The Great Grape Alphabet
Here are the final grape varieties included in our long journey through the grape world. Beginning with V and ending in Z, we plough our way alphabetically and blissfully through the ampelographic wonderland, supported by diverse examples from our wine portfolio.
Vermentino (also Rolle) might be described as an archetypical white Mediterranean grape variety. We find it in Spain, high in the mountains and near the coast, in Catalonia, through the Languedoc – as a varietal and in blends, in the Southern Rhone and Provence, Liguria, Tuscany and, of course, Corsica and Sardinia. Vermentino is seemingly Spanish in origin, having travelled from Spain to Corsica in the 14th century and from there on to Liguria. Its appearance on Sardinia was fairly recent, the final decades of the last century, and it was first planted in the Gallura at the island’s northernmost tip.
In Corsica Domaine Culombu’s wines are typically aromatic combining notes of citrus, fresh grass, herbs, and almonds with a crisp and acidic framework. The so-called domaine wine, now called Tribbiera, is softer in the mouth with a touch of verbena and lime; the Clos has more structure and fine mineral notes plus leesy creaminess, apricot and white chocolate undertones.
Antoine Arena’s Carco vineyard is on an eastern facing slope, cleared of its maquis and planted in 1987 by Antoine. The name of the parcel, Carco, dates back to at least Napoleonic times, and in Corsican means “busy,” most likely due to the fact that it was covered in densely planted olive trees at that time, before being abandoned. From low-yielding, hand-harvested vines this Vermentinu is fermented naturally with low sulphur in cement cuves and take place a long time (6-8 months) on the fine lees. It completes its malo naturally and then is bottled without filtration or fining. The colour is straw and clear with a shimmer of trapped gas. Aromas of salted roasted nuts give some indication of the extreme ripeness of the wine, stone/mineral, plump, sweet fruit flavour in the vicinity of green bananas and ripe pears. Throw in some preserved lemons and oranges, maybe a little mint. These are punctuated with fennel and sweet herb flavours. Think heat, think rocks, think garrigue.
Massa Vecchia Ariento is an altogether richer iteration of Vermentino. The wine is fermented with the skin, grapes are pressed by foot twice a day for five days then the wine spends three weeks on the skins, with a daily punch down. Aged in small chestnut casks, the resulting dry white wine is nothing short of thrilling, with a bright golden colour and a powerful scent of wild garrigue herbs amongst the notes of lemon oil and orange and just the slightest astringency (from the skins) in the finish.
Although it is now found throughout Sardinia, Vermentino expresses itself best, yielding wines of outstanding personality, in the Gallura, an area incessantly swept by the fierce wind from the Alps, the Mistral. The area’s dry, harsh soils are not conducive to most agricultural production.
The quality of the wine is due not only to the microclimatic conditions but also to the character of the terrain, which features a thin and poor substratum of granitic material. That material accounts for the wine’s pronounced perfume, which is balanced by a substantial alcohol level, fine fragrance and good body.
Cantina di Gallura specialises in this grape. The Gemellae is brilliant straw yellow in colour with light greenish reflections; intense and subtle aroma with a delicate and persistent bouquet it is dry, alcoholic, soft flavour with low acidity and an extremely pleasing bitter background. The Canayli, a wine regularly nudging three glasses in Gambero Rosso, has hints of crisp apple, melon and fresh herbs. A long, well-rounded, lemony finish make it the ideal partner with Sardinian-style braised young chicken with tomatoes, red bell peppers, crimini mushrooms, and pepperoncino.
To Ryme Cellars in California. Megan and Ryan make two interpretations of Vermentino from the same vineyard in Carneros: “His” and “Hers” Vermentino. “Hers” is pressed, settled clean, and bottled early. “His” picked later, destemmed, fermented on skins, and aged longer. These are both delicious wines in their very different ways, exemplifying how terroir can be channelled into different directions but the wines can remain true to their origins. Hers has beautiful aromas of white peach and pear with floral undertones. The palate is bright with lively acidity, crisp fruit, and a clean finish. Perfect with shellfish. His took two weeks to ferment, whole cluster. Pressed to neutral barrel for 10 months ageing. Minimal sulphur addition. Light golden colour (more gold than orange) and tastes of lemon/peach purée, crushed rocks, yellow roses, kiwi, green tea, grapefruit and some tannin to round off. Hers, homage to the wines of Gallura, his, the Massa Vecchia idiom.
