Devil's Advocate: Assyrtiko and Buttery Chardonnay. Niche and Mainstream

Robert Joseph takes a look at how some big companies are reacting to an increasingly polarised wine industry.

Reading time: 2m 30s

Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate, with a shop selling A-list grapes. Image Midjourney / Cath Lowe
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate, with a shop selling A-list grapes. Image Midjourney / Cath Lowe

I’ve just invested in a few thousand hectares of Airén in Spain.

After monitoring the wine press closely, I’ve noticed that Albariño, Agliatico, Agiorgitiko and Assyrtiko are now getting a lot more attention. Some critics have also begun to talk about Aligoté, which is pretty logical, given the astronomical prices commanded by examples from Leroy and Coche-Dury in Burgundy.


What do all these grape varieties have in common? Obviously, they all start with the letter ‘A’, which explains my confidence in Airén. Now, I’m no fool when it comes to wine investment, so I’ve worked out that Zenit, Zierfandler and Zilavka are right at the back of this queue. Of course, I’ve already begun to look at the ‘B’s. Barbera is probably too well-known but I’m really hoping to make a killing with Bastardo, Bourboulenc and Băbească Neagră. And then we can move on to ‘C’ where Carignan, Chasselas and Carcajolo Nero are all top of my wish list.

But consider:

Last year, wines of any quality had to be ‘mineral’; now, apparently, it’s ‘saline’. In 2025, I’m fully expecting to hear sommeliers seriously discussing whether a wine is sufficiently electrolytic or hexagonal.

Of course, the beauty of all this is that almost none of it will have any resonance for the vast majority of wine drinkers. They’ve never tasted wines made from any of my ‘A’ list and, if they did, they might not rush to do so again. Intensely minerally – sorry, saline – Santorini Assyrtiko may delight the critics and the somms, but it’s no more likely to be the next big thing for Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay drinkers than that other current favourite of the wine chatterati, Picpoul de Pinet.

Big and buttery

When we’re talking about any of these grapes, or indeed Pet Nat, we’re like theatre critics discussing the relative merits of Chinese, Japanese and Korean classical drama. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but none of us should forget that while we’ve all been salivating over the saline, Treasury Wine Estates and Gallo have, with their respective acquisitions of Frank Family Vineyards and Rombauer, been splashing their cash on California wine brands that have built their reputation and fortune making big, buttery Chardonnay.

But, both those giant corporations also share my readiness to bet on a few outsiders. TWE has, as we reported, quietly launched an ‘amber’ wine and a pet nat, while two years ago Gallo partnered with the iconoclastic Randall Grahm to create a Tibouren-Cinsault rosé as the first in a series of wines under a brand called ‘The Language of Yes’.

Last week, just days after its Rombauer acquisition, the family-owned giant went even further in this direction by buying Dan Petroski’s Massican brand, which owes its fame to innovative, ‘saline’, Italian-style whites such as Annia, which combines Chardonnay with Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano.

Gallo and TWE understand that, like a Hollywood studio or a book publisher, they’re in the entertainment business. They know the value of investing in stars like Grahm and Petroski, and that there’s a profit to be made catering for minority audiences as well as the mainstream.

So, all I’ve got to do is persuade one of these companies that I’m right about the alphabet – and the niche potential of Airén and Bourboulenc.

Academic Papers

A consumer survey done by Hochschule Geisenheim University shows that wine-interested consumers in Germany expect transparency around ingredients. Prof. Dr Simone Loose presents the findings. 

Reading time: 7m 15s



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