There are so many fun grapes being grown in Texas now producing myriad delicious wines. A number of these grape varieties hail from the arid, warm Mediterranean climes of the southern Italian peninsula, southern France, and Spain. With origins in these countries, the names of many varieties may be less recognizable to Texas wine lovers, and their pronunciation can be a challenge. We have attempted to provide brief descriptions for a few of the most interesting of these grape varieties, along with some help with pronunciation. We hope you will purchase and open a bottle or two and enjoy reading this wine blog post.
Aglianico – [al YAN i koh] or [aye YAN i koh]
Negroamaro – “neg” like in negative and it comes out [neg row ah MAR oh]
Dolcetto – say “dol” like bowl and you get [dol CHET oh]
Sagrantino – [sag rahn TEEN oh]
Malvasia bianca – some say [mal va ZI ah] while others prefer [mal VAY zee ah]
Picpoul or Piquepoul Blanc – [PEEK pool blawnk]
Clairette Blanche – [kleh-RHEHT BLAHNSH] or [clare ETT BLAWNCH]
Picardan – [PEEK are dan]
Viognier – [vee ohn YAY]
Alicante Bouschet – [alla KAHN tay boo SHEA]
Mourvèdre – Monastrell – Mataro – [moor ved] leave off the “re”, [MON ah strell], and [mah TAR oh]
Carignan – Cariñena – Mazuelo – [care in YAWN], [care in YANE], [car in YANE ah], [maz you EH lah].
Mencia – [men THEA ah] not the best pronouncement, but the best we could do
Prieto Picudo – [pre ĀTO pee KUDO]
Tempranillo – Do you know six (6) other names for this popular grape variety?
Aglianico – The name is very often mispronounced as the “g” is not sounded – say [al YAN i koh] or [aye YAN i koh]. This dark red-black grape is primarily grown in southern wine regions of Italy (the bottom of the Italian peninsula or “boot”). It likes warm weather and is drought tolerant, so works well in parts of Texas. Some suggest the name may have derived from the Spanish term “llano” meaning plain, referring to grapes grown on the plains. That sounds pretty Texas to us. Oswald Vineyard in Terry County on the High Plains, and Perissos Vineyard and Winery near Inks Lake in the Hill Country, both grow fantastic Aglianico grapes.
Negroamaro – This is another southern Italian variety. Pronounce the “neg” like in negative, and it comes out [neg row ah MAR oh]. The name literally means black and bitter (from negro, a Latin word for black, and amaro, the Italian word for bitter). Negroamaro is a relatively vigorous vine that can produce good yields, grows really well in heat and lots of sun, and is quite able to handle arid, even drought conditions – all good for Texas. As one would expect, the grape skins can be quite thick, thus contributing lots of dark color and tannin to the wine. Italian wines made with Negroamaro that are generally available at retail are labeled Salice Salentino (salice like caliche in Texas).
Dolcetto – This is a fun name to pronounce – say “dol” like bowl and you get [dol CHET oh]. Although the name literally means “little sweet one,” most Dolcetto wines are dry. This variety comes from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, home of the famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape and other big reds made from Barbera grapes. Dolcetto wines tend to be lighter in style with bright fruit, moderate tannins, lower acidity, and more limited aging potential. Dolcetto wines are made to release and drink early to generate cash flow while the “big boy” regional cousins age for longer periods of time. Plantings of Dolcetto in arid regions of Australia, southern Oregon, New Mexico, and now Texas, have shown significant success.
Sagrantino – Paul V. Bonarrigo at Messina Hof Winery has worked hard to introduce this Italian variety to Texas. Sagrantino [sag rahn TEEN oh] comes from the “landlocked” Umbria region in central Italy where the grape was originally dried and made into sweet communion wine. Today, most Sagrantino is made into darker, bolder dry table wines with aromas and flavors of red fruits and plums with hints of cinnamon, chocolate, tobacco, and freshly turned soil. Sagrantino grows well in a hot, arid climate, and requires a relatively long growing season – seems a good option for many Texas growing regions.
Malvasia Bianca – There are lots of opinions on how to say this one. The Italians tend to pronounce it [mal va ZI ah] while most others seem to prefer [mal VAY zee ah]. White Malvasia is an ancient variety planted throughout the Mediterranean region where vines tend to grow best in sunny areas with moderate temperatures and well-drained soil. This may be part of the reason for the upsurge of interest in this grape on the Texas High Plains. The grape can be made into many different styles of wine, and is often blended with other varieties, especially here in Texas.
