A grape by any other name

(Originally published August/September 2007)

A problem which plagues Hanes in both his wine writing as well as his current work in the wine storage biz remains how to classify the grape type in the data structure employed. At home Hanes uses Filemaker Pro to create his database of tasting notes and at work a proprietary software package to record customers’ wines. A seemingly simple function would be to create a “grape type” field that just has the grape’s name in it. Were life so simple. It seems we live in a world where people have the audacity to employ different languages and local customs and as a result, yes, the very same grape can go by different names! That’s messed up. Nevertheless, some sense has to made of all this. What to do, what to do…

First, let’s get the nomenclature down correctly. That’s always important. Hanes among others makes the common mistake of substituting the term “varietal” for “grape name.” Actually, the term “varietal” as a wine descriptor is fairly new, originating in the mid 20th century. What it means is that a specific bottle of wine is labeled after the dominant grape(s) from which it is made. Putting the grape name on the label is, historically speaking, a relatively new phenomenon and traced mainly to the “New World” wine producing countries, e.g., the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, etc. So, there really is no thing as a “varietal” per se, it’s more of an adjectival or adverbial kind of situation pertaining to labeling. “Chardonnay” is the name of a grape type, not a varietal. Putting the word “Chardonnay” on a label means that the wine is varietally labeled.

This makes more sense when one considers the varietal labeling approach when it comes to blends of grapes. Australia produces lots of wines like this, for example, labeled as “Shiraz – Cabernet” or “ Grenache – Shiraz – Mourvèdre.” Varietal labeling is about naming dominant grapes used, so noting the grapes used in the blend conveys information to the consumer about the type of grapes used. Here let it be noted that, in contrast, the wines of France’s wine region called Châteauneuf-du-Pape commonly blends Grenache, Syrah (aka Shiraz) and Mourvèdre together in their red wines but they do not name the grapes used on the label (by French law any of 13 grapes may be used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines). Australian wines which mimic the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends underscore this fact by employing varietal labeling: “Grenache – Shiraz – Mourvèdre.” The popularity of this is such that they can now even shorten it to “GSM” and consumers know what that means. Australian wine producers cannot (and, my word, would not) label their wines as “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” but they do want to, and succeed at, forging a link between those wines and the ones they make by using varietal labeling.

So, we see that varietal labeling gains a great deal of useful flexibility in being able to encompass blends as well as simply being mono-varietal labels. It does not even have to underscore an affinity to the wines of an “Old World” wine region but can just express any kind of wacky blend of grapes. However, varietal labeling has led to the creation of a whole new tier of descriptors such as “GSM.” Among these are the labeling terms “Meritage” and “Claret” which are intended to convey that the wine is made of a specific blend of wine grapes. There’s nothing stopping anyone from creating new varietal labeling terms and if they gain traction, so be it. But there’s no such thing as a Meritage grape.

Even more potentially confusing, there is a logical position that could advocate that classification by “grape name” is incorrect as what is really being discussed are “vine varieties” or “cultivars.” More wine pedantry, always cool. Of course, this ignores the rootstock types most fruit bearing vines are grafted onto, take that suckas. Since wine reviewing and wine collection describing is focused on the names of grapes normal people know, let’s leave that debate to the esteemed scientific community and drunken vineyard managers.

Once we accept that we are talking about grape names and not varietals we can talk about grape names. Back to the problems of different folks using different grape names. As well as those who still don’t use grape names at all on their labels.

The goal is to create a practical, easy to navigate set of descriptors to aid recognition as well as enable tasks such as sorting wine data. This is achieved in a snap when it comes to varietally labeled wines. If a Malbec from Argentina says “Malbec” on the label then the term in the “Grape Name” field is Malbec. (Please, let’s not get into the less than 100% percentage of a dominant grape required by governmental law to use a single grape form of varietal labeling as this varies throughout the world and Hanes’s fingers get tired.) If a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand says “Sauvignon Blanc” on the label then the term in “Grape Name” field is Sauvignon Blanc. And so on.

Since most descriptors get patterned on “Old World” wines it’s easy enough to come up with “Grape Name” descriptors for blends such as “Bordeaux Blend” or “Rhône Blend” and most people would know what you mean. The rest can go complain on eBob. You could even come up with a descriptor such as “Tempranillo blend” to describe wines similar to those of Spain’s Rioja or Ribera del Duero regions where Tempranillo is the very dominant grape with smaller amounts of grapes such as Mazuelo, Garnacha or Graciano. The rest would just have to get their freak on under the generic “Blend” and be happy with that.

In creating a database the owner would then just have to “know” that non-varietally labeled wines are made from this or that grape. That Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc and red Hermitage from Syrah. And then populate the database with this information despite the lack of the information being on the actual labels. This is mentioned because, first, people should know what they are drinking but also, second, it makes comparisons among the world’s wines easier. Then an individual can learn about wine and grow into a better person.

An individual should know that white Burgundy (save those of Saint-Bris or Bourgogne Aligoté) are made of the Chardonnay grape so if she wants to sort a database and find all Chardonnay wines not just the wines which are varietally labeled will come up. This is a learning opportunity dammit! At work the inventory management software Hanes uses was not set up to be input this way, very lame and hopefully to be addressed by early 2008 at the latest. The process of beginning to fix this is what in the main drives this essay.

