is a late-ripening, dark-skinned grape variety grown mainly in Trentino-Alto Adige but also in the Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna wine regions of Italy.
Marzemino’s most prestigious role is as the key ingredient (95 percent) in the Colli di Conegliano Refrontolo passito wines, for which grapes are dried out in the winery (traditionally on straw mats) for weeks or even months after harvest. In Lombardy it is almost never used for varietal wine, but is instead blended with the likes of Sangiovese, Barbera and Merlot, notably in the wines of the Capriano del Colle and Botticino DOCs.
Like its northern Italian stablemates Vespaiolo and Raboso, Marzemino has grassy, herbal elements and a sour-cherry tang in its organoleptic makeup, but has a greater balance in terms of acid and sugar levels. Given a sufficiently sunny site (most likely on the southwest-facing slopes of the Adige valley or in the hills around Conegliano), Marzemino can produce refreshing, berry-scented wines.
Outside of Italy, a handful of producers have been producing varietal Marzemino wines, namely in Australia’s King Valley and New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay.
Pinot Noir is the red wine grape of Burgundy, now adopted (and feverishly studied) in wine regions all over the world. The variety’s elusive charm has carried it to all manner of vineyards, from western Germany and northern Italy to Chile, South Africa, Australia and, perhaps most notably, California, Oregon and New Zealand.
It is the patriarch of the Pinot family of grape varieties – so called because their bunches are similar in shape to a pine cone (pinot in French). Other members of this family include Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Aligote and Pinot Noir’s white-wine counterpart, Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir causes more discussion and dispute than any other grape, most of which centers around finding and describing the variety’s “true” expression. Examples from Santenay are undeniably different from those made on the other side of the world in Central Otago, and yet they are all unmistakably, unquestionably Pinot Noir. It takes a great deal of care and skill to make Pinot perform, and the results vary wildly from watery, acidic candy water to some of the richest, most intensely perfumed wines on Earth. This elusive perfection has earned the variety obsessive adoration from wine lovers all over the world.
In Burgundy (Pinot’s homeland), the traditional vigneron focuses more on soil and climate than on the qualities of the grape variety itself (this is, after all, the home of terroir). Even very subtle differences in terroir are reflected in Pinot Noir wines made there. There are clear and consistent differences between the wines of Volnay and Pommard, for example, even though the villages are separated by just one mile.
The effects of terroir aren’t limited to Burgundy, of course – every region has its own particular terroir, and these are reflected in its wines, particularly when it comes to terroir-sensitive varieties such as Pinot Noir. Although many winemakers in the New World attempt to emulate the Burgundy style, the newer Pinot regions in Oregon, Washington, California and New Zealand have their own individual expressions and interpretations of the variety.
The essence of Pinot Noir wine is its aroma of strawberry and cherry (fresh red cherries in lighter wines and stewed black cherries in weightier examples), underpinned in the most complex examples by hints of undergrowth (sous-bois). Well-built Pinot Noirs, particularly from warmer harvests, also exhibit notes of leather and violets, sometimes approaching the flavor spectrum of Syrah.
The question of oak in Pinot Noir winemaking is frequently raised, as are the length of fermentation and the option of a pre-ferment maceration (cold soak). Cooler temperatures lead to fresher fruit flavors, while longer, warmer fermentations and pigeage result in more extracted wines with greater tannic structure. In order to retain as much Pinot character as possible, many producers have turned to biodynamic viticulture, avoiding the use of commercial fertilizers that may disrupt the variety’s sensitive chemical balance.
Rebo is a dark-skinned crossing of Merlot and Teroldego created by agronomist Rebo Rigotti in Trentino, Italy. Originally it was thought to be a crossing of Marzemino and Merlot, but forensic testing has since disproved this. Plantings of Rebo are limited to its region of origin where it is released commercially as Trentino Rebo DOC.
Wines made from Rebo tend to mimic the characteristics of its parent varieties, being typically ruby-red, full-bodied wines with spicy, dark fruit flavours.
Rebo wines also tend to react well to barrel maturation.
Riesling is a light-skinned, aromatic grape of German origin which is – if the majority of top wine critics are to be believed – the world’s finest white-wine grape variety.
For many, the claim above may seem at odds with the sea of chaptalized, low-quality wine exported from Germany in the late 20th Century. In truth, very little of that infamous wine was Riesling at all (Riesling became a scapegoat for higher-yielding grapes such as Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner), but the reputation has nonetheless stuck.
No less unshakeable a stereotype is of Riesling as just a sweet grape, used only to make sticky wines. Although founded on a basic truth (botrytized Rieslings are among the finest sweet wines in the world), this stereotype blindly ignores the fact that the majority of Riesling wines across the world are either dry or off-dry.
There are various clones and sub-varieties of Riesling in existence, and the variety has multiple variations on its name (e.g. Johannisberg Riesling,Rhine Riesling). To complicate matters, there are several grape varieties that bear the name ‘Riesling’ but are entirely unrelated. The most notable of these are Welschriesling (Riesling Italico), Okanagan Riesling and Cape Riesling, which itself is also known as Crouchen, Paarl Riesling and Clare Riesling.
Muller-Thurgau is a white wine grape variety used predominantly in Germany. A crossing of Riesling and Madeleine Royale, it was created in 1882 by Dr. Herman Muller (of Thurgau, Switzerland), after whom it is named. Few wine experts have kind things to say about Muller-Thurgau, and the variety is consistently blamed for producing the bland, off-dry style of white wine that dominated Germany until the 1980s.
In the 1950s Muller-Thurgau was so successful that German wine experts visiting New Zealand recommended the grape be planted there to produce Spatlese-style wines in the southern hemisphere. Again, Muller-Thurgau was extremely important in establishing a serious wine industry, this time in New Zealand, but when the more interesting Sauvignon Blanc grape emerged, Muller-Thurgau was ripped out with gusto.
Varietal Muller-Thurgau wines often have sweet peach aromas with low acid and a range of fruity flavors. They are almost always best consumed young, with the notable exception of those in northern Italy, where the combination of old vines and steep, elevated vineyards makes for more serious expressions with greater ageing potential.
Gewurztraminer is a pink-skinned grape variety that produces some of the most distinctively aromatic wines in the world, in an intense style that polarizes people. Ardent fans of Gewurztraminer adore its highly perfumed scents and slightly spicy flavors, while its detractors lament its lack of acid and obvious fruit tones. Few, however, would deny Gewurztraminer’s presence on the olfactory radar.
Literally translated, Gewurztraminer means “spiced Traminer” (Traminer Aromatico in Italian), in reference to the grape’s heritage as a mutation of the Traminer family of grapes. Up until 1870 Gewurztraminer was simply known as Traminer in Alsace, and even until the 1970s both Traminer and Gewurztraminer were used to describe the same grapes. Winemakers of this time can easily be forgiven though, for the Traminer family is notorious for its genetic instability.
Gewurztraminer’s parentage is as hard to trace. It seems most likely that Gewurztraminer is the musqué mutation of the Traminer family, also known as Roter Traminer (Savagnin Rose).
The best examples of Gewurztraminer are generally regarded as being from the Grand Cru vineyards of Alsace. It could even be argued that Alsace is the spiritual home of Gewurztraminer, despite the fact that it is not its ancestral home and Gewurztraminer accounts for less than one-fifth of vineyard area in the region.
The primary aromatic descriptors used to define Gewurztraminer are typically lychee, rose petal, Turkish delight and perfume. On the palate it is marked by its full texture, low acidity, stone fruit (mango, peach and apricot) and spicy (ginger and cinnamon) flavors.