Picpoul or Piquepoul Blanc – This white Rhône grape is experiencing an upsurge in popularity that began when McPherson Cellars of Lubbock was awarded the prestigious prizes for Best White Rhône Varietal and Best in Show White at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition. The grapes were grown on Timmons Ranch near Brownfield, and both McPherson and Lost Draw Cellars released a Picpoul Blanc from that 2015 vintage. Both producers continue to release new vintages of this delicious variety and other Texas winemakers are catching on.
Piquepoul [peek pool] Blanc is primarily used as a blending grape in the southern Rhône region of France. The name Piquepoul stems from the French word piquer, meaning “to sting,” probably relating to the lip and tongue tingling acidity of the grapes and finished wines. Piquepoul Blanc produces lighter-bodied, crisp, and refreshing wines with lime and apricot aromas and flavors, plus ample acidity that enhance warm-weather meals and events. Based on recent successes, the expectation is that more vineyard acreage for Piquepoul Blanc will be planted in Texas so we can all look forward to our own Pique-POOL Party!
Clairette Blanche – Once widely planted in southern France, this variety is relatively new to Texas. The color is very light, which makes sense, as the name Clairette Blanche literally means “clear white” in French. The Tablas Creek Vineyard website suggests the pronunciation [kleh-RHEHT BLAHNSH]. Another way is [clare ETT BLAWNCH. Just FYI, Clairette is one of very few French grape names of the feminine gender, thus the use of the “feminine” adjective Blanche rather than the “masculine” form, Blanc.
The US introduction of Clairette Blanche, like many of the so-called Rhône varieties, was part of a program to plant all of the grape varieties used by the Perrin family to produce the wines of Château de Beaucastel, their famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate. The Perrins and their long-time US importer, Robert Haas, created both Tablas Creek Vineyard and a nursery operation from which many Rhône variety vines currently growing in the US, especially in Texas, can trace their heritage. (see the website for Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA)
Clairette Blanche is well-suited to hot, sunny, arid climates, and has adapted well to Paso Robles, CA, Umpqua Valley, OR, parts of Australia, and, now, of course, Texas. A recent planting of Clairette Blanche at Ab Astris Winery in Stonewall, TX, offers excitement for our wine-drinking future.
Picardan – Picardan [PEEK are dan] is another permitted white blending grape used in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines of the southern Rhône Valley. Picardan like Clairette Blanche, was brought to the US by Tablas Creek Vineyard, and growers in hot, arid regions, like many parts of Texas. It probably works better as a blending grape, but vintners are beginning to experiment with growing and winemaking techniques to upgrade Picardan into light-bodied, easy-drinking varietal wines. Tablas Creek produces a tasty version, and English Newsom Cellars in Lubbock has released a very pleasant bottling of Picardan.
Viognier – This has become a very well-known white grape in Texas, and little needs to be said about it. However, the name is still often mispronounced in tasting rooms across the Lone Star State. Here is the best phonetic version we can offer to help you say Viognier correctly [vee-ohn-YAY]. Enjoy!
Alicante Bouschet – [alla KAHN tay boo SHEA] is one of very few varieties of teinturier grapes that have both red flesh and red skin. The dark color of Alicante Bouschet provides Texas winemakers some advantages. For example, several grape varieties, like Grenache, are color limited in Texas, so blending Alicante can help darken the color and provide a richer flavor profile. Another advantage relates to increasing color in red wines by blending in Alicante rather than resorting to extended maceration times which can lead to excessive tannins from skins and seeds, giving wines an astringent character that not everyone may appreciate.
Alicante Bouschet is still grown in many wine regions with a focus on its dense color and concentrated flavor profile. Alicante is used in Chile and several areas in California to blend with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to make more concentrated, deeply colored reds. Alicante Bouschet plantings are also known in warm climate regions like Portugal, Algeria, Israel, parts of Italy, and now Texas.
Mourvèdre – Monastrell – Mataro – [moor VED] leave off the “re” – [MON ah strell] – [mah TAR oh]. Mourvèdre is an important grape in the warm, arid regions of Texas, as well as many warm weather regions of Europe. Many believe Mourvèdre originated in Spain, near Mataró, Cataluña, outside Barcelona. The local village name was Mourviedeo, from which the grape likely derived its name when introduced into southern France. In Spain today the grape is called Mataró locally and Monastrell more widely, names that sometimes appear on US producers’ labels.
Mourvèdre grows best where it gets plenty of heat and sunshine to fully ripen, like right here in Texas. It buds late, an advantage over Tempranillo, in avoiding spring frost and hail damage. Mourvèdre produces small thick-skinned berries that are both high in color and flavor phenolics that can lead to dark, tannic wines with lots of alcohol, as well as good aging potential. The wines often exhibit wild game and/or earthy notes when younger, with soft red berry fruit flavors emerging as the wines age. It is a key component in the French wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the increasingly popular GSM blends from around the world (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre). At most any gathering of Texas wine growers and makers, Mourvèdre will be discussed as a key grape for the future of Texas wine.