Brief description: Rock and rolle
Vernaccia is largely produced in and around the Italian hill town of San Gimignano in Tuscany and has been rated as one of Italy’s noble white wines since Renaissance times. It was the first Italian wine to be awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1966; on July 9th, 1993 it was upgraded to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
The earliest recorded mention of the wine appears in the archives of record of San Gimignano from 1276. Due to the difficulties in cultivating the Vernaccia grape, the wine fell out of favour in the early 20th century as the more prolific Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes were planted. By the 1960s, Vernaccia di San Gimignano experienced resurgence as its distinctive, crisp qualities established it as a popular alternative to the often blander wines produced from Trebbiano and Malvasia blends.
The name "Vernaccia" is applied to several different Italian grapes, such as the Sardinian grape used in Vernaccia di Oristano and the Marche grape used in the sparkling red wine Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. Ampelographers have determined that the variety grown in San Gimignano is different and distinct from the other Italian Vernaccias and is probably not related. The Tuscan variety is believed to be the oldest grape variety but its origins are not clear with ampelographers disagreeing if it originally came from Eastern Europe, Greece or is indigenous to the Italian peninsula.
In San Gimignano, the Vernaccia grapes planted in sandstone-based vineyards tend to produce the best examples of Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The wine is characteristically dry with crisp acidity and a slightly bitter finish. Most consider Vernaccia di San Gimignano to be a simple, everyday white; its popularity being owed less to what is in the glass and more to it being the local wine of San Gimigniano, one of Tuscany's most touristy towns. Despite this reputation, modern winemaking has introduced the use of oak aging to give the wine another layer of complexity and roundness. While very different from the historic style of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the success of these more modern and international styles has not yet been established.
Vernaccia is mentioned by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio XXIV) as leading to Pope Martin IV's gluttony. He ate Bolsena eels pickled in the wine.
":ebbe la Santa Chiesa in le sue braccia:
dal Torso fu, e purga per digiuno
l’anguille di Bolsena e la vernaccia."
Vernaccia was also praised by Francesco Redi in his work, "Baccio in Toscana" (1685)
Elisabetta Faguioli’s Montenidioli wines are uncompromisingly pure expressions of Vernaccia. The bunches destined to go into the various wines are divided up, destemmed, and set to macerate in chilled tanks. Only the white grapes destined to become Vernaccia Tradizionale are pressed, and following the old tradition, the must macerates at length with the skins and is pressed as soon as the fermentation begins, to extract the flavour of the terroir.
The Tradizionale is straw yellow tending towards gold, with herbal and almond perfumes, rich flavours, and a dry, crisp aftertaste. The finish smacks of savoury spice and some bitter almonds, and some warmth. Ideal with Mediterranean dishes cooked with extra virgin olive oil and sushi also with difficult to match vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes.
Vernaccia Fiore is made with the free-run juice, displaying all the finesse and elegance of which Vernaccia is capable. It ferments in steel, and ages on the lees to gain roundness and persistence. Displaying considerable depth, it is full, with rich, elegant white berry fruit supported by greenish accents and spice from grapes, and by clean rich white berry fruit acidity.
Brief description: It’s life, Gimignano, as we know it.
Vitovska is a rare and ancient greenish-gold variety that is found predominantly in Carso in the north-eastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. Its name is of Slovenian origin and small parcels of the variety are still planted in Slovenia today, mostly in the Primorski (the Slovenian Littoral) regions of Kras and Vipavska Dolina (Vipava Valley).
The variety is believed to be a crossing of Prosecco Tondo and Malvasia Bianca Lunga. While it was traditionally used in blends, innovative winemakers are now producing appealing single-varietal Vitovska wines.
It is botanically similar to Ribolla and thus is frequently mistaken for it. Vitovska is also resistant to drought as well as the cold, gusty, northerly Bora wind of the Adriatic. Vitovska produces dry white wines that are medium to full bodied and are typically described as elegant and creamy.
The variety has a number of distinctive flavours, including sage, pears and prunes, along with pronounced mineral notes and spice. Good examples of the wine will exhibit a wide range of fruit notes, such as stonefruit, citrus, apples and cherries, as well as jasmine flowers and smoke.
