The Great Grape Alphabet

In continuation of our wine journey here are six varieties beginning with S. This alphabetical and blissful voyage through the ampelographic wonderland is supported by diverse examples from our wine portfolio.


Sagrantino is a deeply-coloured grape variety that produces one of central Italy's most tannic and potentially long-lived red wines. Though Sagrantino's origins are disputed, the region of Umbria – and in particular the area around the town of Montefalco ‒ has been the variety's home for centuries. The grape's nature is most famously displayed in the Sagrantino di Montefalco region, where wines must be produced from at least 95% Sagrantino. The clay soils of Montefalco are dusted with sand and limestone pockets, which Sagrantino responds well to.

The cultivation of vineyards in the territory of Montefalco, in particular Sangiovese, dates back to the pre-Roman era. Indeed, we have the Roman author, Pliny the Elder, on record as having praised the merits of the wine of these lands. However, it seems that it wasn't until later that Franciscan friars brought Sagrantino wine grape back from Asia Minor. It then assumed primacy over the Sangiovese grape in the vineyards. We owe it to this rare and precious grape cultivated only on the hills around Montefalco, that Sagrantino of Montefalco can take its place at the pinnacle of Italian wines. The quality of Sangrantino de Montefalo was recognised in the award of DOC and DOCG, obtained respectively in 1979 and in 1992, covering the entire production of Sagrantino di Montefalco, including the special variety produced from partially dried grapes.

Sagrantino of Montefalco, in its dry version, is a garnet-hued wine with a faint scent of violet petals, an aroma and bouquet reminiscent of black cherries to ripe blackberry, with many secondary spicy and earthy characteristics.

Bea’s Sagrantino is amazing: the grapes are left to macerate for 39 days. It has a dark purple hue with a full, powerful nose of raisined berries and smoke. The palate unfolds an array of blackberries, currants, cinnamon and clove, is mouth-filling, warm and dense. With age, and this wine is toothy enough in that regard, it reveals secondary aromas of cooked fruits, leather, prune and old wood.

Montefalco Rosso Riserva “Piparello” is made from 60% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano, and 15% Sagrantino. Fairly deep garnet. Gorgeous, warm, earthy, chocolate-y, animal scents wrapped around the aroma of blackberries. Extraordinary mouthfeel, medium-weight and silky, but so light as to be almost evanescent. The amount of flavour from this vinous cloud is astonishing, as is the perfect integration of the bright acidity. Both wines spend a considerable period in oak to ameliorate the powerful tannins. For a truly sympatico analysis of Bea’s Sagrantinos, read Jay McInerny’s “The Mysterious Beauty of Sagrantino de Montefalco” in A Hedonist in the Cellar.

Brief description: The Nebbiolo of Umbria, to coin a cliché.


Saperavi (Georgian: საფერავი; literally "paint, dye, give colour") is an acidic, teinturier-type grape (the pulp and juice is red) variety native to Georgia, where it is used to make many of the region's most well-known wines. It is also found in neighbouring countries and there are a few examples in the Finger Lakes and Canada.

It is an extractive wine with a characteristic bouquet, a harmonious taste, and pleasant astringency. Saperavi grapes produce very deep red wines that are suitable for extended aging. It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is often blended with lighter varieties.

The Saperavi grape originated in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia and now is spread throughout its entire territory (Kakheti, Saingilo, Kartli, Shavshet-Klardjeti, Imereti, Guria, Racha and Lechkhumi). Raw and edgy and sappy in the extreme, the grape produces a wine that is inky-dark with a warm nose hinting at damson and bitter cherry, whilst in the mouth earthy and strong with tannic fruit and the kind of medicinal herbal quality that helps you to digest.

Saperavis from John Okro, Zurab Topuridze and Pheasant’s Tears demonstrate a gentler touch, an influence from the wines of Jura and Beaujolais perhaps, rather than the impenetrable inkiness and coruscating tannins that one might traditionally associate with this variety. Zurab’s version is a highly approachable western Georgian “take” on the variety. The maceration is light, the fruit on the red end of the spectrum, the tannins very moderate. Ironic Saperavi? John Okro, in Kakheti region, uses a version called Saperavi Budeshuri which has white flesh and more aromatic intensity. This red wine spends 15 days on skins with no stems and is matured just over a year in qvevri. The colour is red and so is the fruit; wild raspberries and strawberries rather than black damsons.

The latest edition of Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi comes from vines that grow at 420 metres above sea level in Tibaani on alluvial brown soil - mostly sandstone with a bit of quartz. The grapes, 80 % destemmed, 20% whole bunch, are placed in qvevri and undergo 10 days maceration before pressing. The wine has punchy deep cassis fruit with bright acidity and taut tannins. Half-way Sap if you like – and we do.

Brief description: Pretty (powerful) In Ink.


