On grape varieties

Here I post my take on a grape variety, the less commonly seen ones, based on my tastings, wider informed expertise and reference materials. I will be adding to this post, which is also filed under study aids.

Varieties covered

  1. Aramon noir
  2. Bourboulenc
  3. Carignan noir
  4. Cornalin
  5. Humagne blanche
  6. Humagne rouge
  7. Petite arvine
  8. Rouge du pays
  9. Scheurebe
  10. Vidal
  11. Zweigelt

Aramon (noir)
Also known as ugni noir, it was, from the mid-nineteenth until the mid 20th century, the most widely planted variety in France, predominantly in the Herault. It is a thick skinned variety that buds early, and ripens late, and so needs a hot climate, but is resistant to powdery mildew. Aramon can be highly productive, approaching 400hl/ha, translating in some cases to 6 bottles of wine per vine [3], ie a wine lake, of thin pale unremarkable wine for labourers. Nevertheless, when planted on poor soil and aggressively pruned, it can still produce respectable wine. It fell out of favour after a succession of disastrous frosts in the 1960s, being supplanted by carignan, which gave more attractive wines, along with more alcohol and colour, and of course its own subsequent wine lake. Plantings of aramon noir, also blanc and gris, now amount to less than 100ha, or less than 3000ha, depending on the source, in France, primarily in the Herault, rather than over 200kha in its heyday. What production there is, is mostly pink.

Its sensory profile, eg as a still red from a very low yield, is suggested to be, deeply hued, with spicy, savoury and black cherry notes, along with supple tannins [4].

Tasting notes

  1. Chateau l’Argentier (Sommieres, Gard), (Rose), Vielles Vignes, Aramon, Vin de France, 2017

References

  1. Robinson, J., Harding j., Vouillamoz, J.  (2012) Wine Grapes. Allen Lane.
  2. Aramon noir [online] accessed 27/02/18.
  3. Lichine, A. (1979). Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
  4. George, R. Taste Languedoc [online] accessed 28/02/18.

Bourboulenc
A non-aromatic white variety, useful in warm climate blends, for its ability to retain fresh acidity, and its moderate alcohol. It is thick skinned which can contribute a tannin-like grip. Grown in the Southern Rhone and Occitanie – Languedoc and Roussillon. In general it takes on a supporting role in blends eg Chateauneuf-du-Pape for both its reds and rare whites, also Corbieres and Minervous. It can be dominant in La Clape (>=40%), where it forms the backbone to blends with marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc and rolle (aka vermentino). Its profile is said to be, from various sources, citrus, floral, herbal, lemon, vegetal, fennel. Eighty percent is the highest bourboulenc content I have seen in a La Clape white, it is rumoured that varietal examples exist, but I have yet to find one (08/19).

Tasting notes

Carignan (noir)
Also known, amongst others, as carinena (Aragon), mazuelo (Rioja) and samso (Catalonia), is thought to originate in Aragon, Spain. It is a potentially highly productive variety at up to 200hl/ha, and was responsible for much of the late 20th century European wine lake from the Languedoc region. Since then it has been the subject of the EU vine pull and improvement (replacement with alternatives) schemes. Not only potentially high yielding, it is a late ripener with tight bunches that are subject to downy and powdery mildew, which limits its cultivation area to consistently hotter, and drier regions [1], and possesses an acidic, tannic and astringent character – this however, can be tamed.

Carignan produces its best, concentration and interest-wise, from old bush vines (>50 y.o.), which naturally restricts yields, along with the basic requirements of very good exposure to ripen, and poor well-drained rocky soils and low rainfall to aid crop restriction [2]. Given its tannic acidic structure and intrinsic astringency, it is mainly used in blends to provide backbone. But there is a small, but growing number producing varietal carignan [2,3]. Options in the winery to soften its toughness and reveal the underlying attractive fruit and perfume, include carbonic maceration [5] of at least a proportion, in the form of a  short anaerobic carbonic maceration followed by crushing and conventional red wine fermentation. And, if oak is used, then it is subtle, supportive, not new, and perhaps large format, so as not to enhance the intrinsic toughness.

