Here are some wine books and their view of number of wine varieties:
- The Wine Bible states 5,000 varieties
- The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Wine also states 5,000 varieties
- The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia states there are “thousands of varieties”
- Grapes & Wine – “they say there are some 8,000 varieties” curious but no mention where this number comes from
- Wine Grapes – No mention of total number just the identified number in this volume of 1,368 grapes
- Wine Science: Principles and Applications states “grapevine cultivars approaching 15,000..” this includes synonyms “ “ A comprehensive system of cultivar classification would be useful. Regrettably no such system exists.”
And have seen this across the web: “There are 24,000 names for varieties of wine grapes, corresponding to between 5,000 and 10,000 actual varieties. However, only about 150 are commercially important.” And I cannot find the originator of this comment – I have seen on Wikipedia—now removed. Just on casual inspection the 24,000 is completely off because examining the synonyms of a few varieties depicts vast numbers for 10,000 varieties would mean 2.4 synonyms.
But look at these varieties as example:
Tempranillo, Négrette, Ojaleshi, Red Veltliner, Riesling are each greater than a dozen synonyms each. That is the 2.4 synonyms per variety (based on 10,000 varieties) is quickly dis-invalidated on casual inspection.
I had made an assumption early on because shouldn’t the citations have a reference point? I guess not. From my academic training: facts, metrics, numbers should all be referenced, qualified. Vagary is particularly unhelpful and in the wine world should be more precise. Without an attempt at precision continues the world of confusion.
I gave up on asking librarians to locate the reference points because they truly did not exist. A taxonomy is needed to understand what is a variety and what is a synonym. Here we are in 2013 without a complete list of wine varieties (I don’t say exhaustive) as the count does increase over time but one is much needed. There probably as better taxonomies for corn or rice or other fruits, plants, grains.
I have been working on this list for a bit of time and have found two things happening simultaneously–the number of varieties in my database is decreasing and the number of synonyms is increasing (not surprising). But my initial varietal count did not approach the 5,000 or 10,000 number or even close to that. My goal is to complete my list this year. Though I probably won’t release the list this year as I am working on my wine book where I will release those results–I would certainly release highlights.
I do hope to have the most reliable list thus far created and will certainly update over time; an arduous endeavour but one worth doing.
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