Savagnin Blanc is an ancient white wine grape from the sub-alpine regions of eastern France. The Savagnin name has become most synonymous with Vin Jaune, a wine that is a matured in barrel for several years under a naturally occurring veil of flor. During this maturation period the wine develops rich, nutty flavours and the deep yellow colour which gives it its name; jaune". And, of all the vin jaunes, the small cru of Chateau-Chalon produces some of the most outstanding examples.

Increasingly, Savagnin is being produced in the ouillé style, wherein the barrels are topped-up to prevent the wine from having an oxidative character.

The genetic ancestry of the Savagnin Blanc variety has yet to be traced with any accuracy, as many centuries of evolution and natural diversification have led to broad clonal variation. This has also led Savagnin being mistaken for other varieties, including Gewurztraminer (in Germany and Alsace), and even Albarino (in Australia). In fact, Savagnin Blanc is just one of several "Savagnin" grape varieties. The most famous of these by far is pink-skinned, spice-scented Savagnin Musque, better known as Gewurztraminer.

We’re happy to find Savagnin wherever we can and we appreciate it in all its incarnations, from aged flor versions to partially oxidative to topped up and terroir-driven. It appears frequently in blends with Chardonnay.

Jean-François Ganevat, for example, may be known for his Chardonnays, but also makes numerous Savagnins (every which way).  His Savagnin Prestige is pure oxidative delight, remarkably fragrant with hints of orchard fruits (cut apple) mixed with walnut, dry honey, white pepper and a note of peatiness. This derives from 48 months sous voile in demi-muid from vineyards on clay marl soils. The Chalasses Marnes, from a very old vineyard on blue marls, is topped up. This is an altogether steelier white with crunchy yellow fruit-skin texture and an electric charge of acidity.  Ganevat’s Vin Jaune (Savagnin Vert) is one step beyond with so many tangible and intangible qualities: a butteriness verging on the aroma of warm cheese (Comté, natch), a cachet of oriental spice, an array of toasted nuts and some eyeball-loosening acidity. This will age forever and a day. Savagnin Ouille « Vignes de Mon Père » is a stunning wine based on Savagnin topped up for a period of nine years in barrels and is a massive, explosive, imposing wine with the complexity of a vin jaune (but not vin jaume). The wine is so long, the mouth so intense and spicy.

Emmanuel Houillon’s Savagnin is legendary. The white grapes are immediately pressed and their juice is also protected with carbon dioxide. After the initial active phase, some of the white wines continue to ferment a year or more, virtually all in old oak barrels of various sizes. The Ouillé is Savagnin aged on the yeast lees in very old barrels and topped up. Bright golden colour, green plums and figs mingled with the salty leesiness, pickled ginger and toasted walnuts.

François Rousset-Martin makes a bewildering range of wines – even the same cuvée will be markedly different depending on when it is bottled. Like so many Jura vignerons he can’t resist pushing the white wines (in particular) in different directions. The Savagnin ouillé wines are more fruity and floral and tend to dried fruits redolent of orange and apricot fine acidity, then more vegetal notes of fennel and celery, citron and stone juice. The voile wines are slightly reductive, a touch of cheese and then the classic aromas of fenugreek, mushroom, menthol and then amazing acidity.

How to describe Marie-Pierre’s Château Chalon?  Green walnut, caraway, fenugreek seed, pickled ginger jostle for attention with a hint of medlar segueing into peanut brittle and salted caramel. The finish is taut, verging on stony-metallic with gripping lemon-grazed acidity and an amazing nuttiness that reverberates around the palate for such a long time.

Daniel Dugois’ Savagnin tastes of bruised apples, fresh walnut, vanilla and caramel. Watch out also for amazing aromas of fresh curry powder with fenugreek to the fore. It is a baby vin jaune with a highly developed style. For those of you who like to push the pedal to the flor. The vin jaune is probably a bit of an infant itself, having only just emerged from its yeasty veil. These yellow wines will go well with foie gras, chicken with morels, trout with almonds and various cheeses.

Brief description: Yeast of Eden.


Savatiano is Greece's most planted grape variety, covering large tracts of vineyard in Attica. The variety is best known for its role in the country's infamous Retsina wines, although technological advances in modern winemaking have led to an upsurge in well-made, dry Savatiano wines. As we shall see.

Savatiano's resistance to drought and disease, both issues in the Mediterranean, has made it an obvious choice for the region, and it has been cultivated here for hundreds of years. It is also planted in smaller quantities as a workhorse variety in Peleponnese, Greek Macedonia, and in the Aegean Islands. The variety's name probably refers to the Greek word for "Sabbath".

When kept to low yields and harvested earlier, Savatiano is capable of producing intense, dry wines that show herbaceous characteristics of citrus and white flowers. Historically, Savatiano has been used as a key ingredient in the production of Retsina, Greece's famous resinous wine. Due to Savatiano's low acidity it is also commonly blended, but modern viticultural methods have resulted in more complete expressions of Savatiano, and more varietal Savatiano wines are becoming available each vintage.

