About the St Laurent Grape
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About the St Laurent Grape

May 11, 2013 Release of St. Laurent at Select Vintages Locations

We’ve already alerted you to the notion that it’s important to get your orders in with the LCBO for our May 11, 2013 release of Zantho’s St. Laurent product.  No need to do that again.

Instead, the purpose of this blog entry is to tell you a little more about the relative unknown grape called St. Laurent.

That’s right:  most people we’ve met have never heard of St. Laurent.  Truth be told, we had not heard about it until we started doing business with Zantho, just a year ago.

St Laurent grape image Zantho Austria

St. Laurent Snapshot

Generally, there are roughly 7.5 million hectares (ha) of vineyards in the world that are devoted to the production of wine and other derivative products (eg. juice, grape leaves, etc).

According to research, St. Laurent globally covers only 2,000 ha, which makes up a tiny fraction of land committed to vineyards.

With that in mind, St. Laurent is a truly unique grape.

It is mainly grown in Austria (approximately 800 ha) and countries around Austria like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany (estimated area of about 1,200 ha total).  Area devoted to St. Laurent is growing rapidly, with some regions expanding their allocation 80-100% per year.  Sources differ as to whether the Czech Republic or Austria grow the most St. Laurent by acreage.

Because it is similar to Pinot Noir, a small quantity of St. Laurent is also grown in New Zealand after an import in 2002 into Alexandra, Central Otago.

Canada is also becoming a favourite location for growing St. Laurent.  Currently four wineries in Prince Edward County, Ontario and one in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia are cultivating and producing wine from this grape

The picture on the left shows what the grape looks like, as well as the unique leaf structure.

St. Laurent Origins

There is still much to be discovered about St. Laurent.

It’s likely that it originates from France.  At a minimum, we know that the Austrians got it from France.  It was recorded in use by the Austrians before 1900.  Other records show that this grape was entered in the (Czech) State Register of Grape Varieties in 1941.  In fact, St. Laurent is now the most commonly planted red/black grape in the Czech Republic and is frequently used to develop new hybrids such as ‘Andre’ (registered in 1980).

The St. Laurent grape shows properties similar to a Pinot Noir, and many people even suggest it’s related to this popular parent.

Similar traits include early ripening and thin skinned.

The grape was apparently named St. Laurent because it ripens and changes colour around the same time of the year as many Europeans celebrate St. Lawrence Day – August 10th.

Aside:  … and who is St. Lawrence?

Legend has it that Lawrence of Rome was born in Spain in the third century CE, moved to Rome after his education and eventually became archdeacon of Rome.  This was an important role because it meant he was in charge of the church treasury.

This was the early days of Christianity and emperor Valerian decreed that all bishops, priests and deacons be put to death, including Lawrence.  The primary goal was to pilfer the hoards of the church and put them into the Roman treasury.

However, before he met his fate, Lawrence did two things, one of fact and the other of legend.  Of fact, he managed to distribute the wealth of the church to the ‘masses’, thereby ensuring that the Romans would not get it and that it would take ages to recover the wealth (assuming, of course, it was done effectively and fairly).  Of legend, he was reputed to have coordinated the ‘flight’ of the Holy Chalice, or the Holy Grail (of Arthurian legend, not that of Dan Brown) to a church in Valencia, Spain.

What does this have to do with wine?  To be honest, we don’t know, but if and when we find out, we’ll let you know!

St. Laurent Specifics

  • Leaf: medium-sized; five-lobed, wavy
  • Grape cluster: medium-sized; compact berries; cylindrical, with wings; oval grapes with a blueish-black colour
  • Ripening time: mid-early season
  • Growing conditions: With its somewhat low yield, the variety is considered difficult in the vineyard. It was not always appreciated. Needs good sites with deep soils. It is sensitive during the flowering period, and sensitive to late frost. It brings inconsistent yields.
  • Viticulture:  cultivated using the high-training systems introduced in Austria and in this country, because it was found to be particularly well suited to this cultivar.
  • Wine: St. Laurent delivers dark, sturdy and fruity red wines with morello cherry notes. They are of high quality and have good aging in a cellar.

In France it is known as Saint Laurent, in Austria Sanktlorenztraube (or Sankt Laurent).

The vine is of vigorous growth, with medium leaves of triangular or pentagonal shape, with medium-deep indentations. Wood matures well and has good resitance to frost. Resistance to fungal diseases is moderate. Bunches are of medium size, conical and dense. Blue-black berries are usually oval and occasionally pushing out from the dense and thick bunches. Berries within the bunch take on less colour and have lower tannic content. Berries begin to take on colour around the time of St. Laurent’s day (10th September). This variety has no particular preference for good vineyard positions and is tolerant to less fertile soils. In youth it produces an abundance of fruit, while in later life the crops are somewhat irregular.

St. Laurent Wine

And now … the most important part:  what kind of wine does St. Laurent produce?

Wines of St. Laurent show dark-red colour, sometimes with violet reflections.  On the nose, enthusiasts should expect ripe cherry, black current, and even oak characteristics (like chocolate, vanilla or cedar shavings, assuming it’s oaked).

The tannins with St. Laurent can be all over the map.  If it’s harvested early, the wine will show more like a Pinot Noir, with light tannins and tastes more on the cranberry side of the fruit profile.  If harvested later or during a warmer summer, tannins will be more developed and may even come off as boxy and tight.

Young wines tend to have relatively high acidity levels. They make a good match with red meat and strongly flavoured cheeses.

We also find that St. Laurent (particularly the 2010 from Zantho) goes with a wide array of most meats ‘less than red meat’, including wild game, comfort foods and any meat that is rich with fat and flavour profiles.  The Zantho St. Laurent acts almost like a palate cleanse, like apple sauce helps dry pork chops.

St. Laurent wines are of medium to full body.  After aging in bottle, the aggressive character will change into crispness and then finally into a velvety smoothness.  The 2010 Zantho St. Laurent balances the tannins in a delicate way, allowing for immediate enjoyment or longer-term cellaring (ie. up to 5 years).

Last but not least, here’s a great review from the Vintages tasting panel (as quoted on Natalie MacLean):

From one of Austria’s most renowned producers, this is a great introduction to the highly aromatic Saint Laurent grape. Such lovely floral aromas, it’s like bottled Spring, but hold on – that’s just the start, there’s a good whack of red fruit, cherry, and plum notes as well. Made in an easy-drinking and approachable style that pleases from beginning to end. Try it with a spiced pork dish. Source: (Vintages panel, Aug. 2012) Light-bodied & Fruity.

Summary

St. Laurent is for anyone who loves a good, solid discovery as well as a wine that supports most foods in the typical North American diet.  The flavour profile best fits the description as a ‘celebration’ wine and can very well compare to some of the best, earthiest and age-worthy Pinot Noirs.

Resources:

Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB).

Wines of Czech Republic:  http://www.wineofczechrepublic.cz/ukaz_odrudu.php?id=21&lang=en

Wikipedia.org.

AW, with many thanks for his feedback.

 

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