This page combines alphabetically, in one centralized spot the information about the grape varieties of the wines that I have reviewed in this blog, so that it may be easily referred to by readers.
All of the grape variety information below has been taken from the wonderfully educational, gorgeously illustrated and scientifically researched volume “Wine Grapes” authored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Quoting directly from the Web site dedicated to the book:
“Where do wine grapes come from and how are vine varieties related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make? Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book examines viticulture, grapes and wine as never before. Here is a complete, alphabetically presented profile of all grape varieties relevant to today’s wine lover.”
I don’t think I need to say much about the authors, as if you are into wine they are all very well known, but just in case: Jancis Robinson has been a wine writer since 1975 and the Financial Times’s wine correspondent since 1989. Her principal occupation now is taking care of her own Web site, JancisRobinson.com, which gets updated daily. Julia Harding is a linguist, an editor and a qualified Master of Wine. She is Jancis Robinson’s full-time assistant and “associate palate”. Dr José Vouillamoz is a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist of international repute. He was trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis.
I also wish to take the opportunity to sincerely thank the authors for being so kind and generous as to grant me permission to pull together and publish this page, which I think can become over time a great resource for gaining a quick snapshot of the various varieties that make up the wines that I review on this blog, beside giving readers an idea of the amazing wealth of information that can be found in Wine Grapes.
If you read this and are seriously into wine, I think you should definitely consider acquiring Wine Grapes as it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties. Besides, let me tell you: Dr Vouillamoz’s DNA profiling work about all the grape varieties in the book is nothing short of unbelievable and well worth the price in and of itself!
The information below about Italian wine appellations is the result of my own research.
Aglianico is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to Southern Italy. The earliest written evidence of this variety dates back to 1520 referring to the grapes as “Aglianiche”.
Although it is widely believed that the name “Aglianico” comes from a variant of the word “hellenic”, hinting at a Greek origin of the variety, this theory is confuted by others (including the Wine Grapes’ authors) who contend that the word actually comes from the Spanish word “llano” (meaning “plain”), thus referring to Aglianico as the “grapes of the plain”.
DNA analysis supports the authors’ theory as Aglianico’s DNA profile does not resemble that of any of the modern Greek grape varieties, while it is similar to Aglianicone’s, a Campanian variety which could be an offspring of Aglianico.
Aglianico wines tend to be structured and tannic, with good acidity which gives them great aging potential. Aglianico is almost exclusively grown in Southern Italy, where it achieves its best results in the regions of Campania and Basilicata (where it is present with its separate clone Aglianico del Vulture), particularly in the following appellations:
- Taurasi DOCG (in the Campania region, encompassing a territory near the town of Avellino and requiring the use of a minimum of 85% Aglianico grapes as well as 36 months of aging for base Taurasi wines and 48 months for Taurasi Riserva wines)
- Aglianico del Taburno DOCG (in the Campania region, encompassing a territory near the town of Benevento and requiring the use of a minimum of 85% Aglianico grapes as well as 24 months of aging for the base wine and 36 months for the Riserva)
- Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG (in the Basilicata region, encompassing the volcanic territory near the town of Atella and requiring the use of 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes as well as 24 months of aging for the base wine and 36 months for the Riserva)
- Aglianico del Vulture DOC (in the Basilicata region, encompassing a slightly larger territory than the “Superiore” appellation and requiring the use of 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes)
Outside Italy, limited plantings of Aglianico may be found in Australia and in California.
Barbera is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Monferrato district in the north Italian region of Piemonte. The first written references to Barbera date back to the end of the XVIII century. Nowadays it is the most widespread grape variety in Piemonte, from which wines are made that display lively acidity and a deep ruby color.
