rather wonderful things. Extremely versatile, the Sumoll can be used to produce white, red, rosé, and sparkling (Cava) wines.

Even with its inherent drought resistance and even-ripening within the bunch, yields are incredibly low. Despite this, Sumoll was a widely planted varietal throughout Catalonia both before and after phylloxera, covering more vineyard area than the mighty Garnacha. After Spain’s entry into the EU in 1986, many less-productive native varietals were tossed aside in favour of more heavy-yielding varietals, with the vast majority of Sumoll plantings being ripped out. It’s always the same story, isn’t it? Thankfully some producers are deciding to revisit this previously discarded grape.

The name Sumoll comes from the local Catalan slang word for maturing /withering (“sumollar”), and when it comes to wine made from the grape in bottle, good things certainly come to those who wait. Naturally high in acid, and with a distinct bitter finish, young wines are virtually undrinkable. It takes a good few years of the wines evolving in bottle before they are in any way drinkable, but given time they can mature into something quite spectacular.

Expect black fruits (cherry and blackberry) accompanied by (with age) seductive aromatics of leather, sweaty horse saddle, chocolate, animal, scrub herbs, and a very particular earthiness. The tannins and acid will still be up there, but with sufficient ageing perform like those of an aged Nebbiolo. An intriguing varietal, that is for sure.

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that is certainly a grape I’d like to taste more of.