Grapevine Identification: There’s a Science for That

Among the many things that the television game show “Jeopardy” has taught us is that in the category of “Science,” relatively simple topics can have some rather fancy and complicated names.

The science of wine is packed with such tongue twisters. Among them: Ampelography.

Simply stated, ampelography is the science of vine identification and description. But it’s a complicated pursuit that’s used to separate Chardonnay from Chenin Blanc, or Cabernet Sauvignon from Malbec.

Ampelographers both study and measure various parts of a grapevine to accomplish this task, which was extremely important in the days when so many wines were made from whatever was growing in a vineyard. These rustic wines were known as “field blends.”

Among the vine parts that ampelographers study are the shoots, canes, buds, flowers, clusters and grapes during various parts of the growing season.

To demonstrate how one type of science can “spill over” to another, ampelography today has evolved to include DNA fingerprinting — a science that occasionally yields some surprising information.

For example, the earliest historical records indicated that Zinfandel was a uniquely California grape variety. But when DNA fingerprinting was added to the “tool box” of ampelographers, Zinfandel was found to be identical to the Italian grape variety known as Primitivo.

This type of information not only makes us more informed wine consumers, but it may also come in handy the next time “Science” is a category on “Jeopardy.”

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

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