In Piemonte, Barbera is the main grape of four different appellations:
- Barbera d’Asti DOCG (encompassing an area surrounding the towns of Asti and Alessandria, and requiring the use of 90% or more of Barbera grapes and a minimum aging of 4 months for the base version or 14 months, of which at least 6 months in wood barrels for the “Superiore” version);
- Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG (encompassing the Monferrato district near Alessandria and an area near the town of Asti, requiring the use of 85% or more of Barbera grapes and a minimum aging of 14 months, of which at least 6 months in wood barrels)
- Barbera d’Alba DOC (encompassing an area in the vicinities of the town of Cuneo and requiring the use of 85% or more of Barbera grapes)
- Barbera del Monferrato DOC (encompassing the Monferrato district near Alessandria and an area near the town of Asti, requiring the use of 85% or more of Barbera grapes)
Given its wide distribution, Barbera is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from simpler, “younger” versions that are only aged in steel vats to more structured and evolved versions that are aged in oak barrels, including sometimes barrique casks.
Cabernet Franc is one the oldest black-berried varieties in the Bordeaux area, although DNA profiling indicates that it actually originated from the Basque Country in Spain, as its parents were two old local cultivars named Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza.
The oldest documented reference to Cabernet Franc appears to date back to 1534 and to have been recorded in the Loire Valley under the name “Breton”. The name Cabernet supposedly derives from the latin word “carbon” or black, due to the dark color of the berries. Cabernet Franc has been established to be the parent of such well known varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot.
Wines made from Cabernet Franc grapes are generally paler, lighter, softer and more aromatic than those made from its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. Beside the Loire Valley and the Bordeaux region of France, Cabernet Franc is widely planted throughout the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a black-berried variety that originates from the Gironde region in south-west France. The oldest documented reference to it (under the name “Petit Cabernet“) dates back to the second half of the XVIII century.
DNA profiling showed that Cabernet Sauvignon originated as a (probably spontaneous) cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. In the XX century, there happened two genetic mutations of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia that produced in one case pinky bronzed berries (now known as Malian) and in the other case white berries (now known as Shalistin).
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes make deep colored, concentrated and tannic wines, apt for long-term aging. Beside its native Bordeaux region, where Cabernet Sauvignon plays a key role in Bordeaux blends, it is a variety that has been planted extensively around the world and that (along with Merlot and Chardonnay) has become the epitome of the international varieties.
Casavecchia is an ancient black-berried grape variety indigenous to the Caserta area in the Campania region, in Italy. Tradition has it that the last known vines of Casavecchia were found in XIX century near an old house (which in Italian translates into “casa vecchia“, which gave the name to the variety) in a village north of the town of Caserta, and were used to replant the variety in other areas north of Caserta.
Recent DNA analysis shows that Casavecchia is unlike any other known grape variety, making its origins pretty mysterious.
Chardonnay is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the French area between Lyon and Dijon, encompassing Burgundy and Champagne. The earliest documented mention of Chardonnay dates back to the late XVII century in the village of Saint Sorlin (today known as La Roche Vineuse) under the name “Chardonnet“, although the variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near the town of Uchizy in southern Burgundy.
DNA analysis showed that Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc.
Chardonnay Rose is a color mutation of Chardonnay, while Chardonnay Musque’ is a mutation with Muscat-like aromas.
Chardonnay is one of the most versatile and adaptable white grape varieties, which explains in part why it has been so extensively grown all over the world. Chardonnay grapes are generally high in sugar levels and do not have a dominant flavor of their own, so the wines made out of them tend to take on a variety of aromas depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made. Thus Chardonnays run the gamut from subtle and savory to rich and spicy still wines as well as being one of the base wines for Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines.
Chardonnay is a typical international variety given how widely it is cultivated on a worldwide basis, from native France, to Italy, North and South America and Australia.
Ciliegiolo is a black-berried grape variety that was first mentioned in a grape variety treatise dating back to 1600 under the name “Ciriegiuolo Dolce“. The current name of the variety derives from the Italian word “ciliegia” meaning cherry because of the cherry aroma of its berries.
