October 12, 2012 9:37 pm

Grape varieties you’ve never heard of

From South Carolina to Calabria, Mallorca to Georgia, here are some of the world’s lesser known grapes

Addoraca

Extremely rare Calabrian white that contributes to an equally rare dessert wine

Origins and parentage Addoraca comes from the province of Cosenza in Calabria, southern Italy. Its name means “perfumed” in Calabrian dialect.

Where it’s grown Extremely rare variety cultivated exclusively in the commune of Saracena in the province of Cosenza in Calabria, Italy. It is blended with other varieties in the historical Moscato di Saracena Passito-style dessert wine made by a small number of producers such as Cantine Viola (supported by Slow Food) and Feudo dei Sanseverino.

Agiomavritiko

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Almost extinct Greek island variety

Origins and parentage Agiomavritiko may originate on Zákynthos, where it has traditionally been planted, but since DNA profiling has not yet been done, it is not known whether it is a unique variety or whether it matches any other Greek variety.

Where it’s grown Agiomavritiko is found on the island of Zákynthos in the Ionian Sea and in the prefecture of Lárisa in Thessalía in the centre of mainland Greece. Comoutos on Zákynthos include it in one of their red blends.

Blanc Dame

Almost abandoned by south-west French vignerons but not quite by armagnac distillers

Origins and parentage Blanc Dame is a variety of south-west france that has virtually disappeared. The suffix -dame or -madame has often been used in French to designate various fruits, eg the pear called Cuisse-Madame or Cuisse de Dame. Like more than 80 other varieties of western europe, Blanc Dame is likely to be a natural progeny of the prolific Gouais Blanc.

Where it’s grown Blanc Dame is authorised in France in the Gers and in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques but there was only half an acre remaining in 2008, no doubt in part thanks to the subsidies offered to growers by the EU to grub up varieties such as this. What remains plays a very minor part in the base wines for armagnac, although it is also suited to the table.

Debit

Vine producing alcoholic wine throughout Dalmacija (Dalmatia)

Origins and parentage Debit is thought to be indigenous to Croatia. The name debit means “debt”, alluding to its high yields, which supposedly allow growers to pay their debts.

Where it’s grown Debit is widespread in the whole of Dalmacija, Croatia, and authorised in all the main wine regions there. Varietal wines tend to be powerful and structured but remain fresh, with flavours of green fruits; the variety can add concentration and depth to blends. Recommended producers include Bibich and Vinoplod.

Fioletovy Ranny

Russian variety used for the table, grape juice and nutmeg-flavoured red wine

Origins and parentage Fioletovy Ranny, meaning “early violet”, is a Severny x Muscat of Hamburg hybrid bred at the research and development centre for viticulture and winemaking in Novocherkassk, in the province of Rostov, Russia. It was included in the official register of varieties in 1965.

Where it’s grown Grown in Russia (50ha/124 acres in Rostov in 2010) and across southern Ukraine, Fioletovy Ranny is said to produce wines with a certain nutmeg-like flavour. It is generally found in sweet reds, as well as in juice and on the table.

Generosa

Rare Portuguese cross used in blends on the Açores (the Azores)

Origins and parentage A Fernão Pires x Sultana Moscata cross obtained in Portugal, in which Sultana Moscata (or Pirovano 75) is a Muscat of Alexandria x Sultaniye cross.

Where it’s grown Official vineyard statistics record less than 1ha (2.5 acres) of Generosa in Portugal, but it is planted on the island of Pico in the Açores and included in a white blend by the local co-operative. There are also a few scattered vines on Madeira, mainly in Santana in the north, whose produce goes into Madeira, not table wine.

Gorgollasa

Recently resurrected, high-quality, red-fruited Mallorcan

Origins and parentage Gorgollasa is indigenous to Mallorca in the Islas Baleares, Spain, where it was already mentioned in 1839 in Pollença and was the main variety of the Raiguer area. Recent DNA parentage analysis has suggested that Gorgollasa is a natural cross between Monastrell from Valencia and Hebén, an almost extinct Andalusian variety (García-Muñoz et al. 2012).

Where it’s grown There are now 4ha (10 acres) of Gorgollasa planted on the island of Mallorca, Spain, and the area is increasing. It was virtually extinct until Can Ribas rescued it by planting 200 vines in 1998, propagated from the four remaining vines found near Celler Can Amer, in Inca. They planted an additional 1,800 vines in 2000 but the variety was not officially authorised until 2011, even though it is a traditional Mallorcan variety and despite strong demand for its official accreditation.

Gorgollasa is well suited to barrel ageing, producing wines that are dry and elegant but with a tendency to oxidation, which is why larger (eg 500l) barrels are preferred. Producers include Can Majoral, Can Ribas and Toni Gelabert. Wines typically have strawberry and violet flavours, fairly low acidity but an unexpected freshness nonetheless, moderate alcohol and soft tannins. According to Araceli Servera Ribas, the variety is closer to Pinot Noir than to other Mallorcan varieties such as Manto Negro or Callet.

