What exactly is a "French" grape variety"? What is an "Italian" grape? a "German," "Spanish," "Australian," or "Californian" variety?
These questions were playing around my head this afternoon: in part because I (as many of us do) use these terms reasonably often; in part because of the passing of Robert Mondavi has left me remembering the conversations we have shared in the past and realizing they were all too few in total; and, in part, because of the following interchange in other threads --
>>> That said, no Italian varietals produced in California are very good. >> And I much prefer the French varietals from France to the California versions. >> If I feel like a Burgundy, I'm going to buy a Burgundy, not look for a[n alternative]. >> But Burgundy has long been a love of mine -- I just drink it less frequently now. But I don't look for a "cheaper substitute" -- in that I don't have a California, Oregon, or New Zealand Pinot Noir instead of a Burgundy. I might have a villages wine instead of a Premier Cru, but when I order a Pinot Noir from Central Otago, it's because I want a NZ PN! <<<
I agree with all of these comments, by the way . . . well, OK, I'd better -- I wrote the last one.
Clearly Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Riesling (for example) are most closely identified with France, Italy, and Germany, respectively, but they are grown all over the world. Indeed some may, at this point, more closely associate Cabernet Sauvignon with California and the Napa Valley than with the wines of the Bordeaux region of France.
Let us agree, for the purposes of this topic, to limit the discussion to the grape varieties of the genus and species Vitis vinifera, and only speak of those varieties which developed outside the influence of Homo sapiens. That is, let's forget those grape varieties that were "developed" at agricultural research stations, such as Ruby Cabernet and Emerald Dry (UC Davis), Alicante Bouchet and Grand Noir de la Calmette (Domaine de la Calmette), and so on -- let us focus on the likes of the grape names we all readily know and (perhaps) love: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Grenache Noir, Gamay Noir à jus blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, and so on and so on and so on . . . .
Clearly Vitis vinifera evolved in the Old World, so it's difficult to claim that ANY vinifera cultivar carries the "passport" of a New World country -- even Zinfandel, the most obvious example of a "California" grape variety, originated in Europe somewhere . . . AND it was first planted in the US in the greenhouses of Long Island and was then known as Black St. Peters, so -- whacha gonna do?
And if you go back far enough in time . . . Cabernet Sauvignon has Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc as parents; Chardonnay is thought to have developed from Muscat Blanc à petits grains . . . there was, at one time, a single variety of Vitis vinifera, growing somewhere in the Middle East -- so is ANY grape truly a "French" variety? is any grape truly an "Italian" variety?
Each of us has our own unique palate, our own personal palate preferences. And that may lead us to say "I love California wines," or "I love Italian wines" -- or to say the opposite. But one thing is very true, I think:
California makes the best California wines in the world!
France, on the other hand, makes the best French wines in the world. And Italy -- well they happen to produce the best Italian wines in the world! And so it goes . . .
To my taste, there are more things that set a California Cabernet apart from a French Bordeaux, or a German Riesling apart from a Riesling produced in Washington State, or a red Northern Rhône from an Aussie Shriaz, then there are things that lump them together.
Like I said, just my 2¢.