Tradition has it that Ciliegiolo was supposedly imported into Italy from Spain around 1870, but there is not sufficient evidence to support such theory.
DNA analysis proved that Ciliegiolo is one of the parents of Sangiovese, while Ciliegiolo’s parentage is still being researched.
Ciliegiolo is mostly cultivated in Tuscany (Italy) where it is often blended with Sangiovese to soften its muscular tannins in Chianti wines. Wines made from Ciliegiolo grapes tend to have an intense red color and aromas of cherries.
Cortese is an indigenous Italian white-berried grape variety whose first documented mention dates back to 1614 in Italy’s Piemonte region.
Nowadays, it is mostly grown in the area surrounding the towns of Asti and Alessandria (in south-eastern Piemonte), where it especially is the only grape variety allowed by the Gavi (or Cortese di Gavi) DOCG appellation. Cortese generally makes wines with rather neutral aromas and good acidity.
Fenile is a white-berried grape variety that is indigenous to and highly localized in the Amalfi Coast area in the Italian region of Campania. It is said to derive its name from the Italian word “fieno” (hay) due to its straw yellow color. Fenile’s DNA profile is unique. It is an early ripening variety with high sugar levels.
Friulano is the relatively new name for the grape variety that used to be known as Tocai. The change in name was due to the outcome of a dispute before the European Court of Justice that in 2005 prohibited Italian winemakers, starting March 2007, from using the word Tocai to identify their wines or grape varieties, on the grounds that the use of the word “Tocai” by the Italians could be confusing with the very famous (and delicious!) Hungarian sweet botrytized wine “Tokaji“, which is a word that started being used to identify such wine before anyone else used any similar term, including Tocai in the Friuli and Veneto regions of Italy. Incidentally, note that in Hungary “Tokaji” is only the name of the wine, not that of the prevalent grape variety it is made of, which instead is called Furmint.
As a result of the aforesaid European Court of Justice decision (and despite, let me note, Italian Tocai being a dry white wine and therefore completely different from Hungaian Tokaji, which is a sweet wine), Italian authorities and Tocai producers from the two affected regions (Friuli and Veneto) needed to come up with a different name to call their own grapes and the wine made out of them.
In one of the best examples of Italian bureaucracy at its finest, a decision was made to call the same grape variety in two different ways: “Friulano” in the region of Friuli and “Tai” in the region of Veneto. As if being required to drop the Tocai designation altogether had not brought enough confusion in the market…
Regarding Friulano (or Tocai) as a grape variety, DNA profiling has shown that it is identical to Sauvignonasse, an old white-berried grape variety that originated in the Gironde region of France and that (despite what the name would make you think) is not related to Sauvignon. Sauvignonasse vines were brought to the North-Eastern Italian region of Friuli in the XIX century where it was given the name Tokai, which later on muted into Tocai, in the first quarter of the XX century.
Ginestra is a white-berried grape variety that is indigenous to and highly localized in the Amalfi Coast area in the Italian region of Campania. It draws its name from the homonymous Italian word which means broom, because of its dominant aroma. It is a late ripening variety with high acidity levels and with aging the wines made from these grapes may develop kerosene-like aromas similar to those that may be found in certain Riesling.
Up until recently, Prosecco was the name for three things: the wine, its main grape variety and the homonymous village near the town of Trieste (in the Italian region of Friuli) that probably gave the wine and the grape their name. Relatively easy so far.
Then in 2009, with Prosecco’s popularity and sales soaring (in 2011 the overall production of Prosecco was about 265 million bottles, 55% of which were exported), the consortium of Prosecco producers obtained an official change in the name of the grape variety, from Prosecco to Glera, so that Prosecco would only be the name of the wine (and not of the grape variety too) and could therefore be reserved for its designation of origin, thus preventing other producers from other Italian regions or other countries from calling their sparkling wines Prosecco.
