Issue #43, October 2022
October 31st; the night when children of all ages like to temporarily assume a different persona and wardrobe up to become unrecognizable as their usual selves.
Michael from two doors down might just knock on your door on Halloween night as Max from Stranger Things. Or little Zoey from around the corner could arrive on your porch as Zuul from Ghostbusters.
But presenting yourself with a different name isn’t just the domain of October’s trick-or-treaters.
It also applies to how various wine grapes are identified around the world, not just at Halloween but every month of the year. What a grape is known as in Australia, can be called something else entirely in say, France.
So, make yourself comfy around the old, tasting table as we look behind the mask of the double agents of the wine world; the grapes we love, that have more than one identity.
Welcome back to the cellar.
A wine lover from Italy and a wine lover from California meet at a wine lovers’ convention. They both decide to enter the ‘Sommelier for a Minute’ contest and try to guess the wine while blindfolded. A correct answer wins a ‘Sommelier for a Minute’ t-shirt.
They are both given a sample of the same red wine. It’s jammy and bursting with aromas and flavours of blackberry, plums and black pepper.
The Californian puts his nose to the glass. He sips the wine and swirls it around in his mouth. Then, quite confidently he declares, “For sure, this is a Zinfandel.”
The Italian closes her eyes and deeply inhales the aromas from her glass. She takes a slow drink of the wine. A knowing smile appears on her face and she says,
“No. This wine is none other than, a Primitivo!”
They both remove their blindfolds as the smiling attendant tells them, “Congratulations! It is indeed a Primitivo. And it’s a Zinfandel!
They are one and the same grape.”
He presents them both with a ‘Sommelier for a Minute’t-shirt. The short-term Sommeliers are thrilled.
Years ago, I discovered I quite liked Zinfandel; my wife too. Wait. I mean of course, I quite like my wife! Oh god, a ‘Who’s on First’ moment.
What I’m trying to say is, my wife discovered she quite liked Zinfandel too. At any rate, sometime later we both found that we quite liked Primitivo. And as the two wine lovers at the convention found out, there’s a very good reason.
Primitivo is a dark-skinned grape originally grown in Croatia but now grown widely in the southern Italian region of Puglia. It was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1800s under the name Zinfandel. It became very popular and soon was referred to as America’s national grape. But American pride took a bit of a hit when DNA analysis proved that Zinfandel and Primitivo were in fact, the same varietal.
Here is an opportunity to try a little taste test of our own with these two wines. We now know they’re both made with the same grape. Zinfandel in California. Primitivo in Italy. But see if you can tell which is which.
Sorry, there are no t-shirts in the offing.
750 ml LCBO# 256735
Matané Primitivo 2020
My take on these two wines is for sure they have very similar aroma and taste characteristics. But their differences lie not in the grape they’ve been made with but in how they have been made. Simply, the climate and winemakers in Puglia are different than those in California.
Some have described Primitivo as powerful and Zinfandel as soft, even voluptuous.
As for me, I would describe them both this way; “Top me up, please.”
Now it’s time to move on to yet another grape that answers to more than one name.
Shiraz and Syrah.
Of course, if you’re a fan of wine from Australia you are quite familiar with Shiraz. But if you like wine from the Rhone in France, you are enjoying the juice of the same grape, except there it’s called Syrah.
As with Primitivo (or Zinfandel), this grape is influenced by the climate where it is grown. In moderate climates like the Rhone and Washington state, Syrah produces medium to full-bodied tannic wines with notes of blackberry, mint and pepper.
In the heat of Australia, Shiraz is full-bodied but with softer tannins, jammy fruit, licorice and leather. I can almost hear the Australian accent in the word Shiraz.
Here are two fine examples.
Sidewood Shiraz 2019
750 ml LCBO# 446146
Sidewood Shiraz 2019 is all about dark berries and wafting herbs, velvety tannins and classy bitters. It’s definitely the full-meal deal in a bottle. Bon appetite.
And now for Shiraz’s alias. Syrah.
Louis Bernard Louis comes from the Rhone Valley. While it’s not a wine made only from Syrah, (here it’s blended with Grenache), Syrah’s signature is quite evident with flavours of cherry, plum, licorice and apple wood.
Louis Bernard Louis Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2020
750 ml LCBO# 561290
It’s time to move on to our next split-personality; Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Gris is actually a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape and dates back to the middle ages in France. It was introduced to Italy early in the 19th century where the Italian translation of Pinot Grigio was adopted.
Although we’re talking about one grape, its different personalities become evident in different wine-making styles. That is, Pinot Gris is usually based on the French Alsace style; riper and richer, with more alcohol and sometimes a little sweetness.
Pinot Grigio shows its Italian side in wines that are lighter and simpler with less alcohol.
As you might expect, I just happen to have a bottle of each for us to try.
Schreckbichl Colterenzio Pinot Grigio 2020
Alto Adige, Italy
750 ml LCBO# 293399
Wunsch & Mann Premiere Selection Pinot Gris 2019
750 ml LCBO# 25334
Well, that makes it a whopping six bottles we’ve been through. I think we better call it a day. And someone call me an Uber.
But before we depart, back to Halloween. If you’re preparing yourself for the hordes of trick-or-treaters at the end of the month, you might want to have a glass of courage by your side. Perhaps a Zinfantivo will do the trick. No doubt it will be a treat.
That’s it for this time. See you in a month when we delve into some hearty wines to warm us when the skies of November turn gloomy. (Thanks GL)
Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.
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