Ivan Kelleher, London, asks: Is there an official list of noble grapes? What makes a grape qualify for noble status?
Julia Harding MW, co-author of Wine Grapes, replies: No, there is no such list and, as far as I am aware, no official definition of ‘noble’ in relation to grape varieties.
A list of varieties and synonyms is maintained by the OIV and is available on its website, in its ‘Standards and technical documents’ section – though when we were writing Wine Grapes, we found that it was not always 100% accurate in the light of some very recent DNA analysis.
At the beginning of the 20th century, grape varieties grown in Alsace were divided into ‘noble’ and ‘other’, but this is no longer the case.
Some people may like to suggest that certain varieties are more ‘noble’ than others (such as Cabernet Sauvignon v Carignan, or Riesling v Trebbiano Toscano), believing perhaps that wines made from them are in every way superior, but today more and more little-known indigenous varieties are being recovered and positively re-evaluated, so I think the term is even less relevant or useful than it has ever been.
This question first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Decanter magazine.