Michael Perlis: Carmenere, Syrah and Zinfandel Wine Origins

Eve’s recent article about wine-grape origins reminded me of a few interesting [to me] stories.

For a long time, Chile was known for its Merlot, and Merlot from Chile became known as a great value, producing nice wines at very fair prices. Then, in 1994, many of the grapevines thought to be Merlot were properly identified as Carménère by Professor Jean Michel Boursiquot from the Montpellier school of Oenology. Now, you don’t see as much wine labeled as Merlot from Chile, but you do see a lot of Carménère.

Regarding Syrah, rumor has it that Paso’s very own Gary Eberle was the first to plant the grape in the US since prohibition. How he managed to bring the cuttings in from France remains an official mystery, but their nickname of “Samsonite Clone” should give you a hint.

And then, of course, there is Zinfandel, which is often my favorite grape [although that can depend on whether I happen to be drinking a Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, etc.]. Zinfandel was long considered a California original, until 1967, when UC Davis Professor Austin Goheen noticed, while traveling in Italy, that Primitivo reminded him of Zinfandel.  They were initially thought to be the same grape, but the latest findings are that they are clones of the same variety. Other genetic similarities have been noted to the Croatian grape Plavac Mali. My layperson understanding of the latest research is that all three grapes [Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Plavac Mali] are descendants of another Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski [I wonder how that’s pronounced!]. In fact, UC Davis Professor Carole Meredith [who has been responsible for most of the latest work on this] refers to the variety as “ZPC” – Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kaštelanski. Regardless, considering that Zinfandel can be traced in the US back to the early 1800s and in California to the Gold Rush, I think considering it to be California’s grape works just fine.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the above, so if anyone has anything to add or correct, or additional stories on wine-grape origins, please feel free to comment or submit a story to Eve.

Michael Perlis provides outsourced controller services to businesses that do not need a full-time controller. He balances this with his interest in wine: reading and writing about it and, of course, drinking it. He is still trying to figure out how to combine these two pursuits. Feel free to contact him about either at mcpfinancial@aol.com or michaelthezinfan@aol.com.

One thought on “Michael Perlis: Carmenere, Syrah and Zinfandel Wine Origins

  1. I am planning to go to Romania in 2011, I really enjoy reading about it, I am trying to learn more about Romania and about the culture and lifestyle.

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