Carso is a limestone-rich plateau that extends out from the city of Trieste and reaches toward the Julian Alps to the north. The heavy limestone content of the soils likely gave the zone its name (Carso is thought to be derived from a Celtic word meaning “land of rock”), and it lends the wines, both white and red, a firm acidic backbone and mouth-watering minerality. On the white side, this means flinty, fragrant accompaniments to fresh seafood in Trieste, Muggia, and other fishing towns along Friuli’s Adriatic basin.
The Azienda Zidarich is located in Prepotto, near Duino Aurisina, which is a small and characteristic village of the Carso area. The landscape is extremely varied and the vegetation is very different and enhances the peculiarity of this territory dedicated to viticulture. Jagged chalky rock is the keynote of Carso viticulture, which is carried out on small terraces of red, iron-rich soil that have been reclaimed from the woodland. This lends the wines the characteristic acidity and mineral notes.
Benjamin Zidarich’s Vitovska is part macerated on the skins for twelve to fifteen days. Aged for two years in large Slavonian casks, the Vitovska is a seamless and deeply stony wine. Its fruit character veers toward apricot and peach, yet in a subtle way—the limestone is doing the heavy lifting here, with the Vitovska serving as a mere vessel for the unfettered expression of rock. The wine finishes clean and long, with a sensation of almost mentholated coolness ringing on the palate long after swallowing. Whatever subtle tannins are present are melded beautifully with the palate-staining minerality, and the overall impression is one of freshness, complexity, and drive.
Paolo and Valter Vodopivec have earned an enviable international reputation for their distinctive wines. To discuss the terroir of Carso is to speak more about rock than soil. Carso, in fact, actually means something like “land of rock” in Celtic. Walter and Paolo Vodopivec actually had to physically break up the limestone bedrock to plant their vines. The rocky terrain leaves a firm imprint on the wine with an undeniable acid and mineral streak. All their wines are made from the Vitovska grape. The wine is first fermented in clay jars that are buried underground. These terracotta pots are qvevri and made in Georgia.
Back to the wine. Treat it with the respect it deserves. Upon opening it is intensely tannic and grippingly mineral. Decant once. Twice. The result, if you’re patient, is a wine that have a purity and fascination that makes you want to roll it appreciatively around your mouth. Deep, rich (but not heavy) and aromatic with layers of dried peach, warm apricot and apple notes on both the nose and mid palate, a splendid Vitovska that is as bone dry as the rocks from which the vines eke out their precarious existence, yet somehow refreshing and curiously saline with a very long finish that imparts further flavours of hazelnuts and dried fig. An ideal match for grilled trout, swordfish or sea bass or pork chops with fennel.
Brief description: Limestone cowboy
Xarel-lo is a light-skinned grape from Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, and is one of the region's most widely planted varieties. It is used to make various wine styles, but it is best known for its role in cava, in which it is typically blended with two other classic Spanish grapes varieties, Macabeo and Parellada.
Xarel-lo is valued by winemakers for the acid structure it brings to wines, and stands out as one of Spain's finest white-wine varieties. It has a thick skin, is high in polyphenols, and its juice offers an excellent balance of sugars and acids. It is also high in the antioxidant resveratrol, as shown by joint studies between the enology department of UC Davis and the pharmacology department of the University of Barcelona. It is largely responsible for the age-worthiness of the finest Cavas.
Xarel·lists: a term coined to describe those who interpret and explore the properties and virtues of the Xarel·lo grape variety. The Mediterranean variety Xarel·lo is the leitmotif of Celler Credo’s wine project and the thematic thread that gives rise to their wines. Aged on the lees, macerated with the grape skin or stems, with no sulphites added – made today using techniques they learned from their grandparents … “In short, a thousand and one ways of interpreting Xarel•lo. In other words, Xarel·lo is our credo. At Celler Credo they see ourselves as defenders of bio (life) and dynamics (movement). We’re guided by values that bring us closer to the land, territories and landscapes of which we form part. Is this, perhaps, the path to reconciling man and nature? Maybe.”
They are also committed to making terroir white wines – without chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides – wines that speak plainly, recounting a sensory history that’s free of artifice, authentic. This is a dialogue between man, the variety and the land; a conversation in which there’s much to say and nothing to hide. Xarel•lo wines that chatter; vines that give up their claim to the starring role in a vineyard inhabited by fennel, wild radish, yellow fleabane… by insects and animals that each contribute in their own small way to an ecosystem which, to express its true nature, needs something as easy to say as it is difficult to achieve: balance.
