The topic of the day in America is what the hell is going on with our elections, and has there ever been such rancor in the discourse of issues? (Don’t go away. We are not going to spend time on that topic here.)

Our direction today is going to be askew of Trump and Clinton, namely because I think most of us have had enough of the whole deal.

Rather for us, we are going to focus on differences in grape names for the same grapes – because people in one area choose to call the thing what they want it to be called and did not want to associate with another group from another place. So different names for the same thing was just an extension of local pride. Or agricultural interests simply stuck to historical traditions for their part of the world.  

In many cases, political considerations entered into the fray, or, at the very least, an early form of marketing a “unique” product caused grape names to be altered, maybe even changed entirely.

Nowhere did this desire for singularity in a world of sameness achieve its apex than in Spain. Interestingly, the Spanish were not isolationists, intent on sealing their borders to foreign aggression. They were true players on the world stage. Conquerors, if you will. Their empire stretched across both the Northern and Southern hemispheres and the strong family ties of the Bourbons, who ruled both Spain and France, made for a formidable empire which Spain was capable of defending both on land and at sea.

Yet, even within this framework of national cooperation for a common interest, there were always differences between the two great lands. Politics played a significant role in the governance and operation of the diverse countries. And those politics filtered down into the populations of Spain and France.

The Spanish have always been fiercely proud of their wine industry, as have their neighbors on either side, Portugal and France. The differences between common wine grape names, but not the fruit itself, became a defining factor. No decent and self-respecting Spanish consumer would ever pick up an Alvarinho from Portugal when a fine Albariño from Spain was at hand.    

The reverse is also essentially true from the Portuguese viewpoint, and their respective governments placed taxes on those products making the neighbor’s efforts overly and unnecessarily pricier even though the two are essentially the same thing. Can’t have the guy next door competing on a level playing field.

The Spanish gave birth to the Garnacha grape mainly in the Priorat region around the Mediterranean. Garnacha is a hearty red varietal that lends itself to big, bold wines or even, it turns out, to delicate rosés. The lighter styles were key when the grape traveled to France, then on to California, it became Grenache. Again the same thing with a changed name.

To be fair, the expression is due more to the differences in soil and climate rather than to any biological alteration in the grapes. Yet local agricultural desires are the driving factor when it comes to deciding which grapes will be swaying with the breeze out in the vineyard.  

To a certain extent international political conditions play a role in planting decisions but they are not the only outside pressures on changing the name of a fruit. Regional pride comes into play and to outsiders, it’s often hard to keep up.

Tempranillo, the great grape of Spain’s Rioja region, is also known as Ull de Liebre, Cencibel, Tinto de Pais, Tinto de Madrid, and Tinto Fino when it traveled to other Spanish regions, like Ribera del Duero, Penedès, and La Mancha.

Mazuelo and Mazuelo Tinto becomes Carineña or Carignan in France. Graciano in Spain is the same as Xres in California and either Morrastel or Courouillade in France.

Monastrell, mainly from Jumila and Catalonia, morphed into Mourvedre when it arrived in France’s Rhone Valley and the French name continued when the winemakers of Washington State decided to try their luck with the grape. They have had very good luck with this varietal.

To the Spanish, it’s Viura, but to the French it’s Maccabeu. In Spain’s Cava region, the grape is Xarel.lo, but just a little to the north in Alella, the white grape is called Pansa Blanca. Malvasia originated in Greece and when it arrived in Italy and Portugal it became Malvasia Fina.

These same name/different point of origin situations are important because when you pick up a bottle of something unfamiliar, it’s helpful to know that you may have enjoyed the grapes in the wine before, maybe under a different moniker.

We mention all of this because in this season of political turmoil and name calling, it seems appropriate that we note what’s going on is nothing new. The current American political scene is not pretty, and many of us are forced to turn our heads away from the rancor, but even on something as innocuous as the name of a wine grape, there has been back in history an up-your-nose-with-a-rubber-hose attitude from one region towards another.

Given that, how are we ever supposed to agree on nuclear proliferation?

 

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Read Happy Hour here on MyNewOrleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life" every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans.