Grape Varietal Etymology:  Part One (A through N)

The next two installments of Wine:30 are devoted to an ongoing project researching the origin of the most common varietal grape names, or etymology, if you will. While some of the names are rather simple when translated from Italian, Spanish and French, their names and origins are still quite interesting. You may notice that there are some obvious omissions, left from the list due to a lack of accurate information, (like we said, this is an ongoing project).

We’ve also included common pronunciations to help with your wine-speak, and hope you will enjoy the results of this project. As always, we invite any reader to comment or add to the list via email at [email protected].

  • Albariño (Ahl-ba-REE-n’yo): A Spanish white grape from Galicia, “Alba-Riño” means “the white from Rhine,” a possible clue to its area of origination.
  • Barbera (Bar-BARE-ah): A grape native to the Piedmont in Northwestern Italy, the name is a variant of “Barbara,” meaning “foreign woman.”
  • Cabernet Franc (Cab-air-nay FrahN) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab-air-nay So-veen-yawN): Both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are French red wine grapes, often used in a Bordeaux blend. The origin of the word “cabernet” is usually referenced as obscure. However, many people believe that “Cabernet” might be from the French word carbonet – which means “Coal-black” and references the color of the grapes when ripe. The word “Sauvignon” is believed to be derived from the French sauvage meaning “wild” and to refers to the grape being a wild Vitis vinifera vine native to France.
  • Carménère: A red wine grape variety originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, the name “Carménère” originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) and refers to the brilliant crimson color of the autumn foliage prior to leaf fall.
  • Carignan (Cah-reen-yawN): Red grape from Southern France, Carignan is named for the town where it is said to have originated, Cariñena, Aragon (Spain).
  • Chardonnay (Shar-doe-nay): One of the world’s most well-known white wine grapes, “Chardonnay” is the name of a small town/village near the city of Macon, France.
  • Chenin Blanc (Shay-naN BlaN): A white French grape, most common in the Loire, origins of Chenin Blanc have been traced back to ninth-century Anjou, but was actually named after the Mont Chenin in Tourraine.
  • Dolcetto (Dohl-CHET-toe): A red-wine grape of the Piedmont in Northwestern Italy, the name literally translates as “little sweet one.” Typical Dolcetto is light and fruity, but rarely sweet as the name might suggest.
  • Gamay (Gam-may): The famous red wine grape of Beaujolais, the name is derived from a village of east-central France.
  • Gewürztraminer (Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur): A white wine grape best-known in Alsace, Germany, “Gewurz” means “spice” in German, and “traminer” is a grape variety similar to Riesling.
  • Malbec (Mahl-bek): A red wine grape used as a nominal element of the Bordeaux blend, where its intense color and extract add to the wine’s body. The only historical reference to the name Malbec shows it coming from the surname of a Hungarian peasant who first spread the variety throughout France and then further afield.
  • Marsanne (Mahr-sahn): Named for a town of the same name in the Rhone valley, Marsanne is an excellent white wine grape of the Rhone, increasingly planted in California.
  • Merlot (Mare-low): One of the world’s best-known red wine grapes, the name is from the French word “merle,” meaning “blackbird,” and references the grape’s color.
  • Mourvèdre (Moor-VED’ra): This red wine grape is common in Southern France, Languedoc and the Rhone, as well as Spain (where it is known as Mataro). The name Mourvèdre comes from Murviedro, an ancient city eastern Spain.
  • Muscadet (Moos-cah-day): A light, dry Loire white wine made from a grape of the same name (alternatively named Melon “May-lawN”). The name comes from the Old French word “musc,” referring to its sometimes musky odor.
  • Nebbiolo (Nay-BYOH-low): The great red wine grape of Northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region Nebbiola. The fog (nebbia in Italian) makes reference to the fog that rolls over the hills of the area.

Comparing Two Similar Blends

This week we thought we would try two wines made from a similar blend of grape varietals but from different regions to show how the place a wine is grown reflects in the finished product.

Both wines are a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

  • Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhone France 2007

Appearance:  A pale and cloudy purple hue

Aroma:  Light nose of dark cherry

Flavors:  Adds an herbal tone on mid palate to the cherry notes

Finishing Notes:  Finishes with a touch of mineral and earth, best with grilled game

Where To Buy:  Main Street Market, Madison Avenue Wine Shop and Door County Bakery

Where To Try:  Trio, The Cookery and The Bistro at Liberty Square

  • Cline Cashmere California 2007

Appearance:  A brilliant dark purple color

Aroma:  Lush grape and wild berry aromas

Flavors:  Adds some spice to the berry flavors

Finishing Notes:  Lingering complex finish, very fruit forward and drinkable

Where To Buy:  Madison Avenue Wine Shop, Main Street Market and Siobhan’s

Where To Try:  The Mission Grille

Information about “Where to Try” and “Where to Buy” these selected wines was provided by the local wine purveyors and vendors. If you happen to also serve or sell these wines, email [email protected].

WINE:30 is written by Karl Bradley and Jody Wuollett. Karl is the general manager and self-proclaimed “sous” sommelier for the Mission Grille. Former restaurant executive and Door County native Jody is happily under-employed as a Mission Grille food server and a member of the local band Northbound. They are both long time residents and first time contributors to the Peninsula Pulse.