At any rate, the main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety. Glera is a partly-aromatic white-berried grape variety.
Other grapes that may be used in the production of the wine Prosecco and that used to be considered clonal variations of Prosecco Tondo, but DNA analysis has proved to be distinct varieties, are Prosecco Lungo and Prosecco Nostrano (the latter, by the way, has been proven to be identical to Malvasia Bianca Lunga).
Prosecco wine is made in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:
- Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) DOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
- Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo;
- Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.
The regulations of the two DOCG appellations require that their Prosecco wines be made for 85% or more from Glera grapes, to which up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga white-berried grapes may be blended. The regulations of the DOC appellation are similar but permit that a few additional grape varieties be blended to the Glera base grapes, as follows: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.
Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Charmat-Martinotti Method production process, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s. Compared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.
Grechetto di Orvieto is a white-berried grape variety that is distinct from the similar sounding “Greco” variety. DNA analysis also showed that Grechetto di Orvieto is a different variety from Grechetto di Todi (which, in turn, is a synonym of Pignoletto) and that a parent-offspring relationship exists between the two.
Grechetto is mostly grown in Central Italy, particularly in Umbria, and is often used as a blending partner of other varieties.
Greco is a white-berried grape variety that is mostly cultivated in Southern Italy, particularly in the Campania region. DNA profiling recently showed that Greco is the same variety that is otherwise known as Asprinio and is close to Aleatico.
Probably, the best known appellation for Greco-based wines is Greco di Tufo DOCG in the Campania region, which encompasses a territory near the town of Avellino and requires the use of a minimum of 85% of Greco grapes, which may be blended to a local variety known as Coda di Volpe (“fox tail”) up to a maximum of 15%.
Another notable appellation for the Greco variety is Aversa DOC (also known as Asprinio di Aversa DOC) which encompasses an area, always in the Campania region, near the town of Aversa and the city of Naples and requires the use of a minimum of 85% of Greco (locally known as Asprinio) grapes. The word Asprinio is a variant of the Italian word “aspro” which means “sour” due to the high acidity that is typical of the wines made in this appellation. Another distinctive feature of the Asprinio di Aversa DOC appellation is the traditional way to grow the local ungrafted grapevines, where tall birch trees serve as natural trellis, resulting in vines that climb up to 75 ft (25 mt) high and require the use of very tall ladders to harvest the top grapes – here is a photograph to illustrate this singular grapevine growing method which is also known as “vite maritata” (i.e., “married grapevine”).
The earliest mention of Lagrein is contained in a 1318 document found in Gries, near Bolzano, and surprisingly it refers to a white wine, that researchers have not been able to identify yet. Instead, the first reference to the red Lagrein that we know dates back to 1526.
Recent DNA analysis proved that Lagrein is a variety that is indigenous to the Alto Adige region of Italy, that it originated as a natural cross between Teroldego and an unknown variety and that, among other cool facts, it is a sibling of Marzemino and a cousin of Syrah!
In Italy, Lagrein is mostly grown in the northern regions of Alto Adige and Trentino. Outside of Italy, Lagrein can be found in California (Paso Robles) and Australia.
Merlot is a black-berried variety whose earliest documented mention dates back to 1783/1784 in the Gironde region of France under the name “Merlau“.
DNA profiling proved that one of Merlot’s parents was Cabernet Franc, while the other parent was a virtually unknown cultivar the last traces of which were found in Brittany and in the Charente region of France, where the few remaining vines went under the name of Raisin de la Madeleina but were later renamed “Magdeleine Noire des Charentes“.
Merlot Gris is a color mutation of Merlot, while Merlot Blanc is a distinct grape variety (a cross between Merlot and Folle Blanche).
Interestingly, in a small, isolated vineyard near Arezzo (Tuscany, Italy) Merlot crossed with an unidentified parent to give birth to the rare grape variety known as Caberlot, from which the homonymous, equally rare and sought after wine is made.
