Ten grape myths and legends

Altesse

A drawing of a statue of Amadeus VI of Savoy now in Turin

The myth: ‘It’s from Byzantium and is identical to Furmint’

A supposed eastern origin and a case of mistaken identity, it’s the stuff of penny dreadfuls and rip-roaring yarns. The signature white grape of Savoie (Savoy) so the story goes, was originally grown around Byzantium or Cyprus.

Altesse’s roots in the eastern Mediterranean normally revolve around one of two counts/dukes of Savoy.

The first is that Count Amadeus VI (pictured), who supposedly brought the variety back to his mountain domains after a campaign against the Ottomans alongside his cousin, the Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos, in 1366-67.

Another Greek origin is suggested through Louis of Savoy, second son of Duke Louis, who married Charlotte of Cyprus in 1459.

King of Cyprus and titular King of Jerusalem and Armenian Cilicia, Louis and Charlotte were deposed in 1464, whereupon they returned to his family’s lands in Europe bringing the grape with them, presumably because it had been the source of their favourite wine.

Its connection, through either figure, with the ruling house of Savoy and the fact it had ducal favour and graced their tables, thus gave rise to its name ‘Altesse’, which means ‘highness’.

Another theory is that it is identical to Furmint and has been masquerading under another name for centuries. The popularity of Furmint and Tokaji in royal courts across Europe caused it to be given the synonym ‘Altesse’ as a result.

The truth: Although for many years ampelographers were fairly open to the idea that Altesse may have an eastern origin, there have always been doubts as well.

The Marquis Costa de Beauregard, writing in 1774, puts the case for Altesse being brought back from Cyprus by Louis and Charlotte but he horribly mangles the family genealogy.

To begin with, he states that, “it is known that Louis II, Duke of Savoy, succeeded Amadeus IV.”

He didn’t, however. There has only been one Duke Louis of Savoy and he ruled from 1434-65 and his father was Amadeus VIII.

Amadeus IV ruled from 1233-53, before the rule of Amadeus VI in 1343-83 even, so for him to have been Louis’s father would be a miraculous turn of events. Perhaps the Marquis confused his Amadeii?

The Greek link was dealt a fatal blow in more recent years by genetic studies which showed it is very close to Chasselas which is known to have originated around Lake Geneva.

Modern DNA techniques have thoroughly disproved Altesse is related to Furmint in any way and even the etymology of the name has changed through further study. The accepted root now is that Altesse probably originates from the name local name for terraces where the grape has long been grown.

Altesse is a native Savoyard.

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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