Mission and Pais re-evaluated, part 1

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Mission Vine planted in 1854

A historic grape variety is emerging from obscurity in California, at the same time as in southern Chile. See part 2 tomorrow.

Mission is arguably the most disregarded yet historically important variety in North and South America. Known as País in Chile and Criolla Chica in Argentina, there are also small plantings in Mexico, where it is known as Misión. In Argentina, it was believed for years to have grown from the seed of an imported Vitis vinifera vine, a uniquely South American variety even if not exactly indigenous. But in 2007, DNA profiling proved that theory untrue. It is Listán Prieto, an almost vanished vine native to central Spain and still found to a limited extent on the Canary Islands.

While the variety established wine growing in the two New World continents, once other Vitis vinifera arrived it was disregarded because its wines were seen as too rustic to be taken seriously. Historic texts describe it as ‘sailors’ wine’, as if sailors don’t care what they drink. Its characteristics certainly seem to work against today’s fine-wine trends. It often has an acidity problem. In the Canary Islands, they say the wine is too bright and shrill, while in California its acidity tends to be dangerously low. Its wine is often lacking in colour or concentration. And its naturally rustic tannins tend towards not merely rough but a sharp character that is exacerbated by whole-cluster fermentation and not alleviated by extended hang time. The wine’s tannins remind me of the feeling of being licked by a cat.

Yet, Mission is going through a bit of a California revival. A (very) few producers have continued to make fortified Mission with an allusion to the historical beverage Angelica. But the last few years have seen producers again making dry table wine from the variety not only from historic vineyards but also from newly established plantings. It’s a trend that parallels a movement in Chile, where producers are sending ….

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