Grape Varieties

An A–Z of Lesser Known White Wine Grapes (Part 4)

We have tried Cortese and Colombard; we have explored Gruner Veltliner and Petit Manseng
Posted 09th November 2012        

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We have tried Cortese and Colombard; we have explored Gruner Veltliner and Petit Manseng and we have sampled Seyval Blanc and Torrontes. We have travelled through most of the alphabet on our journey through the realms of the lesser known white wine grapes. We are now close to our destination with just the last few letters of the alphabet to go but there are still a host of exciting grapes to come.

There are many Italian white wine grapes but perhaps the most abundant and ever present is Trebbiano. It is thought to produce around a third of Italy’s DOC classified white wine and is a permitted grape in around 80 Italian DOCs. This would be a good thing if Trebbiano was an interesting grape. Sadly in most cases Trebbiano produces bland and neutral wines although some of the better quality and better handled grapes can produce pleasant wines with some leafy fruit characteristics. As Trebbiano is actually a collection of vines rather than a single variety there are a number of sub varieties of Trebbiano. Probably the best sub variety is Trebbiano di Soave, sometimes known as Trebbiano di Lugana or Trebbiano Veronese. Unfortunately, it is the least planted of the Trebbiano varieties and forms only a small part of the Soave blend. However, it is the only grape used for Lugana, a characterful white wine from the southern end of Lake Garda.

The French white wine grape Ugni Blanc is the same variety as Trebbiano. It is thought to have arrived in France in the 14th century with the establishment of the Papal Court at Avignon. Unsurprisingly it has the same neutral, acidic characteristics as Trebbiano. Ugni Blanc is used to make table wine in Provence and the Midi but it is most important in the Armagnac and Cognac regions where it produces high acidity white wine which is perfect for making brandy.

Fans of Spanish white wine may have come across the Verdejo grape, one of the primary grapes in the Rueda DO. Rueda is one of Spain’s best white wine regions and Verdejo has to make up at least half of the blend under the DO restrictions. The Verdejo grape produces a white wine with flavours of pear and greengage, taking on characteristics of honey and nuts when it ages for a few years in the bottle.

Verdelho is found in Portugal including the island of Madeira, where Verdelho is both a grape and a style. The Madeiran Verdelho white wine style must include at least 85 per cent of the grape of the same name and the wine is highly acidic with plenty of fruit characteristics. The grape is becoming increasingly popular amongst Australian producers where the wine is bursting with flavours of honeysuckle and lime cordial.

As mentioned previously Italy has many white wine grapes but one of the most interesting is Verdicchio. This grape comes from the Marche region where it produces characterful yet subtle wines with flavours of lemons and nuts. Like most Italian wines it is extremely food friendly.

Yet another Italian white wine grape is Vermentino. Thought to have originated from Spain in the Middle Ages it has since spread the length and breadth of Italy. It may once have been a sub variety of the Malvasia grape but has since mutated into around 40 versions of Vermentino, the best of which can be found in Tuscany and Sardinia. Like many other Italian white wine grapes it has characteristics of lemons, leaves and nuts with plenty of acidity.

Vespaiolo is responsible for one of the best sweet white wines from Italy, from the Veneto region in the Breganze DOC. Passito, or noble rot, wines are sold as Torcolato and Vespaiolo is blended with Garganega and Tocai grapes to produce an intensely sweet wine balanced with acidity and with flavours of dried grapes, apricots, spice and honeysuckle.

Viura is the name by which the Macabeo white wine grape is known in the Rioja region of Spain. It was once used to soften red Rioja but with improvements in wine making and higher yields of the red wine grapes this neutral white wine grape is falling out of favour. It is used in white Rioja but results in dull and bland wines when it is the primary grape. Sadly, it is a grape probably best avoided if you see it on a label.

The Welschriesling grape, which is no relation to true Riesling, is found in Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic and produces a relatively weighty, well rounded wine with nutty characteristics and low acidity. Known as Laski Rizling in the old Yugoslavia the reputation of the grape has suffered from the poor quality wines produced by the Yugoslav state-owned winery in days gone by.

Image by Däisd.


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