Varietal alcohol is high(ish), on average eg 14-14.5% in the Languedoc, and 14.5-15% in Catalonia [2].

The sensory profile includes (and *these seem to recur): blackberry *black cherry, *chocolate, cloves (from either judicious oak or a touch of brett), cocoa, cranberry, eucalyptus, *fennel, *herbs, herbes de Provence (aka garrigue), leaf tea, *liquorice, *mint, *orange peel, orchard blossom, pine, plum, prune, raspberry, red cherry, red currant, rose, smoke, spices, toffee, *violets [2,4 and elsewhere].

Tasting notes

References

  1. Robinson, J., Harding j., Vouillamoz, J.  (2012) Wine Grapes. Allen Lane.
  2. Hudin, M. (02/18). The rise of carignan. Decanter Magazine, pp.49-52, February 2018.
  3. Professional Friends of Wine [online] accessed 07/01/18.
  4. Lennoir, J. (2006). Le Nez du Vin 54 aromas.
  5. Clarke, O., Rand, M. (2008). Grapes and Wines. Pavilion.

Cornalin
An ancient black variety from the Vallle d’Aosta in northern Italy, with significant and traditional plantings in the Swiss Valais. A late ripener. It is a quite confusing variety, name-wise .. in the Valais, cornalin is also known as rouge du pays (which whilst related to cornalin, is a separate variety in its own right), so cornalin on the label may in reality be rouge du pays. Also in the Valais, humagne rouge is a true synonym for cornalin.

This only really becomes clear, if there is additional label or producer site information, or one is able to figure it out on an individual producer basis, from what that producer makes. For example at Domaine des Muses, there are separate bottlings for humagne rouge (true synonym cornalin) and cornalin (false synonym rouge du pays) – so in this case the humagne rouge is true and the cornalin is rouge du pays.

For completeness, cornalin (aka humagne rouge) has a sensory profile, from various sources, of soft smooth tannins, with aromas/flavours of black berry, black currant, black fruit, elderberry, earthy, gamy, herbal, leather (with age), peppery, raspberry, rhubarb, stewed dark fruits, undergrowth, wild plum.

References

  1. Humagne rouge [online] accessed 06/11/18.
  2. Robinson, J., Harding j., Vouillamoz, J.  (2012) Wine Grapes. Allen Lane.
  3. A case for cornalin [online] accessed 07/11/18.

Humagne blanche
A white variety indigenous to the Valais, where the majority, amounting to tens of hectares, is planted. It is thought to have been introduced from southern France in ancient times [1], and is unrelated to humagne rouge aka cornalin. Produces wines with a full-body, high acidity – which lends to ageing, of 3-5 years, an oily richness, and chardonnay-like neutrality, so suiting exposure to oak. The sensory profile, from a survey of tasting notes and other sources, includes beeswax, dessert apple, lightly floral – lime tree blossom and iris, fennel, grass, hay, heather, herbs, honey, menthol, nuttiness, resin, stone fruit both white and yellow [2, and others].

Tasting notes

References

  1. Robinson, J., Harding, J., Vouillamoz, J. Wine Grapes (2012). Allen Lane.
  2. Swiss Wine Valais – Humagne blanche [online] accessed 24/10/18.

Petite arvine
A white variety indigenous to the Valais, Switzerland, with plantings of ~180 ha (2017). It reportedly gives wines with fresh acidity and a sensory profile of grapefruit and a ‘mineral saltiness’ – a rather unhelpful descriptor. A quick survey of availability shows these notes, in decreasing frequency: grapefruit/citrus, stewed rhubarb, saline; then less commonly, dried apricot, exotic fruit, nettles, nuts, wisteria. Two out of a dozen examples were oaked.

