Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I get excited when I see a site that’s got good data about grape varieties. There’s so much fuzzy and contradictory information out there that I never know what to trust. Much of what’s written comes from talented writers based upon the wines that they’ve tasted, but how do they (or any of us, for that matter) separate out what characteristics are due to the grapes themselves versus the common viticultural or enological practices of the regions whence those wines come? If all you’ve tasted of Gamay is Beaujolais, how do you separate the true aromas of the grape from those due to carbonic maceration? It would be easy to conclude that Gamay smelled like bubblegum. The problem is compounded when later writers simply borrow the misinformation from earlier ones, and spread the confusion. For example, when I searched on Google just now, four of the top five results claim that Dolcetto is a grape with mild tannins, but is that because the grape is poor in phenolics or because of the way the wine is usually made? The answer, to the best of my researching abilities: Dolcetto (Able Grape results) is a very tannic, low acid grape with such intense color that most producers can get away with short fermentations to make a soft wine that’s drinkable young.
So whom should we trust? I’ve always thought that grapevine nurseries should have great varietal and clonal information — after all, that’s what they sell — but in practice, only a few have either gone to the trouble to compile this information or are web-savvy enough to share it. One such nursery is Chalmers Nurseries. For twenty years Bruce and Jenni Chalmers have dedicated themselves to bringing new varieties into Australia, most of them Italian grapes from Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (another of the few web-hip nurseries) and Matura, but a few are from further afield, like Georgian Saperavi. What’s wonderful is that they’ve compiled detailed information about each clone they supply, including data and pictures from each stage of the growing season, from Aglianico to Schioppettino. And if you want to know which variety has lower acidity, or ripens faster, or makes more alcoholic wines, well, just look at the numbers. Mmmm, data. Yum, yum. Almost all of the best information on Italian varieties is in (surprise, surprise!) Italian, but this site is a fantastic exception. Check it out.