A Wine by Any Other Name
These days it seems like we all have a nickname, non de plume, or a pseudonym. In this era of social media, who doesn’t have a pithy digital handle, right? As it turns out several wine grapes have aliases as well, which can be confusing when trying to select your wine. Let’s learn about some common wines with more one name so we can shop with more certainty.
Syrah is Shiraz (but it’s not Petit Sirah)
Syrah, one of the darkest red wines you will find, is the same as Shiraz. Since the Roman times it’s been cultivated in France’s Rhone Valley where it’s the main varietal in some of the most storied red wine blends from Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. When Syrah made its way to the New World, winemakers in Australia and South Africa referred to it as Shiraz. While no one is exactly sure why the Aussies refer to the grape by this name, legend has it that the variety originated in Shiraz, Persia and was imported to Rhone. Regardless, Shiraz helped propel Australia as powerhouse for high-quality, bold red wines.
For a typical example of a French Rhone with black pepper notes try Guigal’s Crozes-Hermitage ($24.99, Morganellis). Langmeil Valley Floor ($31.99, Bottles) from Australia’s Barossa Valley is where to venture for a fruit-forward version of this full-bodied wine.
Meanwhile, Petite Sirah is the Yankee alias for the Durif grape, but is not a diminutive version of Syrah as the moniker might imply. Also a French native, this wine is anything but petit as the resulting wines are inky dark, bold, and more tannic than Syrah. The name likely refers to the smaller sized, yet thicker-skinned, berries they have in comparison to Syrah. Never really gaining a foothold in France, California is the world’s main producer of Petite Sirah. Try Mettler Family Vineyards from Lodi ($24.99, Bottles) for a solid expression of this lesser-known grape.
Pinot Gris is Pinot Grigio (and Grauburgunder)
Pinot Gris--as it’s known from Alsace, France--and Pinot Grigio--made immensely popular from Italy--are the same grape. They are both a mutation of the mother grape Pinot, but like most varietals grown in different areas, the resulting wines can be vastly different. Alsatian expressions of the varietal have citrus aromas and flavors, zesty acidity, and a richer texture. Much more ubiquitous, Italian Pinot Grigio can be floral on the nose, with pear and stone fruit flavors, and much lighter on the palate. Grauburgunder is German synonym for the wine where it’s made in both Germany and Austria.
Try the 2015 Pinot Gris Reserve from Trimbach ($18.99, Gourmet Shop), for a textbook example of the Alsatian style of this wine. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($19.99, Morgenllis) displays the lighter, drier characteristics more commonplace in Northern Italy.
The main grape in Rioja, Spain’s most famous and unquestionably one of its best wines, Tempranillo is known by a slew of aliases throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Native to Spain, it has the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon with a more savory flavor profile. The name comes from the Spanish temprano which means early, and describes the grape well as it ripens earlier than other native grapes. Traditional Rioja is aged in American oak barrels for an extended period of time, but a wide range of styles abound based on aging requirements. Around the rest of Spain, Tempranillo is known as Tinta de Toro (Toro), Tinta del País (Ribera del Duero), and Cencibel (La Mancha). In Portugal the grape is called Aragonez or Tinta Roriz, as it’s referred to in the Douro Valley.
Sample Marques de Murrieta’s 2013 Rioja Reserva ($22.99, Morganelli’s) for a traditional version of the wine’s cherry and leather flavors and aromas. Explore a Portuguese take on the varietal in Jose de Sousa Alentejano’s 2015 red blend ($19.99, Bottles).
Erlinda doesn’t care what you call her, as long as you call her. And as her nickname, “The Wine Evangelist” implies, she’d love it if you’d reach out to talk about wine. Through her passion project " ViníCola," Erlinda provides wine consulting services including seminars, educational events, private tastings, sommelier services, hospitality staff training, and retail/supplier marketing. She recently opened ViniCola’s Tasting Room, which is open for private wine discovery tastings and events. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.thevinicola.com, Instagram (@thevinicola), or Facebook (theViniCola) to join Columbia’s wine community.