Hitzkircher

Swiss rarity found only in the village after which it was named

Origins and parentage Hitzkircher is an extremely rare variety from the village of Hitzkirch in the canton of Luzern in central Switzerland. It has often been confused with Briegler, which was recently shown to be identical to Bondola from Ticino (Frei et al. 2006; Vouillamoz, Frei and Arnold et al. 2008). This makes more sense when we know from DNA parentage analysis that both Hitzkircher and Bondoletta from Ticino are distinct natural crosses between Completer from Graubünden and Bondola from Ticino (Vouillamoz and Moriondo 2011).

Where it’s grown The only varietal Hitzkircher wine is made by Rebbaugesellschaft Hitzkirch in the village in Switzerland of the same name.

Isabella

Once widely planted, old American variety now found mostly in Brazil and India

Origins and parentage This is one of the oldest native American varieties, probably descended from the seedling of a wild native, Vitis labrusca, found in a garden near Dorchester, South Carolina. It was taken north under an unknown name in 1816 and was introduced to New York state by Colonel George Gibbs, an amateur grower from Brooklyn, Long Island. Gibbs then passed it on to William Robert Prince of the Linnaean Botanic Garden in Flushing, Long Island, who named it Isabella (Vitis isabellae) in 1822 in honour of the colonel’s wife, Mrs Isabella Gibbs.

Where it’s grown Isabella and Catawba were the two dominant varieties in North American viticulture for the first half of the 19th century, but there have been few recent plantings and only a few hectares remain, eg in New York state (22 acres/9ha in 2009. Isabella is still widely planted in Brazil, as Isabel, and India, where it is known as Bangalore Blue.

Katsano

Rare variety just surviving on Santoríni

Origins and parentage Katsano is probably indigenous to the Greek island of Santoríni. It is genetically close to Platani from the Kykládes.

Where it’s grown Katsano is found on the Kykládes and particularly on Santoríni, Greece. Gavalas is possibly the only producer making a commercially available example, which is a field blend of approximately 85 per cent Katsano and 15 per cent Gaidouria. He describes the wine as having “sweet aromas of flowers, honey and lemon blossom”.

Lanzesa

Very rare white wine speciality of Ravenna in northern Italy

Where it’s grown This variety was once used for both table and wine grapes. Today it is cultivated for wine on less than 5 ha in the communes of Brisighella, Faenza and Castelbolognese in the province of Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. The wines are dry, floral and fruity with a touch of bitterness. Tenuta Uccellina’s Alma Luna is one example.

Ljutun

Rare, tart Croatian variety exclusive to the area just north-west of Split on the Dalmatian coast

Origins and parentage Ljutun is an indigenous variety from the Kastela region north-west of Split. The name comes from the Croatian word ljut (acid), which is appropriate given the high acidity in the berries.

Where it’s grown Ljutun is found exclusively around the town of Kastela (Zdunic 2005) in Croatia, and is often blended with other varieties such as Plavac Mali, Babic and Babica to make Opolo, a rosé-style wine.

Mayolet

Extremely rare Aosta variety gradually recovering from near-extinction

Origins and parentage Mayolet is an indigenous variety of the Valle d’Aosta, where it has been known since 1787, mainly between Saint-Vincent and Avise. It was traditionally cultivated in the same vineyards as Petit Rouge and Vien de Nus and typically blended to produce Torrette, a full-bodied late-harvest wine famous since the 19th century (Gatta 1838). DNA parentage analysis has established that Mayolet and Petit Rouge are the parents of Rouge du Pays, cultivated across the border in Switzerland’s Valais, and that Mayolet has parent-offspring relationships with two other Aostan varieties: Prié and Vuillermin (Vouillamoz and Moriondo 2011).

Where it’s grown Mayolet was rescued from extinction in the 20th century and has seen new plantings in its native Valle d’Aosta in north-west Italy since the 1990s (Moriondo 1999). Today, a handful of varietal wines are produced in the Valle d’Aosta DOC, by the Cave des Onzes Communes and the Cantina di Barrò. Di Barrò’s version has fresh, tangy acidity, sour-cherry flavours and quite soft tannins.

Today Torrette is an official category within the Valle d’Aosta DOC which must include at least 70% petit rouge, so the Mayolet component is optional and limited. Producers include Cantina di Barrò, Feudo di San Maurizio and Franco Noussan. There were barely 4 ha (10 acres) planted in Italy in 2000.

