A confusing text on varietals

We already know the world of wine is a complex one but there’s something in particular that irritates as well as fascinates me… Synonyms. You may think you know a grape pretty well and the next day someone tells you all about Grecanico and you’re lost if you don’t know it’s in fact Garganega. Or, you think you’ve discovered an amazing unknown grape variety like Rolle in Provence, fantastic! This discovery is just another Vermentino. Those are just some of many personal mistakes. So, bear with me, this is going to be painful but extremely satisfying and unraveling.

You may already know the noble grapes of Alsace, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat. What about, Klevner, Gutedel, Tokay, Klevener, etc. Get ready. Klevner is the local name for Pinot Blanc, while Klevener refers to Klevener de Heiligenstein which is Savagnin Rose found only in Heiligenstein itself, Bourgheim, Gertwiller, Goxwiller, and Obernai commune. Wait there’s more! Savagnin is also known locally as Traminer, Gewürztraminer is a clone of Traminer but also named Naturé just south in Jura. Chasselas can also be found in Alsace, but it’s called Gutedel, and Tokay is just not allowed anymore, but it was Pinot Gris once. Confused yet?

There’s really no standardization or regulations over this kind of name-dropping. It may be an official synonym, a regional surname, some kind of descriptor for young vines, clones or some labeling terms. Don’t worry if you misspell Poulsard, you might just end up calling it Ploussard which is also accepted in Jura. Sylvaner is known locally in Switzerland as Johannisberg which is also a bereiche in Rheingau. And chasselas is dorin. What about very similar names just to mess up your grammar? Which one of these is correctly written: Alvarinho, Albarinho, Albarino, Albariño. Answer, all of them in their very own way and place. It’s up to each of us to navigate through this peculiar entangled map of local preferences.

Alicante or Alicante Bouschet for its breeder Henry Bouschet is found in Corsica, Tuscany, Calabria, the Balkans, Israel, North Africa, California, Portugal and Spain where it is known as Garnacha TintoNera. I’ve heard it be falsely referred to as Grenache or Garnacha (or Cannonau) in Italy but it’s in fact just a crossing from it.

Chardonnay, this one should be simple, right? Nope. It’s also called Gamay Blanc, Melon d’Arbois, Moular, Beaunois in Burgundy, whose Austrian synonyms include Morillon and Feinburgunder.

Let’s work the Cabernets now. Cabernet Sauvignon is known as Burdeos in Péru and some other South American countries. Others synonyms include Petite Vidure in some part of France. However, Grande Vidure is something else. It’s used in some parts of Chile or New Zealand to designate Carménère, which was once thought to be Merlot. Cabernet Franc can be called Gros Vidur too in Hungary (notice the similarity). More regionally, in Pomerol, it’s actually known as Bouchet.


Then there’s the whole story of the Pinot Family with so many members (156 total). Pinot noir or Spätburgunder in Germany is also Savagnin noir in Hungary or Blauer Spätburgunder in Luxembourg. Pinot Gris is commonly spelled Pinot Grigio in its Italian expression and Austrians prefers it as Ruländer or Beurot. Pinot Blanc is very similar and sometimes confused as Auxerrois or Gouais Blanc which is a mistake. It could be confused as Weissburgunder, one of its synonyms in Germany where it’s quite valued. It also has a good popularity as Beli Pinot in Slovenia and Croatia.

The sun-drenched Italy, with its many regions and 407 Italian denominations or appellations (DOCGs / DOCs / DOPs) is maybe the king (or queen?) of the regional surname. In its center, Sangiovese has served as main grape grown forever and rather recent studies mostly in the classic part of Chianti has proved the existence of hundreds of different clones. First promulgated by Biondi Santi in Montalcino, Brunello is probably the most famous clone. As for Prugnolo gentile, it can be found in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with Rosso di Montepulciano. Both have deeply rooted personalities and expressions. Yet, both are based on Sangiovese. It does not stop there. Morellino on the southern Tuscan coast, Nielluccio in the beautiful Corsica and don’t you dare talk of Sangiovese Grosso to a Chianti Producer, for them it should be Sangioveto.

Even more troubling is El Tempranillo! Spain’s most famous wine is traveling with many variant identities. While it will be Tinto Fino or Tinto del País in Ribera del Duero, it takes the name of Toro when it goes there, Tinta de Toro with looser grapes and simpler style. Going towards south, the name Cencibel is found in Valdepeñas and transformed into Jancivera in the Levante. Obviously Catalan would have their own term, Ull de Llebre, as does the Castilians, Ojo de Liebre. Other identities includes the Portuguese Tinta Roriz, Aragonês, or more internationally, mostly in the United states as Valdepeñas, yes like the Spanish DO.

Are you confused yet? I haven’t even mentioned the different regions and villages with the same name as something else or other terms used differently. Just think of how many ways the name Montepulciano may be used; the difference in a Spanish reserva and Rioja reserva; Friulano the grape or the language; Or Cava, renowned Spanish sparkling or PGI level ageing requirement in Greece… With over 10 000 varieties of wine grapes in the world, of which 1300 is commonly used to make wine, there’s definitely place for interpretation and exploration.