Italy has upwards of 590 officially recognized wine grape varieties to date.
As Jennifer from VinoTravels said that’s enough to make your head spin. I’m going to talk about the one that can fool people.
Most of us are familiar with the primary wine grapes used around the world. Known as “international varieties”, the two Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc), Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc made their way into many countries.
In Italy there are also traditional grapes. They aren’t native but were brought to various areas years ago, and are now embedded in the culture.
But the most overwhelming Italian category is native grapes, aka indigenous or autochthonous. The easiest way to describe this class of grapes is simple- they were born in Italy.
Digging into a New Variety (or Not)
We drink lots of French wine and studying them I know many grapes go by various synonyms. The Malbec grape for example is called that in Bordeaux, “Cot” or “Auxerrois” in southwest France, and “Auxerrois” in the Loire Touraine region.
Knowing the Italian Food, Wine and Travel group (#ItalianFWT) is exploring non-Italian wines made from Italian grapes this month, I flipped through my recent purchase, italian wine unplugged GrapebyGrape. That’s how I chose Cannonau.
The grapes that go into the Grenache or Garnacha you’ve been drinking probably have origins in Sardinia. Known as Cannonau, it’s the most widely planted and the island’s flagship red grape making red and rosé wines. Cannonau di Sardegna is the main DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) requiring 85% Cannonau, although many are 100%. When produced in the Nuoro province the classico designation is used and wines are a minimum of 90% Cannonau. In Sardinia you see it produce dry, sweet passito and fortified liquoroso wines.
The debate continues about whether Cannonau is native to Italy’s Sardinia or Aragon in Spain. According to Jancis Robinson, Sardinian locals claim the variety had its roots there before being exported to Spain and France when the island was part of the kingdom of Aragon. The italian wine unplugged book supports this theory.
What we are sure of is this Italian grape, known as Grenache in France and many parts of the world, and Garnacha in Spain makes great wines!
Cannonau, Grenache and Garnacha
Don’t let these names fool you! The grape thrives in four appellations in the Aragon region of Spain (Aragon, Campo de Borja, Calatayud, and Cariñena) and Navarra, and also in the Rioja and Priorat regions.
In the Rhone Valley it’s key in many wines including Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and the broader Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages.
The Languedoc-Roussillon appellations for Grenache include Minervois, Fitou and Corbières. Grenache commonly is made into the French fortified wine known as vin doux naturel in the Roussillon areas Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes.
It crossed oceans ending up in Australia’s Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, and achieves accolades in California and Oregon.
Here are a few Grenache and Garnacha wines we recently tasted.
A Preview of Italian Food, Wine, Travel Discoveries #ItalianFWT
Saturday August 4th at 11am EST on Twitter at #ItalianFWT our group chats about Italian grapes from around the world. If you miss the chat, you can search on #ItalianFWT and read the conversation. Lots of great food, wine, recipes and information in these links!
Jeff from Food Wine Click shares “Eating Pizza / NotPizza with Italian / NotItalian Wines”
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish features “Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla: A Taste of Friuli in Napa Valley”
Jen from Vino Travels shares “Italian Grapes in Lodi with Harney Lane’s Primitivo”
Gwendolyn from the Art Predator features “An Italian in AUS? Meet a 2006 Montepulciano from Tscharke“
Susannah from Avvinare shares “Noteworthy New York State Wines Made with Italian Grapes”
And here at Savor the Harvest I discuss “This Italian Wine Grape Fooled You”
I’ll leave you with a few general facts about the Cannonau grape:
- tends to be lighter in color due to a lack of anthocyanins thus is often blended with other grapes
- late budding and mid- to late- ripening
- likes warmer climates and is drought resistant
- is a medium acid grape
- usually achieves higher sugar levels
- aromas include red berries, floral, spice, and herbal notes