Merlot is the quintessential international variety, as it is cultivated even more widely than Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines made out of it are generally fresh and sweet, which make Merlot the ideal grape to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc to counterbalance their muscular tannic structure.
Monastrell is a black-berried grape variety that originates from the Valencia region, in eastern Spain. The name derives from Latin and is a diminutive of the word “monastery”, suggesting that the variety was first cultivated by monks. The earliest documented use of the name Monastrell dates back to 1381 in the Catalunya region of Spain.
Monastrell later made it into France (probably in the XVI century) from the Spanish port-town of Sagunto near Valencia, which in Catalan was known as Morvedre, so in France the grape took the name of Mourvedre.
Monastrell wines are typically high in alcohol and tannins and may have intense aromas of blackberry. Monastrell/Mourvedre is widely grown in Spain and in France, and it is also cultivated in the USA (especially in California), Australia and South Africa, where it is sometimes known under the name of “Mataro“, which was the name of a Spanish town on the Mediterranean.
A few facts about the Montepulciano grape variety. First off, let’s dispel a possible source of confusion: although the name refers to the Montepulciano area near Siena (Tuscany), the Montepulciano grape variety is an Italian indigenous variety that originates from the Abruzzo region. Consequently, it is important NOT to confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (which is a Tuscan appellation whose wines must be made of 70% or more Sangiovese grapes) with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (which are two appellations from Abruzzo whose wines are required to be made out of at least, respectively, 85% or 90% Montepulciano grapes).
Montepulciano is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to Italy (most likely the Abruzzo region) and is widely planted across central Italy (about 30,000 HA), especially in the regions of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. Beside Italy, it is also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand. It is a grape variety that results in deeply colored wines with robust tannins, that are often used in blends. On account of the wide diffusion of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines made out of them varies considerably – hence, caveat emptor: you need to know which producers to trust and buy from.
Moscato Bianco (also known as Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains) is a very ancient white-berried grape variety that may originate from either Italy or Greece. The oldest mention on record dates back to 1304 in an Italian agricultural treatise under the Latin name “Muscatellus”, referring to a table grape grown near the Italian town of Bologna. Supposedly, the variety was indigenous to Greece and from there it was brought to Italy.
DNA profiling has shown that Moscato Bianco is the same variety as a number of Greek grapes, including Moschato Aspro, Moschato, Kerkyras and Moschato Mazas. Also, DNA parentage analysis demonstrated that Moscato Bianco has parent-offspring relationships with six other varieties: (i) Aleatico; (ii) Moscato Giallo; (iii) Moscato Rosa del Trentino; (iv) Moscato di Scanzo; (v) Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo; and (vi) Muscat Rouge de Madere. Five out of such six varieties originate from Italy, which could point to an Italian (instead of Greek) origin of Moscato Bianco. Without additional evidence, however, it is impossible to prove from which of such two countries it actually originated.
Moscato Bianco is an aromatic grape variety. It is widely grown in France and in Italy, where it is the only variety allowed by Piemonte’s “Asti DOCG” appellation, which comprises both Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti and encompasses a territory near the towns of Alessandria and Asti. Limited Moscato Bianco plantings also occur in the USA (California and Washington) and in Australia, where a mutation known as Brown Muscat (or Muscat a Petits Grains Rouges) is used to make Liqueur Muscat, a sweet, dark, fortified wine.
Nebbiolo is without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous black-berried grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca).
