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Squirrels and cool cats

As a teenage music fan, obscurity trumped everything. If a band I liked became too popular, they were, if not dumped, then certainly relegated from the list that formed the answer to the all-important identity-defining question “what are you into?” If, heaven forbid, their album got into the charts and was listened to by people who were slightly less rabid and tribal about their tastes, the album would be dismissed as “not a patch on their early stuff”.

When it comes to music, I like to think I’ve left that sort of obscurer than thou inverse snobbery behind with the fag butts behind the bike sheds. It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeking out obscurities anymore – I love making discoveries (and bragging about them) as much as the next ageing indie-boy. It’s just that I no longer tend to write things off just because they’re popular.

And the same is true in wine. I have little time, these days, for the kind of too cool for school wine hipster who is only truly happy if they’re drinking something that less than 1% of the wine-drinking population has heard of. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy ambling and sniffing around off the sides of the beaten track every bit as much as I love tasting the classics.

Certainly it was that impulse to find the lesser-spotted that drew me to a tasting hosted by a relative newcomer to the UK wine scene, Red Squirrel Wine, in London last week. Set up in 2012 with a mission to find “in a nutshell” the rare “red squirrels, not the grey squirrels” of wine, the company specializes in “wines made from native or just downright unusual grape varieties”.

True to form the tasting was full of fascinating rarities: from sparkling Muscadet to Ligurian Rossese and Provencal Tibouren, from Catalan Sumoll to Braucol from Gaillac and Piemontese Croatina and Grignolino.

What made the tasting such a joy, however, wasn’t the fact that so many of these varieties are so hard to find in the UK (or, indeed, outside their home regions), but the consistent quality and individuality of the flavours and textures on display. Indeed, these attributes were every bit as much in evidence in more conventional wines such as Barolo, Champagne, and Riesling from the Pfalz, Mosel and Adelaide Hills as they were in the Rufete from Arribes in Spain or the Passerina from Abruzzo in Italy. "Red squirrel" wines may be cool, in other words. But as you’ll see when we write up a more detailed assessment of the wines from this funky young company in a future Wine Gang monthly report, grey squirrel wines can be every bit as good.