‘Aloers’ was the name given to farmers in the Middle Ages who owned the land that they cultivated. They were free of any duty to pay rent or render service. Aloers is made by allowing the must to macerate for a few hours with the stems and then leaving the wine on the lees for approximately two months. This offers the freshest, most genuine expression of the Mediterranean Xarel·lo grown on calcareous soils. Miranius is named after a clever fox who ventures into the vineyards and is delighted by the sweet aromas of the grapes. It has strong varietal character with crisp acidity and a good palate. ‘Capficat’: a branch that’s buried –without being cut from the stump it grows from– and gives life to a new vine. The white wine Capficat is made using grapes from a Xarel·lo vineyard owned by Celler Credo and planted in 1940. Capficat epitomizes purity and transparency. It contains no added sulphites, only those naturally produced by yeasts during the fermentation process. It is an unclarified and unfiltered wine that reflects the quality of the grapes used and the work done in the vineyard. Must fermentation takes place in oak barrels, and the wine is then left in the barrels for approximately one month.
L’Estrany is made using an age-old technique from the time when wine was macerated with the grape skins. This contact with the skin is taken to the limit to showcase the Xarel·lo variety in a frank, uncompromising way that captures all its depth and rough-edged elegance. Can Credo wine, meanwhile, offers the maximum varietal expression of the Xarel·lo grape grown in a calcareous soil in a Mediterranean climate. This is why, when making it, this white wine is also macerated with the grape skins and the pressing yield is very low, the most elegant and subtle fraction of the must. The must is fermented in oak cask, after which the wine stays in the cask for about one month.
Planted entirely to Xarel.lo Turo d’En Moto is a very special cuvée sourced from a single vineyard less than one hectare in size (named after a local hill) situated perhaps in the most elite section of the domaine in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. The vines are very old: originally planted in 1940 on calcareous soils. The grapes are crushed and then the juice is fermented in oak casks where it remained for 45 days with lees stirring and undergoes eight years and three months aging before disgorgement on December 12, 2011. The bouquet is more like a dry white Burgundy than a Cava, with hints of honeysuckle, fresh-baked brioche, dried apricot, lemon peel and a touch of jasmine. “It is beautifully defined and very complex. The palate is very well-balanced with superb delineation and focus, drawing you in with subtle notes of orange peel, tangerine, beeswax and honeycomb. Long in the mouth and utterly harmonious, one has to ask if this is the “Clos d’Ambonnay” of Cava? “ (The Wine Advocate– 96 points). Forget the bubbles; this is a wine that expresses the full “tilth and husbandry of the soil”, the fabulous calcium-rich terroir and the particular climate.
Can Mayol, which bottles under the trademarked name “Loxarel,” is a winery that has been farming organically for more than a decade. The Mitjan family, owners of Can Mayol, also employ some biodynamic treatments. Half of the vines are situated around the cellars and main house, which dates from the 14th century, not far from Vilafranca, however, there are a few amphorae in the small barrel cellar, part of the Mitjan’s commitment to experimenting and producing a range of natural wines. While the focus is on “Brut Nature” (no dosage added) Cava production, they also produce some very interesting still wines from their chalky, high altitude vineyards above 2,400 feet for their highest vines, among the highest in the Penedès D.O.) including a chalky-dry amphora fermented Xarel.lo. A Pel Ancestral (Pet Nat) is a natural sparkling wine made with Xarel.lo grapes grown biodynamically by Josep at Bodegas Loxarel in Penedes. Pet Nat wines are made with only one fermentation in the bottle and are generally unfiltered, unfined and have a very gentle sparkle. In the case of this particular wine the ferment begins in clay amphora with the skins included and then finishes in the bottle.
Jane Ventura and Partida Creus also make versions of Xarel.lo. Both possess that lean fresh saline quality that marks this grape out.
Brief description: Catalan’s versatile white grape
Zelen is indigenous to Vipava Valley. Historically, it was planted just in Upper Vipava Valley – the part of valley which was part of Carniola region in the Austro -Hungarian Empire. First described by Matija Vertovec in Vinoreja in 1844 Zelen was preserved in Vipavska dolina but by the 1980s it virtually disappeared with just 1 ha left. Now there are around 60-70 ha planted to this grape.
