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edited by Sue Courtney
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Featured Publication
for period ending 30 April 2000

Guides to Wine Grapes
In print and on the Internet

There seems to be just so many grape varieties nowadays. But the truth is there always has been. It is just that the average consumer did not know this because the name of the grape did not appear on the bottle. This may be a result of the labelling laws of the country the wine originates from e.g. the Appellation Contrôlée (AC) system in France, or the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) system in Italy - both systems based mainly on geography. Or it may be a result of ignorant generic labelling in new world wine producing countries, e.g. New Zealand white wine was once labelled 'Chablis' or 'Burgundy' just because of its colour. Another reason is that we are now seeing wines from many more countries around the world, wines made from grapes that might be unique to these countries. And the last reason I can think of is that wine researchers are developing new grape varieties as we speak - varieties resistant to disease, favourable to climatic conditions and with heaps of flavour.

In Print
Many wine books list grape varieties, but none so complete as Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes. A pocket-book guide, it was published by Oxford University Press in 1996. Over 800 grape varieties are listed on 186 pages. Some grapes have just 2 or 3 lines against the entry and may indicate that the name is purely a synonym, such as Aubaine, which we learn is a "very rarely used Burgundian synonym for chardonnay". But others, such as chardonnay itself or cabernet sauvignon, may have 5 or 6 pages with information about the important wine producing areas for the variety.

Cover of Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes

Other sections that fill up this 232-page book include an introduction to the Vitis family of plants. Interesting is the summary of the top 20 most planted wine grapes. Coming out top is a variety unheard of by most new worlders. Airen is the variety - a drought-resistant white wine grape accounting for almost a third of Spain's vineyards, with more than a million acres planted in 1996. And the wine it produces -"crisp, neutral dry white for early consumption with a certain amount of fruit if drunk very young indeed". It is also an ingredient in Brandy - very important in Spain.

Grapes we know, such as Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay appear in 2nd, 5th, 6th and 11th place respectively. Sauvignon Blanc comes in at 19.

I like the list at the back of the book which gives the grapes behind the geographical names - organised by country, then region within country, it is easy to find out the 13 grape varieties that can be blended into a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or that San Giovese is an important ingrediient in Chianti. Mind you, your geography has to be good, so you know where to look.

On the Internet
"Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes" is a great little book, but is is 4 years old now and there are omissions. While it is the most definitive source of grape varieties in print, I also refer to the best source I have found on the Internet.

It is Anthony Hawkin's Super Gigantic Y2K Wine Grape Glossary. Compiled over a number of years, he writes in his introduction " "Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes", lists over 800 grape names and to a degree renders this glossary obsolescent. However, because her book omits most American hybrid varieties and her listing concentrates on european vinifera or crosses, readers may still find the following file helpful and of some value. ".

Be warned, it is almost 400mb so takes a little time to download - up to 80 seconds depending on the speed of your line. Clickable links in the index and throughout the text hyperlink gets you quickly from one grape variety to another, and all synonyms are referenced in this way. You can also use the 'find' function of your browser to look up which ever grape variety you like - much easier than scrolling through the pages.

I like this guide. It is constantly being updated as new information or varieties come to hand. And there are some varieties I have found that are omitted in Jancis Robinson's book.

Briedecker is one such grape. A variety I had to look up recently, it says "This cultivar was released by the Geisenheim Research Station, Germany, in 1962. Has the technical name GM 4894. It was derived from a Muller-Thurgau cross with the Chancellor (a.k.a Seibel 7053) hybrid cultivar and can currently be found in limited acreages on the south island of New Zealand where it is mainly used for producing somewhat neutral varietal and blend white wines. Resistant to Bunch Rot and Downy Mildew fungus diseases.

Interesting for the kiwis amongst us, this grape was named after Heinrich Breidecker, one of NZ's pioneer grape growers.

I also like the links on grape cultivars and grape vine collections a useful addition to this guide.

Anthony allows users to download the glossary but authorship must be properly credited on all copies made. If you wish to print it, have about 140 sheets of paper handy.


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