The world of wine can be confusing at times — even for experts. Not only do we have thousands of choices from thousands of wine regions, there’s the problem of grapes that go by multiple names.
It may be simple enough to keep track of pinot grigio and pinot gris as the Italian and French styles, respectively, of a common grape, but things get more complicated when we consider crljenak kastelanski, primitivo and zinfandel.
Many grape varieties around the world have several names depending on where they are grown. Some are interchangeable and many better understood by exploring the place they were grown to help in deciphering the style.
It’s understandable to doubt that Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. You can taste these wines side by side and they are completely different in style, taste and texture. “Syrah” is the name usually used in France’s Rhone region where it is the backbone of most Northern Rhone wines and a blending grape in the Southern Rhone. “Shiraz” is the name most winemakers in Australia use. While the two names may have started out as regional distinctions, over the past decade the use of the two names has become a distinction in style. For those using “Syrah” it generally indicates a wine with French influence and fruit restraint while “Shiraz” for a more rich, full-bodied fruit forward style.
- 2016 Gayda Domaine Syrah, France (about $12 retail)
- 2016 D’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz, Australia (about $18 retail)
Mourvedre is often overlooked because it is generally used in French regional wines and not listed on the label. Perhaps you know it as monstrell (its Spanish name) or mataro (as it was once called in California). This thick-skinned small-berried grape originated in Spain where it thrives in hot climates. In almost all hot climates it has the powerful high tannin structure with aromas and tastes of blueberry, blackberry, plum and even rose and violet. It’s the grape used as the backbone of many French rose wines and in the Languedoc where it is usually a blending grape for many red blends. The name can sometimes shift back to mataro in Australia where it is the GSM blends. (Grenache, shiraz and mourvedre or mataro.)
- 2016 Barossa Valley Estate GSM, Australia (about $13 retail)
- 2016 Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre, California (about $20 retail)
So, now to the crljenak kastelanski grape, also known as zinfandel, primitivo and tribidrag. This is another example of the use of different names identifying place and style. It’s known as crljenak kastelanski or tribidrag in its native Croatia where it produces a light-bodied fruity wine. The style most are familiar is either the white zinfandel or the full-bodied, ripe, fruit bombs of California. The Italians know it as primitivo.
- 2016 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel, California (about $13 retail)
- 2016 Cakebread Cellars Lake County Zinfandel, California (about $62 retail)