A few years ago, Zelen wine was almost inaccessible to wine lovers. Only if you were connected, was the honour to taste the wine given to you: wine of a friend who had a good acquaintance in the Vipava Valley region bringing you to the right place at the right time: into the wine cellar. Zelen is a Mass wine, wine for special opportunities, designed only for special friends and moments. It has such charisma, which other wines only try to acquire. Its bouquet is unique and incomparable to other wines and it remains forever inside of those who experience it.
The Zelen wine's charm springs from antiquity. How exciting can be to discover something already forgotten, to search its roots. As if we uncovered the final layer of soil from skeleton of a dinosaur which became extinct a long time ago. As a matter of fact, we drink the Zelen wine of our ancestors confirming national identity and thus gaining in self-confidence. We can boast this wine in front of other nations accounting themselves for holders of civilization also by preserving a rich tradition of vine cultivation. Vinest Journal
‘Zelen’ is Slovene for “green” – because the grapes have an intensely-coloured pulp, and, if left unfiltered, the wine will emerge a vivid emerald green colour. Primoz’s 2016 wine spends three days on skins, is fermented in a combination of stainless vats and cement tanks, has a delicately perfumed nose of white flowers, green apple, then jolts of grapefruit, zippy lemon, apple and floral notes on the palate. We love the intensely mineral, racy, saline edge. I would happily drink this with oysters, but I think it would be even better with lobster and mayo with a new potato salad.
Brief description: Zelen of Troy
The most widely planted red-wine grape in Austria, Zweigelt, prosaically, is a crossing of Saint-Laurent with Blaufrankisch, created in 1922. It’s a popular variety, grown in every Austrian wine region, with the finest examples coming from Burgenland, particularly the Neusiedlersee. A classic Austrian Zweigelt is richly coloured with a deep, bright core of spiced cherry and raspberry flavours.
Zweigelt was developed by Dr Friedrich "Fritz" Zweigelt, who originally named it Rotburger. This led to confusion with an entirely distinct variety (see Rotberger) created at around the same time in Geisenheim, Germany. It wasn't until the 1970s that this duplication was finally resolved, when Dr Zweigelt's variety was renamed "Zweigelt" by the influential Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser.
A truly successful crossing, Zweigelt has inherited desirable characteristics from both of its parent varieties (see Saint-Laurent and Blaufrankisch). From Saint-Laurent it gets its bright, Pinot-like cherry aromas and the ability to create silky, elegant wines. From Blaufrankisch it has taken a certain spiciness and good acidity. Both parents are capable of creating wines with deep, rich purple-crimson colouring, so it is no surprise that Zweigelt wines tend to very richly coloured; the best have a dark, brooding appearance in the glass. Unfortunately, this latter characteristic creates a natural temptation for some winemakers to over-crop their Zweigelt vines, resulting in wines with acceptable depth of colour but rather diluted flavours and aromas. Austria's relatively stringent wine laws have helped keep yields in check to a certain extent, but there are still marked differences between those Zweigelts from high-yielding vineyards and those made by more quality-conscious producers.
Zweigelt buds later than Saint-Laurent and ripens earlier than Blaufrankisch, it provides a kind of insurance policy in the vineyard. While the other two varieties are susceptible to harsh weather conditions (spring frost and autumn rain respectively), Zweigelt vines typically dodge these seasonal threats. Zweigelt also has the advantage of being a high-yielding variety, further contributing to its popularity with winegrowers.
Matthias Warnung makes a red Zweigelt called Basis and a rosé. Grapes are always handpicked (harvests are low) and are whole bunch pressed, straight into barrel without settling, spontaneously fermented, malolactic fermentation, up to two years on its full lees, just a minimum of sulphur added two weeks before bottling. The pink version is positively steely, no bubblegum airhead this, whilst the red describes elegance with its graphite notes.
Although Sepp Muster is somewhat of a white wine specialist he also makes three wines featuring Zweigelt. All the wines are released with a considerable amount of bottle age and are amongst the most composed (and complex) versions of this grape variety you will find. The Graf Zweigelt has powerful structure without being heavy, revealing savoury, meaty aromas and flavours.
Brief description: Zweig-art
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