The name Nebbiolo comes from the Italian word “nebbia” (fog) – some say because of the fog that in late Fall generally enshrines Piemonte’s hills where Nebbiolo is grown. Nowadays, three main different Nebbiolo clones have been identified: (i) Nebbiolo Lampia; (ii) Nebbiolo Michet; and (iii) Nebbiolo Rose’. Interestingly enough, however, DNA profiling has shown that, while Lampia and Michet have identical DNA profiles, Rose’ does not share the same profile, which has recently led to consider Nebbiolo Rose’ a different grape variety altogether rather than a clone of Nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo is a late-ripening, very finicky variety in terms of the terroir it requires to produce quality wine, which means that Nebbiolo successfully grows only in very few places on the entire earth – Piemonte and Valtellina sure being two of them, along with certain of California’s AVA’s. Nebbiolo grapes generally have robust tannins and high acidity, which make it a variety that is very suitable for long-term aging. In Italy, Nebbiolo’s best expressions are in varietal wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco in Piemonte or Valtellina Superiore and Sforzato della Valtellina in Lombardia’s Valtellina district (all of them being DOCG appellations).
Nerello Mascalese is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Etna volcano region in Sicily. The name of the variety loosely translates into “black of Mascali”, which is a town near mount Etna.
DNA analysis recently showed that Nerello Mascalese is an offspring (possibly a natural cross) of Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco, as well as a sibling of the Gaglioppo variety from the Calabria region.
Nerello Mascalese is almost exclusively grown in the Etna area in Sicily, and notably in the Etna Rosso DOC appellation which encompasses a territory near the town of Catania and requires the use of a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese grapes, which may be blended with up to 20% of Nerello Cappuccio.
Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – however, this is not because it came from Calabria (which it did not), but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).
Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential.
The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation in Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations (among which the Noto DOC appellation), where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.
Pallagrello Nero is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Campania region in Italy. Its name probably derives from the Campanian dialect word “pagliarello” which refers to the straw mats on which the grapes were left to dry.
DNA profiling showed that Pallagrello Nero has a close genetic relationship with Casavecchia, a rare and old variety indigenous to the Caserta area, in Campania.
Pallagrello Nero was thought to be extinct until the 1990’s, when a local winegrower discovered a few remaining vines and repopulated the vineyards in the Caserta region. The wines made from this variety are generally cherry-fruited and sometimes peppery, with gentle but noticeable tannins.
Pinot Grigio, AKA Pinot Gris, as a grape variety is a color mutation of Pinot Noir whose origins can be traced back to the XVIII century in both Germany and France. Pinot Grigio is said to have been cultivated in Northern Italy since the XIX century.
Pinot Grigio is a grey-berried grape with generally high sugar levels and moderate acidity.
In Italy, for some reason, Pinot Grigio came into fashion in the late Ninenties/early two thousands, a trend that has been fueled by booming exports especially to the UK and the US of mostly inexpensive and lackluster wines made out of an overproduction of this grape variety. This phenomenon somewhat tarnished the reputation of Pinot Grigio, which was often associated with a cheap, mass-production type of wine, until in the last few years it started falling out of favor. Fortunately, some quality Italian Pinot Grigio is still made, particularly in the regions of Friuli, Alto Adige and Veneto.
Ripoli is a white-berried grape variety that is indigenous to and highly localized in the Amalfi Coast area in the Italian region of Campania. It is a mid-ripening variety which is genetically close to Falanghina Flegrea and presents high sugar levels and moderate acidity.
Sangiovese, Chianti’s main grape variety, is a black-berried variety that is indigenous to Central Italy and was first mentioned in writing in 1600 under the name Sangiogheto (which begs the question: if the first documented use of the word Chianti to identify the wine dates back to 1398, what did they call the wine’s main grape for those 200 and change years???).
In 2004, DNA parentage analysis showed that Sangiovese originated as a cross between Ciliegiolo (a Tuscan grape variety) and Calabrese di Montenuovo (a quite obscure variety from Calabria). Sangiovese is a vigorous and late ripening variety that is one of the most widely cultivated in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Some is also grown in California and Washington State.
Sangiovese is one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties and is utilized for making several signature Italian wines, including (beside Chianti) Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano. Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still “young” and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them.
Given the massive quantities of Sangiovese that are produced, quality levels of the wines made out of such grape variety tend to be inconsistent and knowledge of the various appellations that allow its use and of the specific wineries is important to avoid unsatisfactory experiences.
