Saturday, December 6, 2008

Italian Grape Names

Nebbiolo grapes in Serralunga d'Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are so many indigenous grapes in use throughout Italy and many of them have rather unique names. Here is a rundown of just a few:

Grown primarily in Piemonte, Nebbiolo is the single grape used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo comes from the word nebbia, meaning “fog,” an apt descriptor, as this is a late ripening grape that is harvested from late October-early November, as fog starts to creep into the Langhe district.

This name is a derivation of the word “Hellenico,” a term meaning Greece. It was the Greeks who first planted this red variety in Campania some 2000 years ago.

A red variety of Campania, this literally means “red feet,” which may be a reference to the color of the feet of the birds who sit on the clusters while they munch these berries.

One of the principal red grapes of Puglia, Negroamaro literally means “black” and “bitter”.

Literally “little sweet one,” Dolcetto is grown throughout Piemonte and offers a lovely sweetness of black raspberry and cranberry fruit in its youth.

Literally “tail of the fox,” for the shape of the cluster, this is a white variety grown primarily along the coasts of Camapania.

Roughly translated as “rascal” or “crazy one”, this white variety got its name from the fact that some vintners in Piemonte thought that any producer who made Arneis in areas where red varieties were better known was a little crazy.

Perhaps my favorite name, this is a red variety that means, “cut the tongue,” a reference to the sharp tannins of this red variety of Friuli.

The name of Tuscany’s most famous red variety comes from the words sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jove” who was a pretty important guy, especially considering he was the King of the Gods.

This is the Moscato d’Alessandria grape grown in Sicily (primarily on the island of Pantelleria); the name comes from the Arabic word zibibb, meaning “raisin.” These grapes are indeed like raisins after they are dried on open-air mats under the intense local sun.


  1. Tom, not to be pedantic, but, please have a look here regarding Aglianico:

    The Sangiovese etymology is often questioned as well.

    Blog on!

  2. Jeremy:

    That's pretty detailed stuff. That's also one interpretation. I hope you'll consider that there are probably several reasons why grapes get their names.

    Tom Hyland