Dimitris Georgas is a 4th generation vine grower and winemaker. He took over the family vineyards almost 20 years ago. Since then the vineyards have been certified organic. The 6 ha vineyards are spread throughout the region of Mesogaia, one of the oldest wine regions of Greece, specialising in the indigenous Savatiano white vines, where PGI Attika wines are produced.

Retsina is the catch-all term for resinated wines. The tradition originates in the Attica wine region, where the fresh pine resin of the native old pine trees in Attica (Pinus Halapensis) was introduced into the must of the white Savatiano before fermentation. Retsina and non-resinated Savatiano dry wines had a strong century long history, being the key player in the local white wines of Athens between 1850-1980.

Dimitris ferments his wine in stainless vats with native yeasts. Before that there is a five-day cold maceration on the skins in tank. The fresh resin, collected from local Aleppo pines in late summer, is added to the fresh must before fermentation and stays there until the first racking (2-3 months).

Premium quality Retsina carries the characteristic balsamic aroma of pine which, however, does not inhibit grape aromas. The imperceptible sense of bitterness leaves a refreshing aftertaste and makes Retsina the ideal companion of the flavourful dishes of traditional Greek cuisine.

There is no barrel ageing here. Retsina is best fresh; it takes about a couple of months after bottling to begin to develop the secondary lemony aromas and also to soften the tannins. The malolactic occurs in the bottle. No sulphur is added to this wine.

This Savatiano has a hazy amber hue, care of the skin contact, aromas of dried lemon, warm apricot skin, roasted spice with a dry, warm, spicy sensation in the mouth, hint of balsam and dry honey and a quinine finish.

Brief description: “Resin not the need.”


The Schioppettino grape is an ancient variety of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, whose origins date back to the Middle Ages. It was mentioned for the first time in 1282. The name comes from its ancient Friuli name, “Scopp”, which is attributable to the crunch of its berries or to the fact that its high acidity once provoked malolactic fermentation in the bottle, making it explode the cap. After the burst of phylloxera, this variety had been set aside in favor of more productive varieties, but it has been rediscovered more recently along with other indigenous grape varieties from Friuli, such as Tazzelenghe or Pignolo.

Ribolla nera, known as Schioppettino in the municipality of Prepotto and the surrounding areas, and as Pocalza in the bordering areas, is certainly an indigenous Friulian vine originating, with every probability from the Friulian area between Prepotto and an area bordering with neighbouring Slovenia. The wine, which has a limited degree of alcohol, but a high fixed acidity, is usually bottled young to complete its malolactic fermentation. It therefore became slightly sparkling, giving the impression to the ear and on the palate that the carbon dioxide crackled, freeing itself quickly in the small bubbles. This is where the onomatopoeic sound “Schioppettino” came about.

Fulvio Bressan’s vineyard is in Gorizia. The Schioppettino vines are on calcareous-clay soils with a strong iron content. The hand-harvested grapes are destemmed and lightly pressed and undergo a 35-day fermentation in tank before ageing a minimum of two years in 2000-litre used oak barrels.

The palate is fresh and slightly tannic. Intense in its warm velvety colour and flavour, this ruby red wine presents a full fruity flavour of wild blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries and that typical Friulian rasp. With age it develops a bouquet of fragrant woodland accents, musk and woody aromatics.

Brief description: Snap, crackle, Schio-pop.


The Sumoll is a black grape variety, although there is also a white strain. It is a rustic drought-resistant grape, native to the Penedes region in Catalonia. Its former presence is also evident in the number of different names in Catalan dialects: sumoi, chimoi, saumoll, somoi, sumoy, ximoll, somoll, ximoy, xemoll, among others.

The name is supposedly related to the local slang term sumollar, which means maturing or withering, from the Latin verb submolliare. Before, and even after phylloxera, Sumoll was widely grown in Catalonia before it lost importance, and was replaced by more international varieties. Currently there are fewer than one hundred hectares planted, although growers are now starting to recover and appreciate this variety.

Jane Ventura use Sumoll in their Negre Seleccio – the vine grows in the sandier soils by the Mediterranean coast. The grape is blended with the richer Tempranillo and Syrah. The resulting wine has a rich cherry colour, reveals predominantly red and blackberry aromas, and has some fine spicy, liquorice, violets and undergrowth nuances. The palate is rich, round, full of expression, with good structure, some ripe, grainy tannins and a fresh, long aftertaste. The Sumoll grape provides both freshness and a lovely ‘rough’ character, while the Syrah affords a more modern, juicy fruit touch. At Partida Creus Massimo and Antonella make a 100% Sumoll called SM from their organic vineyards on limestone-clay soils. No sulphur is added to this wine.

Brief description: Withering heights.

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