A rather geeky question

I’ve been reading a brilliant book on Italian wines and came across a rather confusing line in a discussion about the Abrostine grape (no, I hadn’t heard of it either)…“it is noteworthy that the best teinturier wine grapes are characterized by colourless pulp”. Does anyone understand this? I was under the impression that the defining characteristic of a teinturier grape was that its flesh was pink/red, but maybe I’m mistaken? Hoping someone can enlighten me!

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Well, that is confusing! :thinking:
Like you, I understand teinturier grape to be one with a red/pink skin as well as flesh (Alicante Bouchet, for example). So as baffled as you!

I’ve no idea what the author was getting at there. As far as I know, the whole definition of ‘teinturier’ is the coloured (or dyed) pulp.

I’m not really a grape expert, so it could be that teinturier grapes have colourless skin and this got mixed up, but IIRC Alicante Bouschet has both dark pulp and dark skins, so I don’t believe that can be true either.

Very odd. Who is the author?

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Sounds like a mistake in the book to me.


Just noticed this:

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma… The book is Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian d’Agata. The context for the line I quoted is this:

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OK, I think Ian is confusing us …

If you go back to page 51 he says:

It seems he is referring to the Italian concept of ‘Colorino’ which he translates as ‘teinturier’ here,


but in his definition (page 50):

Now, I can understand that the ‘colorino’ group are characterised as grapes grown to add colour, and that in some cases this will come from coloured pulp and from others that it will come from particularly ‘colouring’ skins, but I (personally) have never heard of ‘teinturier’ being used in this way, but it is not impossible.

In that sense, he can claim that the “best” grapes for adding colour to blends are those that provide it through high levels of pigment in the skins rather than via a coloured pulp … but it is confusing IMHO


When he talks about the Colorino grapes in an earlier section, he’s literally just talking about grapes that have the words “Colorino di …” as their name. I don’t think he’s using teinturier as a synonym for Colorino because he states elsewhere that "tintori’ is the Italian equivalent of “teinturier”. But I think I’ve just found the answer to my own question in a different part of the book where he defines "teinturiers"as “colouring varieties”. Which is quite an idiosyncratic definition, I think!

Great, fascinating thread.

Seems he is not using teinturier in the way generally understood to mean coloured flesh producing coloured juice.

Maybe it’s a question of tranlation as he was born to Italian parents and has spent much of his life in Italy.*

He differetiates between Abbostine and Abbrusco but according to Jancis Robinson’s Grapes, they are one and the same variety and there is just 6ha (15 acres) of them.

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I agree that d’Agata seems to be using the word teinturier in a non-standard way - seemingly to mean a grape used to add colour to a blend, whether by using the flesh colour or a deeply pigmented skin. Does anyone at TWS have access to Ian to ask? He seems to be quite a private person, not using social media or publishing an email address.

I have been in another discussion arising from this book, where his use of “biotype” is questioned. Apparently the term is quite controversial. But at least in this case he does clearly explain what he means by it (on p22).

Irrespective of these terminological issue, it is a wonderful book, clearly well-researched, and very readable too. You get the impression it is a labour of love.


I agree.

There are a few things I find a bit frustrating, like:

  • the decision to group some unrelated varieties in the first large section, just because they share a word in their names;
  • the obvious difficulty and slight lack of consistency in deciding what constitutes a different variety; and
  • his definition of clone as something genetically/physiologically identical, yet frequent sentences like “there are eight clones available”, which I find confusing, as I don’t think he really explains what he means.

I think that having a word like biotype to describe something that is genetically identical but physically different is somewhat useful, though it must lead to significant grey areas… When is a plant a different biotype and when does it just look different because, since being planted as a clone 10 years ago, it has grown in a much hotter and windier climate than the vine that the cutting was taken from? And if you have these biotypes that are reeaaaallly different, because they’ve been separate for centuries and have supposedly mutated in many ways, how can they still be totally genetically identical? (Admittedly, my lack of scientific background may be why I don’t understand the latter).

All that aside, the book’s great and has certainly inspired me to seek out lots of wines and producers I was unfamiliar with.

I reviewed that book when it came out and I completely agree.

“What this book is not, in reality, is what Stephen Tanzer himself describes it as in his quoted review; “… a GPS device for finding each variety – from world-renowned to nearly extinct – in its greatest manifestations.” This type of book is to GPS devices what The Complete Oxford English Dictionary is to the tourist’s phrasebook. This book is a detailed, complex reference tome that you will need to keep on hand to better understand what you read and taste, if native Italian wines are your thing. You are unlikely to keep it in your car and carry it to a wine tasting or on holiday.”


Having all the variety groups together is one thing, but I see even less point in separating out the major and little-known varieties into different parts of the book. I once failed to find Rossesse Bianco in the Little-Known Grape Varieties part, only to later discover it is actually a Major Grape Variety. Who knew? Anyway, the moral is: to find any variety in the book, it is best to go via the index.

According to the interview linked to above, “Four years of writing, fifteen of research”!

The science you describe here is known as epigenetics. It’s worth Googling and taking a look at the first few links for some reasonable descriptions of the science.

If you think of two genetically identical vines (clones) that get planted in two very different terroirs and then liken it to identical human twins at birth, then fast forward 80 years - those twins remain genetically identical but epigenetically very different. Their looks, health, etc are all influenced throughout their life by their environment and you get non-permanent, but inheritable changes to their genetic code.

That process is true for vines too and leads to subtle changes to the grapes they produce. I do wonder how much flavour is attributed to “terroir” that could be explained by epigenetic changes in the vines. Soil, weather, chemicals, sunlight, pruning, age, disease all likely play a part in a vines current epigenetic state.

But then, as long as it tastes good who cares! :wink:


There are two types of “genetically identical” that get bandied around. One meaning (the correct meaning I would say) is that the DNA is absolutely identical. The other meaning is that the bits of the DNA commonly looked at (the usual microsatellites) are the same, while other parts may or my not be identical. In this latter case the vines may be said to have the same genetic finger-print.

If two vines have the same genetic finger-print, then they belong to the same variety. That is, our usual definition of variety is based on the practical tools we currently have available. Thus vines of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are of the same variety. The usual microsatellites are the same, but clearly other bits of the DNA give rise to consistently different skin colours - wherever they are planted. They have different genotypes. And different varieties have different genotypes.

Mutation will effectively create a new clone of the variety - another genotype - but usually it is not called a clone unless it has desirable features and is widely propagated.

However even if vines have precisely the same genotype they may look quite different and produce different grapes if grown in different areas. Because the growing conditions are different, the genes express themselves differently. Sometimes the differences can be large enough to make them look like they could be different varieties even. Each expression is called a phenotype. That is the epigenetics mentioned by @Alchemist.

According to D’Agata, a biotype is a set of similar clones that look and perform similarly. He says that they originate from phenotypes due to being planted in different conditions, and that they then mutate. Presumably man then selects the mutations that are good for that environment, but I cannot see that D’Agata says that. I think he would probably recognise Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc as different biotypes of the same variety. The story with biotypes is not nearly as well accepted as the other stuff I wrote about above. There may be other definitions and, as I mentioned above, not everyone thinks biotype is a useful term.


You wouldn’t believe how many geeks are out there!