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)
Living in France it’s not so easy to pick up a bottle of say Jeff Runquist Wines, Dick Cooper Vineyard Barbera. Or a Cortese from Palmina Wines.
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.
Born in Sardinia
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!
Camilla of The Culinary Adventures of Camilla features “Italian Grapes in Paso Robles: Aglianico, Malvasia Bianca and Some Pairings”
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
Great info. For some reason I never put that together that Cannonau and Garnacha were the same grape. Thanks for setting me straight.
You’re most welcome Cam! I actually did the same thing. So many grapes from so many areas it can be hard to keep them all straight.
Great article ? about Cannonau.
Around 590 are the registered native grapes in Italy only which does not mean much. In some regions you can surely find +100 different grape varieties that have been lost and are being rediscovered or that are used but just have never been registered.
For me, I find it rather useless to talk about numbers all the time. Better to explore the grapes themselves ??
When I researched grapes in Italy, there were various numbers that came up. Reading through the unplugged book and the Italian Wine Scholar book and other resources, they all say the same as you; so many are unregistered. Couldn’t agree more about exploring them. I’ve got quite a list of producers and wines, many as a result of your WinesOfItaly Livestream!
I started this month wondering why Italian grapes haven’t gone around the world in the same way the main French grapes have. Turns out, they have spread everywhere, they just haven’t enjoyed the same level of fame as the big famous ones. Fun to learn more about Cannonau, Garnache, Grenache!
There are just so many grapes and their biotypes from all countries. So much more than the big guys, some of which I enjoy but digging under the surface to find the lesser known is lots of fun. Thanks for stopping by Jeff!
Great article on the origins – suspected or proven – of this delicious grape! I’ve had the chance to try a few Cannonau di Sardegna wines because our local Whole Foods stocked some. So interesting to compare them with Grenache from South of France and Garnacha from Spain. My first take was that Cannonau tasted a little meatier? Also am intrigued by the Italian Grapes book – so much to learn about all these varieties; might have to add it to the wine bookshelf!
Thanks for sharing this info Lauren. Just picked up a Cannonau di Sardegna and look forward to tasting/comparing with Grenache and Garnacha. The book is excellent!
What’s even more confusing is that within Italy alone they can be known as different names. Nothing is easy in wine ; )
So true. The upside- a lot of wines to try!