A few interesting notions about the origins of Sauvignon Blanc: recent DNA analysis has identified a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin (an old white-berried variety that is common in the Jura region of France) and Sauvignon Blanc and, there being much earlier documents mentioning Savagnin than Sauvignon Blanc, the former is believed to be the parent of the latter.
DNA results also support the thesis that, contrary to common belief, Sauvignon Blanc did not originate from the Bordeaux area, but rather from the Loire Valley in France, where documental evidence dates back to 1534 (compared to 1710 in Bordeaux).
However, it is interesting to note that, when Sauvignon Blanc was grown in the Bordeaux area, it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.
In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in the 1970s and soon became the most widely grown variety in the country, especially in the Marlborough region.
Semillon is a white-berried grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France: it is uncertain if its birthplace was the Sauternes area or Saint Emilion: the latter is mentioned in the first documented use of the variety’s name, which occurred in 1736 when it was cited as “semilion ou Saint Emilion“.
DNA analysis has suggested that Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are genetically very close, although they do not have any parent-offspring relationship.
Semillon is widely grown in south-western France, especially in the Bordeaux region and in particular in the Sauternes area, where it is a common blending partner of Sauvignon Blanc for making the world-famous local sweet wines. Beside France, Semillon is widely planted in Australia and in South Africa, where it is generally used to make dry white wines either by itself or as a blending partner of Sauvignon Blanc. There are also some limited growings of Semillion in the USA (California and Washington), Chile and Argentina.
Syrah is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the northern Rhone region of France, where it was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1781 under the name “Sira de l’Hermitage“.
DNA analysis proved that Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche (a Savoie variety) and Dureza (an Ardeche variety) that probably took place in the Rhone-Alps region.
Syrah has historically been mostly grown in the Rhone Valley in France and in Australia under the name Shiraz, although recently its planting has become more widespread as a result of an increasing popularity of its wines.
36. Tai (or “Tocai”)
Tempranillo is probably Spain’s most well-known black-berried grape variety. The earliest documented mention of Tempranillo (referred to as “las tempraniellas“) dates back to the XIII century. The name derives from the Spanish word “temprano” which means “early” and alludes to the early-ripening quality of this variety.
Genetic analysis has shown that Tempanillo vineyards have rapidly multiplied in Spain from a small number of original clones, most likely coming from the provinces of La Rioja and Navarra. Tempranillo seems to have a parent-offspring relationship with the Albillo Mayor variety from Ribera del Duero, but so far it has not been possible to determine which is the parent and which is the offspring.
DNA profiling has proved that Tempranillo has traditionally been grown in Italy’s region of Toscana under the name Malvasia Nera. In Portugal, Tempranillo has been cultivated for centuries under the names Tinta Roriz in the Douro region and Aragonez in the Alentejo region.
Nowadays Tempranillo is widely grown in Spain (where it is the country’s most widely planted black-berried variety) and Portugal. Tempranillo can also be found in southern France, Italy, Argentina, the USA (especially, California and Washington) and Australia.
Tempranillo wines generally have less alcohol than for instance Garnacha or Monastrell, marked tannins and lower acidity.
Throughout Italy, there are several white-berried grape varieties which include the word “Trebbiano” in their names (examples include Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano Giallo, Trebbiano Spoletino and Trebbiano Toscano), but interestingly DNA analysis has proved that, despite what their names could lead you to believe, they are mostly unrelated to one another. The first documented mention of Trebbiano dates back to 1303 in an Italian agricultural treatise where it is referred to as “Tribiana“; it is however not possible to tell which among the various Trebbiano varieties the author was referring to.
