Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ugni Blanc / Trebbiano

Ugni Blanc is a grape that goes by many names, as you will see.  It is a major grape in the production of Cognac and Armagnac in France.  As an ingredient of these spirits, it is called “St. Emilion.”  
It is a vigorous and productive grape of high acid that produces wines with a slightly sour flavor, hinting of citrus and almond.  Besides Cognac, it is a viable ingredient of still wines of the Vin de Pays category. 
As a wine grape, Ugni Blanc makes a presence in Provence and in an area more famous for its reds - the Southern Rhone.  Here you may hear it called “Clairette Ronde.”  It is also allowed as a blending grape in the white wines of Bordeaux, where it has another name - “Muscadet Aigre” - which translates to “sour muscat,” which serves as a reminder of what to expect when tasting these wines.
This variety did not originate in France, however, but in Italy where - you guessed it - it has another name, and that is Trebbiano.  It is even more widely planted there.  Although you may not have heard of it until now, it is responsible for a significant piece of Italy’s white wine production.  
By far, Trebbiano’s biggest home is in Central Italy in the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.  It is rarely going to stand-alone here either.  In Tuscany, it is blended with Vernaccia to make dessert wines.  In Umbria, it is a primary grape in Orvieto, where this table wine will be between 40 and 60% Trebbiano.  The white wines you find in Lazio are predominantly blends of Trebbiano with Malvasia, undoubtedly added to increase the alcohol content.  It is also found in Abruzzo.
Within Lazio is a region called - no, I am not kidding - Est!Est!!Est!!!, where Trebbiano wines are also made.  Rumor has it that a German Bishop named Johann Fugger had to go to nearby Rome for his coronation.  He sent an assistant ahead of him to mark “Est!”, which means the wine is good, in chalk on the doors of the inns with the best wines.  Apparently, when he hit Montefiascone, the wines were so good, he wrote, “Est!Est!!Est!!!” on the door.  The name stuck.
 Tasting Exercise
For this exercise, find yourself a Vin de Pays, which should show “Ugni Blanc” on the front or back label.  Chances are very good it will be a blended wine, so try to find one with a high percentage of this grape.  While I don’t normally like to recommend a specific wine for these tasting exercises, Domaine de Pouy makes a great one.  Grab an Orvieto for comparison.  You may also find an Australian Trebbiano or a South African Ugni Blanc to throw in the mix.
On The Label
Ugni Blanc, Trebbiano, Orvieto
In The Bottle
Citrus fruit, green fruit, red apple, wet stone, almond
At The Table
Seafood, shellfish, poultry, pasta

Photo credit (sour grapes):

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