Look! Up on the shelf! It’s a Shiraz. No, it’s a Syrah. Or is it a Petite Sirah?
So many wine varieties, so many names, so many grapes. It could drive a girl to drink! There are more than 10,000 types of wine grapes, and the number keeps growing because new varieties are being produced every day. Add the fact that a varietal can go by two or three different names depending on what part of the world it comes from…and you have total confusion.
A “varietal”, of course, is a wine that’s named after the grape variety it’s made from, like Chardonnay from the Chardonnay grape and Merlot from the Merlot grape. To qualify as varietals, wines in the U.S. have to contain at least 75% of the grape variety named on the label.
Wine Varieties Unmasked
In our wine classes we talk about these most commonly mistaken identities when it comes to wine varietals:
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio
Same feller! Gris in French and Grigio in Italian mean gray (for the grayish-blue color of the grape’s skin). Pinot Grigio is Italy’s most popular white wine and is grown in the northeast regions of Veneto and Friuli. Oregon has become famous for its luscious bottlings of Pinot Gris.
Same grape varietal, different name. Aussies love their Shiraz while the rest of the world drinks Syrah. While it is now known that Syrah is indigenous to France, there is a legend that the grape variety originated in ancient Persia and was named for the Persian city of Shiraz. How the name emigrated to Australia, in any event, is anybody’s guess.
Syrah again…apparently a troublemaker. These two wine varieties with similarly sounding names are definitely different. Petite Sirah (which can also be spelled Petit Sirah or Petite Syrah) was developed in France’s Rhône region in the 1870s but has become a widely-grown grape in California. During Prohibition Petite Syrah was a popular grape because its tough skins held up well for cross-country shipping to legal “home” winemakers.
Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon
Not the same grape, but definitely kissing cousins. Cabernet Franc is originally from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France and is often used as a blending grape. Cabernet Sauvignon, known as the king of red wine, is produced all over the world, but some of the most prized Cabs come from California.
Zinfandel / White Zinfandel
This is an example of one grape variety, Zinfandel, being made into two contrasting styles. Zinfandel wines are fermented with the grape skins and are dark red in color. When making White Zin the skins are removed after the grapes are crushed, giving it a pink color. Zinfandel is made in a dry style as opposed to the sweet flavor of White Zin.
Whatever your wine is called, we hope you’re enjoying it. (To badly paraphrase Shakespeare: A wine by any other name would taste as sweet.)
Barbara and Beverly