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a white-berried variety that has long been known in the Abruzzo region, in central Italy. Its origins are still unclear, and many believe that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is identical to Bombino Bianco, a white-berried variety originating from Puglia. However, DNA analysis has suggested a possible genetic relationship with a different variety known as Trebbiano Spoletino. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is essentially only grown in the region of Abruzzo and, to a lesser extent, Molise, which altogether amounted to a mere 418 HA of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo vineyards in year 2000.
Trebbiano Spoletino is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the central Italian region of Umbria, where it was first documented in the late XIX century, which suggests that it may have been a natural cross between other local varieties. DNA analysis has suggested a possible genetic relationship with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Trebbiano Spoletino grapes tend to be rich in sugar while retaining fresh acidity.
Trebbiano Spoletino almost went extinct, had it not been for an Italian producer (Cantina Novelli) who in the early 2000’s saved the variety by replanting it in their vineyards near the Umbrian town of Spoleto using cuttings from 600 old vines, some of which were over 100 years old and ungrafted. Nowadays the plantings of Trebbiano Spoletino are still minimal and only occur in Umbria.
Vermentino is an indigenous Italian white-berried grape variety. The earliest documented mention of Vermentino dates back to 1658 in a small town near Alessandria (Piemonte, Italy). According to certain scholars, the name of the variety would derive from the Italian word “fermento” (i.e., ferment) due to the fizzy character of the young wine.
DNA analysis demonstrated that Vermentino and Pigato (a common grape variety in the Italian region of Liguria) are one and the same variety. Vermentino is a grape that seems to benefit from the proximity to the sea: in Italy, it is mainly cultivated in Liguria, Sardinia and Piemonte, with some acreage also in coastal Tuscany. Beside Italy, Vermentino is also widely grown in southern France and Corsica and it can also be found in the US (mostly California) and Australia.
Viognier is a white-berried variety that originates from France’s northern Rhone area, where it was first mentioned in a document at the end of the XVIII century in which it was spelled as “Vionnier“.
DNA analysis has shown a parent-offspring relationship between Viognier and Mondeuse Blanche, although it is still unclear which one of the two varieties is parent to the other. Depending on whether Viognier is parent to or offspring of Mondeuse Blanche, Viognier is a grandparent or half sibling of Syrah (see the Syrah section for more information). Viognier also has a close genetic relationship with Italian grape variety Freisa.
Viognier grapes are aromatic (with primary aromas that are generally remindful of apricot and white blossoms) and generally they are high in sugar and low in acidity.
Viognier almost went extinct in the XX century, when in the Sixties only a mere 14 HA of vineyards survived in France! Fortunately, in the Eighties certain growers from the French region of Languedoc and from California took an interest in Viognier and started experimenting with it in their respective territories, which led to encouraging results and a renewed desire from many producers around the globe to grow Viognier.
Nowadays, France is the country where Viognier is mostly widely planted (almost 4,400 HA in 2009), where in its native northern Rhone region, beside being used to make white wines especially in Condrieu, it sometimes gets added in very small proportions to the fermentation of Cote Rotie’s Syrahs to stabilize color and contribute a touch of its primary aromas.
Australia rivals France as the leading country for growing Viognier, with 4,400 HA of plantings in 2008. There, more than 500 wineries produce Viognier, both as a white wine and following the norther Rhone’s tradition of adding a small quantity to the fermentation of local Syrahs.
Beside France and Australia, Viognier is sizeably present in the USA, particularly in California’s Central Coast (over 1,200 HA in 2010), Washington State, Oregon and notably Virginia, where despite the limited planting (93 HA in 2010) is considered the State’s signature variety.
Vitovska is a rare white-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Carso/Karst area, which stretches across the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli and Slovenia. DNA parentage analysis proved that Vitovska is a natural cross between Malvasia Bianca Lunga and Glera.
Vitovska is essentially only grown in the Carso/Karst area from which it originated. The variety almost went extinct in the XX century, had it not been saved in the 1980’s by the efforts and investments of a handful of small Italian producers such as Edi Kante and Benjamin Zidarich.