- Winey Guest Writter
What Does it Mean When the Same Grape has Different Names?
What’s really the difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris? Syrah and Shiraz? Zinfandel and Primitivo? While these may be the same grape varieties with different names, local terroir can change their flavor more than you think. Learn how it works.
A vast number of grape varieties have several names, depending on where they’re grown. So what’s in a name? Are they always interchangeable, or does their place and name hold a clue to their style?
The grape: Syrah
Also known as: Shiraz
You can be forgiven if you think Syrah and Shiraz are different grapes. The wines can taste almost like polar opposites. Their body, expression and texture change with the climate.
Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a Grape Variety Grown Throughout the World.
In the temperate northern Rhône Valley of France, Syrah is the grape behind such storied appellations as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Further south, it forms the backbone of countless Côtes du Rhône blends and is an essential part of many rustic Languedoc reds.
Known as Shiraz in Australia, its style is most distinct in the hot Barossa and warm McLaren Vale regions, but it also thrives in cooler Canberra. Where Northern Rhône Syrah has firm, drying tannins, Australian Shiraz is like mouth-coating velvet.
French oak accentuates Syrah’s visceral notes of cured meat, yet American oak lends vanilla and chocolate tones to Aussie Shiraz. Both can have heartstopping notes of violet. Then there are the spice flavors, such as white pepper in cooler regions and black pepper in warmer ones.
Where Northern Rhône Syrah has firm, drying tannins, Australian Shiraz is like mouth-co
Syrah/Shiraz can also occupy delicious middle ground. In New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, it’s luscious with fruit, but suggestive with pepper. In South Africa, it veers toward spicy richness, while in California and Washington, it can be smooth and big, or edgy and taut.
In short? The name is a clue to style. Shiraz is likely big and bold, while Syrah tends to be snappy and more slender.
The grape: Pinot Grigio
Also known as: Pinot Gris, Grauburgunder
Pinot Grigio assumes many aliases across Europe, like Fromenteau, Pinot Beurot, Ruländer and Szürkebarát.
The grape is very much a chameleon. It can produce bottles ranging from easy-drinkers to full-flavored whites. Don’t sneer at Pinot Grigio, especially from Veneto in northern Italy. It has given pleasure to many, with relative simplicity being its chief virtue. This is the result of high yields and neutral winemaking techniques. Further north in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige, Pinot Grigio is cropped at lower levels and produces spicier, elegant whites. In Germany, where it’s known as Grauburgunder, it generally has expressive, rounded pear notes.
Easy-drinking, lighter versions are labeled Pinot Grigio, while rounder wines, often with some residual sweetness, are designated Pinot Gris.
Alsace, located in northeastern France, is where Pinot Gris reaches its zenith. While there are many easy-drinking versions, they tend to be rounder, weightier and spicier, often with a touch of residual sweetness. Grown in the delimited Grand Cru vineyards, Pinot Gris makes full-fruited, rounded whites heavy enough to accompany red meat and suitable for aging.
This Italian-French stylistic divide has become international shorthand. Easy-drinking, lighter versions are labeled Pinot Grigio, while rounder wines, often with some residual sweetness, are designated Pinot Gris.
The grape: Zinfandel (California)
Also known as: Primitivo, Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski
Quality mature Zinfandel is one of the world’s greatest joys.
As a red wine, Zinfandel always boasts full, juicy and plump fruit that covers a spectrum of ripeness, often with elevated alcohol levels. When made well, Zinfandel balances these qualities perfectly. There’s something enticing about the fruit. Grapes in the same bunch can be barely ripe, overripe, or even raisined.
In Puglia, Primitivo is generous, smooth and warming. On an inland elevation, Gioia del Colle produces the freshest versions, while coastal Primitivo di Manduria is strong, dense and powerful. In Croatia and Montenegro, Tribidrag is produced as a fruity local wine.
In California, this oft-rustic red attains true elegance. Some ancient Zinfandel vines in Napa and Sonoma bring forth concentrated, full-bodied wines with warm alcohol and expressive, enticing red fruit aromas. Quality mature Zinfandel is one of the world’s greatest joys.
The grape: Grenache
Also known as: Garnacha, Cannonau
Grenache beguiles wine lovers across the globe with its luscious red fruit flavors. Grenache is an archetypal Mediterranean variety. It wants full sun, will withstand heat and drought and it thrives on meager, stony soils. This resilience explains its success and spread in warm climates.
Vinified on its own, Grenache is full-bodied
without being tannic.
With Grenache’s softness and plump fruit, it adds its juicy allure and warmth to Châteauneuf du Pape, is integral to Côtes du Rhône and part of the holy trinity of Australian Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre (GSM) blends. As Garnacha, it can also form part of Spanish Rioja.
Vinified on its own, Grenache is full-bodied without being tannic. It can also make charming, aromatic reds in the Rhône cru villages of Vinsobres, Rasteau, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. As Cannonau in Sardinia, it’s bigger, stronger and bolder.
Grenache vines are long-lived, and the variety hits its stride in the old-vine Grenache wines from the French Roussillon, neighboring Spanish Priorat and McLaren Vale in Australia. The wines are concentrated and fragrant with spicy red fruit.
But Grenache is versatile. It also makes the sweet, fortified wines of Banyuls and Maury, and the dry, fully pink rosados of Navarra. No matter the style or origin, Garnacha always trumps with its gorgeous red fruit.
The grape: Mourvèdre
Also known as: Monastrell, Mataro
Ancient and dark, powerful and brooding, this thick-skinned, small-berried grape of Spanish origin thrives in hot climates. Mere warmth won’t do for this late ripener. It needs proper, sustained heat. Mourvèdre is at home on the Mediterranean coast in Spain, where it’s called Monastrell, and forms the gutsy, heavy, tannic reds of Yecla, Jumilla and Alicante.
As Mourvèdre, it’s the backbone of Provençal Bandol, where it gives oomph to reds and a lovely tannic tang to dry rosés. In the Languedoc, it’s a valued contributor to numerous red blends. In Australia, where it’s known as Mataro, the grape asserts its dusky charms in GSM blends.
Few pure varietal Mataros are made, as they benefit from a little softening with Grenache. The best examples have a heady perfume of black fruit in youth, and of leather and spice with age.
The grape: Malbec
Also known as: Côt
Today, Malbec is synonymous with Argentina, where this aromatic, black grape revels in the bright, high-altitude sunshine of the Andes. A French original, it’s almost supplanted by the Argentine success. Malbec is sometimes referred to as Côt in France. It’s even one of the five permitted varieties in red Bordeaux, but ripens unreliably there.
Malbec’s real French hotspot is in Cahors, a town in southwestern France as well as a namesake appellation. Cahors wine is inky, opaque and dense with tannin. The firm, astringent tannins of French Malbec are often softened with the addition of Merlot. Malbec in Argentina, however, are ripe enough to have the soft crunch