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Wine without Pretense: Trotting the globe for some signature grapes
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Wine of the month

The wine: Bella Sera Veneto Pinot Grigio 2009

The grapes: 87 percent pinot grigio, 9 percent chardonnay, 4 percent other whites

The source: Veneto region of Italy

The verdict: Spring’s here! And as the weather warms we tend to turn to wines that are lighter and crisper than those that gave us comfort during the winter. A good pinot grigio is a joy to sip.

And this selection, from the northeast corner of Italy, offers mighty nice sipping at a pleasant price. You may find a caress of lemon in the mouth; it’s nicely crisp. However, that jot of chardonnay does file down some of the sharper edges. Nice wine to sip by itself, suitably chilled, of course. Or match it with a poached fish.

The price: About $8

I was telling students in one of my wine appreciation classes at Brenau University about wines from Argentina. Malbec, I told them, is the signature red wine grape of Argentina. Likewise, I declared, that country’s trademark white wine grape is torrontes.

Made me think ... to which some might reply, "About time."

Some countries and regions do, indeed, have trademark or signature wine grapes — and wines made from them. Let’s haul out the old World Atlas — that’s a book, to the under-40 set — and take a sojourn through wine-producing nations to learn about their trademarks.

We’ll start at home. Many Americans immediately think of merlot or chardonnay as our national wines. But they really do belong elsewhere in the world — Bordeaux and Burgundy, respectively. More on that later.

But there is a genuinely American wine grape — not counting the native American grapes, such as muscadines. I’m referring to grapes that produce wine suitable for serving with a meal. That ain’t muscadines.

I’m talking about zinfandel! What a great red wine grape that is, producing light rose-style wines, medium and full-bodied red wines and, occasionally, viscous, sweet dessert wines. And who could forget White Zinfandel?

Zinfandel is believed to have come from Europe via a rascally Hungarian nobleman (or con man, depending on your viewpoint) Count Agostin Harazthy. It thrives in California and nowhere else. I tend to proselytize about zin, so if you have not yet yanked the cork or unscrewed the top on a bottle of good red zin, do it now!

Norton is a truly American red grape, with no European heritage. It was a hugely popular wine in the mid to late 19th century, winning awards at international competitions. Several Georgia wineries produce super Norton wine, or blend it with other reds.

France has so many fine wine-producing regions that there really is no trademark French wine. As stated earlier merlot is a Bordeaux star, one of five blending grapes permitting in the production of red wines there. Pinot noir and chardonnay are the champs of Burgundy.

In the Rhone region viognier is a standout white, although quite expensive because of limited production. A few Georgia wineries also produce seductively fruity viogniers. Syrah is the reigning red monarch in the Rhone, where often it is paired with grenache … which takes us to Spain.

In Espana, that grape is known as garnacha, and also produces some broad-shouldered reds. But tempranillo is rising quickly in popularity in many wine-growing areas of Spain.

When I think of Spanish whites albarino pops into mind. It’s a white wine of pronounced flavor and body from the northwestern coast of Spain, and a superb partner with all sorts of seafood.

Italy, of course, is best known for two reds and a white. Sangiovese is the dominant grape of Tuscany, making up the bulk of Chiantis and the backbone of the great Super Tuscans. In the Piemonte region nebbiolo holds the throne. Think Barolo.

The white? Pinot grigio, of course, although Italy offers a wide variety of regional white wines … reds, too.

Trucking over to South Africa, which produces some stunning wines, we discover a grape similar to zinfandel in versatility and uniqueness of place. That is the red grape pinotage. French refugees settling in South Africa in the 19th century brought grape vines from home, along with methods of hybridizing. So they blended the pinot noir grape with the hermitage grape and developed pinotage.

As with zinfandel pinotage produces wines from rose through port-style. It has a unique smoky, earthy flavor and is a good selection for traditional red-wine foods.

The chenin blanc is the most popular white grape in South Africa, where it also is known as steen.

Chenin blanc also is a princely grape in France’s Loire Valley, producing such timeless whites as Savennieres, Vouvray and Chinon. But sauvignon blanc, too, is the pride of the Loire; sample the crisp, minerally wines of Pouilly Fume.

And, finally, I bring you the grape that established Germany in the pantheon of white wine production, the Johannisburg riesling, otherwise known as the white riesling. A good riesling is wondrous to sip, even though Americans tend to sidle around this fruity, rich wine.

Enjoy the trip? We’ll do it again some time. So many wines, so little time.

Wine event

Big party coming up at Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Rabun County. Join owners Martha and Dr. John Ezzard for a Sip of Provence, 1-4 p.m., Saturday, April 9. The event marks the release of the winery’s Provencal-style semi-dry rose, crafted from cabernet franc and viognier grapes.

Lake Rabun Hotel Executive Chef Jamie Allred will provide crepes for the crowd, and classical violinist Heather Strachan will entertain. Cost is $15 per person, and you can pay at the door.

For information and directions, call 706-782-4777 or email

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident.
Have a question about wine? Contact him at


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