Australian producers have been inadvertently selling a mislabelled variety of wine for decades, DNA testing has revealed.
- A grape used by Australian vignerons to make a critically acclaimed, award-winning variety of wine was misidentified when it was imported
- The CSIRO says it did not have the capacity to verify the variety when it was brought over in 1979, and says it imported the grape in good faith
- Winegrowers say the important thing is the quality of the drop, rather than its name, and Wine Australia says it won’t be recalling bottles on the market
Following an inspection by a French ampelographer and testing by the CSIRO, it has turned out that what growers and consumers thought was petit manseng is actually gros manseng.
The petit manseng grape was imported from France in 1979 by the CSIRO, three years after the organisation brought its larger, “coarser” cousin to Australian shores.
The CSIRO’s Ian Dry said the varieties were obtained in good faith from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research at a time when DNA testing did not exist.
“Unbeknownst to us, we have distributed something we called petit manseng over a number of years,” Dr Dry said.
“At the time there were no really objective measures which would allow us to identify them — you would need to be a real expert in the area of ampelography.”
The CSIRO has tested 1,500 grape varieties in its collection and said some would need independent verification.
“The major varieties are completely safe,” Dr Dry said.
Wine Australia said a French ampelographer who conducted an inspection earlier this year raised the alarm.
“At that point some testing was conducted of the germplasm held at the Monash collection to compare them with the mother vines in Montpellier in France,” said Wine Australia general counsel, Rachel Triggs.
An estimated 15 to 20 growers are thought to be impacted by the misidentification, but Wine Australia said it would not recall mislabelled products already on the market.
“We will allow producers to sell the stock they currently have as petit manseng,” Ms Triggs said.
This is not the first ampelographic mix-up in Australia’s history — in 2009, the CSIRO revealed that a Spanish grape called albarino that it imported in the 1980s was in fact the French savagnin.
The grapes were acquired from a Spanish winery that said it had collected what it thought were albarino samples sometime in the 1950s.
Symphonia Wines, based in Victoria’s King Valley, was among the vineyards affected at the time — and it also planted the faux petit manseng in the 1990s.
“We didn’t realise there was any doubt or research going on in the background, so we were a little surprised,” grower Lilian Carter said.
“It’s a little disappointing, but the wine we’ve been making is of a high quality and it ages fantastically in a bottle.”
Mark Kirkby at Topper’s Mountain Wines at Tingha, in New South Wales, agreed that quality trumped the name on the label.
“It’s a pretty important variety to us, it makes really good wines and we’re looking to expand the plantings,” he said.
Ewan McPherson, of Symphony Hill Wines in Queensland’s Granite Belt, says it is challenging to sell a wine labelled “gros”, even though the “s” is silent.
“I love the wine itself, the wine we make is gorgeous,” he said.
“But the name, I think, is more gorgeous when it’s called petit manseng compared to gros manseng.
“I’m actually looking at a great opportunity to make an interesting label out of it with the word ‘gros’ being highlighted and celebrating how funny that is.”
Wine critic Ned Goodwin, co-author of the Halliday Wine Companion, named Topper’s wild ferment petit manseng as one of his top wines of 2019.
The Master of Wine said there was not much difference in the taste of the two varieties.
“They’re both sort of bright, tangy, lots of tangerine, apricot, orange zest sort of spectrum of aromas really,” he said.
While they have similar characteristics, the main difference is the berry size.
“With larger berries, generally speaking, the wines are a little more coarse, a little less elegant,” he said.
“In fact gros manseng is a far higher yielding variety — so while [it is] more consistent, perhaps, [it’s] certainly not of the pedigree of petit manseng.”