Confusing Wine Names

Confusing Wine Names
They’re not exactly homonyms but they are wines and wine terms that sound alike and cause confusion, so if you want to know Barbera from Barbaresco, Muscat from Muscadet, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Palate from Pallet and Palette read on.

Barbera and Barbaresco are Italian red wines. Barbera is a popular grape variety, the third most grown in Italy while Barbaresco is a wine region centred on the town of Barbaresco in north-west Italy. Barbaresco wines are made from the Nebbiolo variety.

Both are northern Italian towns whose name is given to red wines. The first wine is a light inexpensive quaffer made primarily from the Corvino grape variety grown on the slopes of the eastern shore of Lake Garda. Barolo on the other hand is one of the world’s heavyweights in reputation and cost and is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.

For real confusion consider the Italian wine Montepulciano. There is a grape variety called Montepulciano and a town named Montepulciano. But the grape doesn’t grow in the same region as the town.

So when you see the two wines Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano it is the position in the name that indicates which is which. The first says ‘this is Montepulciano (i.e. the grape) from the region of Abruzzo’. The second says ‘this is a noble wine from the region of Montepulciano’. So it’s variety or wine name first followed by where it comes from.

The Vino Nobile has an illustrious history, praised in 1579 by the Pope’s cellar master and called ‘the king of wines’ in the 17thC. It would have been a blend of varieties but nowadays it consist of at least 75% and more often 100% of Italy’s great Sangiovese variety.

And if you can’t remember the difference between the two, your wallet will tell you as Vino Nobile is expensive while the wines made from the Montepulciano variety are the opposite. I confess a love for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and buy a lot of it because it is my ‘go-to’ wine for pasta with tomato-based sauces.

Muscat and Muscadet are two different grapes. Muscat is an ancient variety with many mutations. It is one of the very few grapes sold for eating as well as used in wine and it usually produces very sweet dessert wine. It has become suddenly fashionable as a low alcohol sweet wine under its Italian spelling of Moscato.

Muscadet is a grape rarely found outside a small region at the mouth of the Loire river in France where is makes an acidic white wine perfect for matching with seafood.

Wine terms most frequently misused are palate, pallet and palette. There are subtle differences in their pronunciation but it is common to see the wrong words used in blog posts and articles. The palate is the roof of your mouth and in wine writing is used when describing the taste of wine in the mouth.

A pallet is a low (about 140mm/5.5 inches high) wooden open box designed for access by the prongs of fork-lifts. The pallet is used as the base for packing goods, including cases of wine.

A palette is a board used by artists to hold and mix paints. Because an artist’s palette holds a range of colours it is used as a simile for the variety of tastes found in wine.

So you unload a wine case from a shipping pallet, open a bottle and find it offers your palate a palette of flavours.

And there's More Confusing Wine Names here

Are you confused with any wine name or terms? Ask questions and talk about wine on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available as an eBook for the Kindle, iPad and Nook.

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