For what to do with the aforementioned linguistic differences? Does one do violence to the language of origin and “force it” to correspond to a selected grape name? That is, screw “Garnacha” or “Cannonau” we’re calling it “Grenache”? Such a Draconian act not only bespeaks of the lack of a moral compass but creates opportunity for much confusion. Say, someone is in a wine store or restaurant. She knows she loves Grenache. But the wine list says the wine is made from 100% Cannonau! If she is not educated and uplifted to know that this is just another name for Grenache she may miss out on tasting a wine she would find delicious. Nay, we must seek for an approach that remains ecumenical and accepts all grape names, regardless of language of origin, race, religion or creed.

There’s a practical dimension to this as the software has to be sophisticated enough to recognize the different names and sort them together. Or we’re back to the linguistic violence tip of forcing the many names into one name so searches will be complete. Rats. If you type in “Syrah” you want the returned hits to include all wines named “Shiraz” since they are the same damn grape. But should this be done strictly via a static “drop down” list of grape names? Or via the ability to use this or also type in a grape name? Should the names be straight characters or employ diacritical marks? “Gewurztraminer” or “Gewürztraminer” with the umlaut over the “u”? This is important! How can a wine writer truly say he educates while carelessly discarding diacritical marks treasured in languages the globe over?

The stinking software developers better figure this out.

So, like, anyway, it is truly useful to try and learn and memorize the different names of grapes. It not only helps in wine stores, restaurants and in database sorting but just makes the world a better place. To help in this process, Hanes now presents a list of alternative grape names. Be kind and teach them to the young. Future generations depend on your actions today.

Note: Distinctions among slight genetic differences and/or mutations ignored here for both the sake of laziness and simplicity as well as to annoy pedants.


Cabernet Sauvignon: Bouche, Bouchet, Petit-Cabernet, Sauvignon Rouge, Vidure

Carignan: Carignane, Cariñena, Mazuelo, Gragnano

Gamay Noir: Anjou Gamay, Bourguignon Noir, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, Gamay de Touraine, Petit Gamai

Grenache: Grenache Noir, Garnacha, Cannonau, Alicante, Granaccia

Malbec: Cot, Auxerrois, Pressac, Gourdoux

Merlot: Merlot Noir, Bigney, Crabutet, Médoc Noir, Merlau, Petit Merle, Vitraille

Mourvèdre: Monastrell, Mataro

Nebbiolo: Spanna, Chiavennasca, Picotener, Pugent

Pinot Noir: Blauburgunder, Blauer Klevner, Blauer Spätburgunder, Burgundac Crni, Nagyburgundi, Pineau, Pinot Nero, Savagnin Noir

Sangiovese: Sangiovese Grosso , Brunello, Sangiovese Piccolo, Prugnolo Gentile, Sangioveto, Calabrese

Syrah: Shiraz, Hermitage, Marsanne Noir, Sirac, Petite Syrah

Tempranillo: Tinto Madrid, Tinto de la Rioja, Tinta del Pais, Tinta de Toro, Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, Ojo de Liebre, Tinta Roriz, Aragonez

Zinfandel: Primitivo, Plavac Mali, Crljenak Kastelanski


Albariño: Alvarinho, Albarín Blanco

Arbois: Menu Pineau, Petit Pineau

Chardonnay: Beaunois, Gamay Blanc, Melon d’Arbois, Pinot Chardonnay, Morillon

Chenin Blanc: Pineau de la Loire, Pineau d’Anjou, Gros Pineau de Vouvray, Pineau de Savennières, Steen

Gewürztraminer: Traminer, Roter Traminer, Traminer Musqué, Traminer Parfumé, Traminer Aromatico, Edeltraube, Rousselet

Inzolia: Insolia, Ansonica

Muscadet: Melon de Bourgogne (purists will argue that the primary name is Melon de Bourgogne)

Muscat: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat d’Alsace, Muscat Canelli, Moscato Giallo, Moscato Bianco, Moscato, Muskateller, Moscatel, Brown Muscat, Frontignan

Pinot Blanc: Pinot Bianco, Pinot Blanco, Weissburgunder

Pinot Gris: Pinot Grigio, Tokay Pinot Gris, Tokay d’Alsace, Pinot Beurot, Petit Gris, Malvoisie, Fromentot, Ruländer, Grauburgunder, Grauer Burgunder, Szükerbarát

Riesling: Johannisberg Riesling, Johannisberger, Klingelberger, Riesling Renano, White Riesling, Weisser Riesling, Rhine Riesling

Sauvignon Blanc: Fumé Blanc, Petit Sauvignon, Sauvignon Jaune, Sauvignon Musqué

Savagnin: Traminer, Klevner

Sémillon: Chevrier, Green Grape, Wyndruif, Gros Sémillon, Sémillon Muscat, Hunter Valley Riesling

Ugni Blanc: Trebbiano, Saint-Emilion, Cadillac, Thalia

Vermentino: Rolle

Welschriesling: Riesling Italico, Graševina, Olaszrizling, Laski Rizling (this is not the regular Riesling yo!)