It’s Time to Put the Noble Grapes in Their Place

I have had wonderful wines made of cinsault. But in her 1986 book, “Vines, Grapes and Wines: A Wine Drinker’s Guide to Grape Varieties,” no less an authority than Jancis Robinson wrote that cinsault had “a rather meaty, chunky sort of flavor, uncomfortably suggestive of dog food to some.”

Several decades later, in her 2012 book, “Wine Grapes,” written with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, cinsault was instead described as an “underrated Mediterranean-loving variety making characterful rosés and flirtatious reds.”

Opinions evolve, at least with open-minded people. I would wager that we still don’t know the potential of dozens of grapes like cinsault. They may be waiting for sympathetic producers like Stefan Vetter, who has demonstrated in the Franken region of Germany that silvaner, often an afterthought among white grapes, can make wines that rival any other for depth and complexity.

“Wine Grapes,” by the way, covered 1,368 varieties, listing them alphabetically, unlike Ms. Robinson’s earlier book, which grouped “classic varieties,” “major varieties” and “other varieties.”

“The alphabetical order was important to me because I would not want to make (sometimes) arbitrary decisions on which grape variety would be ‘noble’ or not,” Mr. Vouillamoz, one of the authors, wrote by email from Switzerland.

For a symposium in London on grape varieties in 2012, he said, he surveyed the literature and showed that some grapes, like gamay and cinsault, had been considered either noble or common, depending on the author and the region.

I haven’t even mentioned hybrid grapes, varieties created by breeding one species, Vitis vinifera, which comprises all the historic European wine grapes, with another, like Vitis labrusca, a native grape of America.