Carignan (Carignane) Cariñena or Mazuelo – Our attempts to provide phonetic pronunciations lead to: [care in YAWN], [care in YANE], [car in YANE ah], [maz you EH lah]. This grape requires warm, sunny climates to achieve success as it ripens late in the season. Carignan can produce relatively high yields and still maintain reasonable quality, all the while being able to fit into a portfolio as a blending grape and even for dark, rich, and sometimes pretty tannic varietal wines. A key in Texas is that Carignan grapes tend to maintain their natural acidity better than many other red varieties grown in the hot, arid regions of the state.
Carignan originated in northwest Spain and spread from there across much of the Mediterranean region. It is often blended with Tempranillo to make the wonderful Spanish Rioja wines, and the connection with Tempranillo brings a lot of interest in Carignan to Texas.
Mencia – This dark-skinned variety, pronounced [men THEA ah], is primarily grown in northwestern Spain in the regions of Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, and Valdeorras. Historically, vineyards on the valley floors produced high yields resulting in relatively light-bodied wines for early consumption. However, more dedicated growers and vintners have planted Mencia on rocky hillsides to produce lower yields of better fruit. The darker, richer red wines from these efforts are just now garnering international attention.
Because of the focus on Spanish grape varieties in Texas, it is no surprise that some folks have discovered Mencia and are attempting to introduce it to the Lone Star State. The wines have a medium body with red fruit aromas and flavors along with floral notes. The color is typically dark, but tannins tend to be moderate. Two acres of Mencia have been planted at Sandy Road Vineyards near Hye, Texas, and we all await the outcome which, we believe, will be another wonderful Spanish-origin red wine for Texas wine lovers.
Prieto Picudo – This Spanish variety, pronounced [pre ĀTO pee KUDO], hails from the Tierra de Leon region located northwest of Madrid. The word Prieto means dark, appropriate for this literally black-skinned grape variety, and the word Picudo refers to the tapered, almost pointed bunches of grapes. The variety is native to this region and is often blended with Mencia and Tempranillo, the two other major red grapes grown in Leon.
Because of the dark skins, Prieto Picudo wines typically have dark color and can be quite tannic. The grapes ripen well in a hot, arid climate, developing plenty of sugar for higher alcohol levels. Add to this good drought tolerance, and this becomes a strong candidate for introduction to many Texas wine regions. Varietal Prieto Picudo wines often have aromas and flavors similar to Tempranillo, adding just a bit more aromatic character. With the success of Tempranillo in Texas, it is reasonable to expect greater future interest in experimenting with Prieto Picudo for blending or production of varietal wines.
Tempranillo – Well, there is no problem in recognizing this grape variety. In Texas, Tempranillo [tem praw KNEE oh] is a star and widely planted in East Texas, Central Texas, Red River Valley, Texas Hill Country, Texas High Plains, and far West Texas. This grape makes wonderful red wines and has a passionate and loyal following among Texas wine consumers. So, you ask, why is Tempranillo included in this blog post? The reason stems from the many names commonly used for this variety in Spain, some of which may be unfamiliar and not straightforward to pronounce. (see below)
Tempranillo grapes produce best when grown in warm, arid regions at higher elevations, so there is little mystery as to why Tempranillo has adapted well to the higher, drier regions of Texas. The biggest problem with Tempranillo in Texas is suggested by its name that was derived from the word “temprano” which means “early” in Spanish. The grape is early to bud, for a red, often putting tender buds and vegetation in danger from spring frosts that are common in Texas. The grape also ripens earlier than most other reds and can actually cause logistical issues in the winery by showing up before white wine harvest is complete. However, vintners seem to find a way to make things work since Tempranillo is such a popular wine.
Tempranillo’s traditional home is La Rioja, but the grape is grown in many regions and has a number of synonyms:
Tinta Fino – [TEEN tah FEEN oh] in Ribera del Duero
Cencibel – [SIN saw bell] in La Mancha
Ull de Llebre – [ull duh LEE bruh] in Catalonia
Tinta del Pais – [TEEN tah dell pie] in Cigales
Tinta de Toro – [TEEN tah duh TOROH] in Zamora/Toro region
Tinto Roriz – [TEEN tah ROAR ease] in Portugal’s Douro Valley where it is used extensively in making Port wines
In Texas, the only name you are likely to see on a label is Tempranillo but keep an eye out for these other names when wine shopping so you can compare Tempranillo from these famous Spanish regions with your favorite Texas versions.