Ten grape myths and legends

‘Tokay d’Alsace’

The myth: ‘Pinot Gris is originally from Hungary’

This is a multi-layered myth but which essentially boils down to the argument that an Austrian general brought Pinot Gris cuttings back from Hungary to Alsace (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) and that’s how it got the name ‘Tokay d’Alsace’.

The truth: Pinot Gris has been pretty well documented from the Middle Ages. A colour mutation of Pinot Noir, it was probably referred to as ‘Fromentau’ and its home was Burgundy, although it may have spread to Switzerland and western Germany too. In fact the first reliable mention of it is 1711 when it was found in the garden of one Johann Seger Ruland in Speyer; which is why it’s still sometimes referred to as ‘Rülander’ in Germanic countries.

The legend though is that it became a favourite of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who sent some back to Hungary in about 1375 where it was grown by Cistercians near Lake Balaton. Its Hungarian name of ‘Szürkebarát’ meaning ‘grey monk’ is used to back this hypothesis up.

A little later, in 1568, the story goes on, an Austrian noble and soldier, Lazarus von Schwendi, had the variety reintroduced to Alsace.

Appointed as the governor or constable of Tokay by the emperor Charles V, Schwendi also owned lands around Kientzheim in Alsace. This explains why Pinot Gris was given the synonym Tokay d’Alsace.

Except it almost certainly isn’t. It is far more likely that Pinot Gris was already being used to make sweet wines in Alsace by this date (as they still are today) and as Tokaji was then as it is now one of the most famous and sought after wines in the world, local vintners probably decided to cash in on the name to make their wines easier to sell (and for higher prices).

When Hungary began negotiations to join the European Union it was realised the name would have to go from Alsace due to the protected designation of origin laws the EU had introduced in 1980 and while a deadline of 2007 was set, most producers changed over to just ‘Pinot Gris’ several years before that date.

2 Responses to “Ten grape myths and legends”

  1. Kent Benson says:

    Another common grape myth is the still prevalent claim by Argentine producers that their Bonarda is from Italy. DNA profiling has shown it to be the Savoie variety, Douce Noire, also known as Charbono, Corbeau, and Charbonneau.

  2. DC says:

    Can’t quite see how number 10, Merlot, is a “myth” when the author goes on to say that the “folklore” is “in all likelihood true.”?

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