Tasting notes

References

  1. Vouillamoz, J. (2017). Cepages Suisses, Histoires et Origines (in French), Favre.

Rouge du pays
A Swiss black variety from the Valais, with current plantings of about 135 ha [1], so there is a little expansion underway. Rouge du pays is often supplanted on a label by the perhaps more attractive cornalin, even though they are different, albeit related, varieties. It needs a warm climate, ripens late, and is subject to irregular yields, requiring extra work in the vineyard. Its wines are deeply hued, with moderate acidity and a certain bitterness, reaching maturity at 3-5 years. The sensory profile, from various sources, includes intensely fruity, black berry, black cherry, incense, raspberry, red berries, red cherry, roasted notes, spice, tar.

Tasting notes

References

  1. CWW trip to Switzerland: part 1 [online] accessed 12/11/18.
  2. Vouillamoz, J. (2017). Cepages Suisses, Histoires et Origines (in French), Favre.

Scheurebe
An early 20th century underrated white cross [1] of  riesling x unknown. Plantings are on the decline, despite the potential of high quality dry and sweet wine. At full ripeness brisk acidity is retained, and so the ability to age, with a sensory profile dominated by ripe blackcurrant [2] with grapefruit, but also tropical and stone fruit [3]. At lesser ripeness, grapefruit dominates, which makes unattractive wines. So, scheurebe tends to be used to make sweet wine. It is currently planted in at least Franken, Pfalz and Rheinhessen in Germany, as well as Austria – but remains in overall decline.

Tasting notes

References

  1. Robinson, J., et al. (2012). Wine Grapes. Allen Lane, Penguin Books.
  2. Scheurebe [online] accessed 29/01/18.
  3. Scheurebe in Austria. [online] accessed 30/01/18.

Vidal
A winter hardy hybrid white variety, with a complex vinifera and non-vinifera parentage, originating in France, but not authorised there now. It does not have the foxy taste associated with some hybrids [1]. Its main stronghold is Canada, though it also has homes in New York State, eg the Finger Lakes, New Jersey and Niagara County, and in New Hampshire, and Virginia. Typically it is employed in making ice wine, with the best commercial benefits. Some make varietal still wine and sparkling wine, or use it in blends with white vinifera varieties.

In Canada it is usually employed in making ice wine, and some produce a good quality still wine from it, whilst others, eg Peller Estates, use a dosage of ice wine in chardonnay and pinot noir traditional method sparkling wines, to make them more distinctive and add complexity [2].

Tasting notes

Sensory profiles

  • Still wine – light-medium bodied with 12-5-13.5% abv, fresh acidity, with notes of, most commonly, orchard fruit – green apple and pear; stone – apricot, peach; tropical – lychee, mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple; citrus – grapefruit, lemon, lime; other – herbs, honey, honeysuckle, melon, cream from MLF and barrel fermentation, cut grass.
  • Icewine – with common notes of apricot, peach, lychee, mango, dried pineapple, papaya, dried and candied citrus peel, orange marmalade, floral hints, honey, mushroom.

References

  1. Robinson, J., et al. (2012). Wine Grapes. Allen Lane, Penguin Books.
  2. Phillips, R. (2017). The Wines of Canada. infinite ideas.

Zweigelt
A 1922 vinifera crossing of sankt laurent with blaufrankisch, and the most widely planted black variety in Austria, with ~6,300ha (2015) [1], more than twice the second largest, blaufrankisch, with ~2800ha. Plantings are concentrated in Niederosterreich, and Nieusiedlersee. There are also a couple of hundred hectares in Germany, and a much lesser area in England. It is a vigorous variety, with potentially high yields, requiring bunch thinning, and canopy management during ripening, to achieve high quality wine [2].

Wines are characterised by soft(ish) tannins, medium (-) to medium on the WSET scale. Styles range from unoaked and fruity, to serious barrique aged offerings.

Zweigelt can be mistaken for zinfandel, or a Beaujolais cru.

Tasting notes

References

  1. Austrian Wine Marketing Board [online] accessed 15/03/18.
  2. Robinson, J., et al. (2012). Wine Grapes. Allen Lane, Penguin Books.

Updated 29/08/19

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
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