There are so many varietals out there, but sometimes you come across one that seems very similar to another, is this just a case of two different names for the same grape, or does the difference lie beyond just the name? Here are three examples of names that are used interchangeably but can mean more when you explore the roots of the varietal further.
While essentially Syrah and Shiraz are simply two names for the same grape variety, there are several geographical, historical and stylistic influences that come into play, creating differences between the two.
The Cape Winelands in South Africa (where I hail from) is a big producer of Shiraz, but some vineyards have taken to calling their wine Syrah, as a way to convey quality (possibly also to justify a higher price), but generally it’s considered that a Syrah will be a more elegant, refined and a less bold version of Shiraz.
So even though they may technically be the same variety, consumers don’t perceive them to be the same. In fact, Decanter.com reported in 2002 that UK supermarket Sainsbury’s lost sales when it was forced to change Shiraz to Syrah on wine labels.
A traditional Shiraz from South Australia/ South Africa would be considered bigger, with riper and more concentrated fruit, perhaps with earthy notes plus some extra spiciness from the use of new oak. You may also expect higher alcohol levels, given the hotter climate.
While a Syrah from the northern Rhône can also have a robust structure with dense dark fruit, classically it will be a leaner, more austere in character with prominent floral aromas and black or white pepper.
But beyond geographical divides, there are trends that further confuses the distinction. Traditional Shiraz growers are producing their wine differently; shifting towards a lighter touch in the cellar, meaning their classic description can appear out-dated. While in Southern France you find producers that place greater emphasis on luscious, plummy fruit and veering away from the restrained ‘old world’ style of wine.
So Shiraz and Syrah, even though it’s one of the world’s most planted grape varieties will continue to keep us on our toes; tasting, challenging and captivating us.
Technically speaking Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same, they are the exact same grape variety; a white grape, with a greyish / brownish pink skin (hence the name gris, or grey, in French).
The main difference being Pinot Gris originates from France, where it is most cultivated in Alsace, while Pinot Grigio is grown primarily/largely in North-Eastern Italy.
But just like Shiraz and Syrah, there are stylistic decisions to be taken on whether to call a wine (that falls outside of these specific areas) Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris. Usually selecting the name that best fits the style they’re going for, Alsatian or Italian.
Pinot Gris from the Alsace region of France is typically rich and often sweet, with rich, spicy tropical fruit aromas and with faint honey notes from botrytis. Pinot Grigio in North-Eastern Italy shows a lighter, crisp, clean and vibrant expression of the grape, with citrus flavours and brilliant acidity and a bitter almond note.
American Pinot Grigio has more exaggerated fruit flavours and with less acidity than its European counterparts. While in New Zealand and Australian, Pinot Gris has grown in popularity as production has steadily risen to meet consumer demand.
Mourvèdre (aka Monastrell) is a full-bodied and rustic wine that originated in Spain. Rumour has it that the seafaring Phoenicians brought it over as early as 500 B.C.
This is a highly tannic (and rather finicky) grape that lends its appealing-in-moderation trait quite nicely to blends. It’s used in popular wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape and is one of the major grapes of the Rhône along with Grenache and Syrah.
Monastrell is known as Mourvèdre in France and Mataro in Australia but they are the same grape, just how they are used and blended varies between the regions.
In Spain, Monastrell once was the second most planted red wine variety in Spain (behind Garnacha). Modern viticultural fashions have shifted the focus towards Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, though Monastrell is now regaining some of its former importance. With more and more producers experimenting with making wines from 100 percent Monastrell.
In France you very seldom see a single-variety Mourvèdre, very much seen as a blending wine (given its high tannins), although consumer driven curiosity is changing the traditional view of how the variety can be used.
Certainly, an interesting grape; fruity, full-bodied, smoky, meaty and herby and well worth exploring in my book.