Pallagrello Bianco

Old, rare Campanian, not unlike Viognier

Origins and parentage The name Pallagrello probably derives from pagliarello, the lattice of straw on which the grapes were traditionally dried. The earliest mention of this variety is most likely at the end of the 18th century under the name Pallarelli, including both white and black versions. However, Pallagrello Bianco is not a colour mutation of Pallagrello Nero. Both varieties are thought to originate in the area between Piedimonte Matese and Alife, in the province of Caserta.

Where it’s grown Cultivation of Pallagrello was drastically reduced during the 20th century. Both Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero were considered to be extinct when they were rediscovered in the 1990s by Peppe Mancini, a local lawyer and passionate winegrower. Pallagrello Bianco is now cultivated to a very limited extent in the province of Caserta, in Campania, Italy.

Petite Pearl

Promising new cold-hardy American hybrid

Origins and parentage An MN 1094 × Elmer Swenson 4-7-26 hybrid crossed in 1996 by Tom Plocher, private grape breeder in Hugo, Minnesota, US, in which:

[i] MN 1094 (MN stands for Minnesota) is a hybrid between MN 1019 and MN 1016 (see marquette for the pedigree); [ii] Elmer Swenson 4-7-26 is an Elmer Swenson 2-12-27 × St Croix hybrid; [iii] Elmer Swenson 2-12-27 is an Elmer Swenson 5-14 × Swenson red hybrid (see Brianna for the pedigree of Elmer Swenson 5-14).

Petite Pearl is therefore an extremely complex Vitis riparia, Vitis labrusca, Vitis vinifera, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis lincecumii, Vitis rupestris, Vitis cinerea and Vitis berlandieri hybrid. The plant was tested as T.P. 2-1-24 and was initially named Black Pearl by Plocher, who had to change the name to Petite Pearl to avoid a trademark dispute. Petite Pearl was finally released by Plocher in 2009.

Viticultural heritage Moderately vigorous, extremely winter-hardy (-35C with no injury), small, dense clusters but not prone to botrytis bunch rot and with good all-round disease resistance. Late budding and mid ripening.

Where it’s grown This new variety shows great promise among new winter-hardy hybrids and produces big, dense red wine with some nice soft tannins, not too high acidity and complex aromas mainly of herbs and spices. P locher suggests it has some similarity with Malbec or Bonarda. Commercial wines are expected from 2012 in the US Midwest but it is likely to be popular with growers in cold climate regions such as New York State, and Ontario and Québec in Canada.

Pignolo

Rare and recently rescued vine showing very good potential in Friuli

Origins and parentage Like Pignola, Pignolo takes its name from the Italian word pigna, meaning pine cone, because of the shape of its bunches. It is most likely to come from the hills of Buttrio and Rosazzo in the province of Udine, where it is said to have been known since the 17th century. DNA profiling has shown that Pignola Valtellinese and Pignolo from Friuli are completely distinct (Fossati et al. 2001; Salmaso et al. 2008).

Where it’s grown Like Schioppettino and Tazzelenghe, Pignolo had almost disappeared in the early twentieth century after Friuli was hit by phylloxera. It was rescued in the 1970s from a vineyard in the abbey of Rosazzo, where an entire row of old and ungrafted Pignolo vines had miraculously survived. Pignolo is used in blends as well as for varietal wines in Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC (in particular in Prepotto, Albana, Rosazzo, Buttrio and Premariacco). In 2000 there were just 20 ha (49 acres) in Italy but the total has surely increased.

Varietal wines have fresh acidity and firm but silky tannins, with fruit flavours that range from small red berries to ripe plums, developing notes of liquorice over time. They are well suited to oak ageing. Girolamo Dorigo was the first to plant Pignolo back in 1973 using cuttings from those original centenarian vines. Other producers of this rare wine include Castello di Buttrio, Giorgio Colutta, Dario e Luciano Ermacora, Adriano Gigante, Moschioni, Petrucco, Paolo Rodaro, Ronco delle Betulle and Le Vigne di Zamò.

Shavkapito

Rediscovered and promising dark-skinned Georgian variety

Origins and parentage Shavkapito is indigenous to the Kartli region of southern central Georgia.

Where it’s grown The recently rediscovered Shavkapito, planted to a very limited extent in the villages of Metekhi, Khidistavi, Mukhrani and Okami in the Kartli region of Georgia, north-west of Tbilisi, produces red-fruited wines with a smoky flavour, even without the influence of oak. Apart from a few homegrown vines, there are about 10ha (25 acres) now in production: Pheasant’s Tears make a qvevri-fermented version, Château Mukhrani a more European, oaked style.

Extracted from ‘Wine Grapes – A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties including their Origins and Flavours’, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, is published by Allen Lane/Ecco (£120).

Illustrations are from “Ampélographie”, by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel. Published in French (1901-1910), “Ampélographie” comprises seven volumes and covers 5,200 wine- and table-grape varieties, with watercolour paintings by Jules Troncy and Alexis Kreÿder

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The great grapevine

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