Traminer. A Variety With History


Two Italian geneticists, Professor Attilio Scienza and Serena Imazio, in their book "Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories" have tried to follow the history of humans by reconstructing the genealogy of wine. The tools of their project were DNA analysis, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, myths and literature. The varieties they have worked with are both Italian and international. The paths of the two scholars have revealed fascinating stories of migration, exploration, conquest and intercultural exchanges. It is certain that after reading this book, no two glasses of wine will ever be the same again. 


One of the most interesting stories that the two scientists have tackled is that of Traminer, for which they had to make a long journey through time, starting from the Roman Empire. Virgil says in the Aeneid that the Romans managed to dominate the Western World, not so much because of their military power, but because of the fact that they did not treat other peoples as equal citizens with whom they could cooperate. This disposition to cultural exchange influenced the history of many grape varieties, according to the authors of the book. In the 3rd century AD, when the expansionist Roman expansion was in full swing, there is an interesting synchronism with the first processes of evolution of some varieties. In fact, these processes did not take place in the landmark areas of Italian viticulture, but in areas close to the borders of the Empire, in particular on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube. In the history of the Roman Empire, the phenomenon of relocation can be seen constantly, which explains the evolution of the wine-growing areas. There is therefore a movement of wine production from the cities to the territory extending as far as Campania and Lazio, in order to meet the needs of the aristocracy, which had moved its residence. Similarly, when the centers of influence of the Empire moved from Rome to Ravenna and Lyon, and later to Trieste, and more soldiers had to be moved to the eastern border, the need for vineyards also arose at these points of consumption. 


Traminer or termeno 

For many years, Termeno (Tramin in German) was considered the home of the Traminer, due to the commonality of names. However, according to Scienza and Imazio, there is evidence that refutes this "easy" attribution. First, there are documents. The first reference to Traminer as a vine is placed on August 4, 1438, in the monastery of Bebenhausen near Stuttgart, suggesting that the variety probably comes from southwestern Germany. In addition, scholars have searched unsuccessfully for historical evidence of Traminer grapes being grown in Termeno, and it is also not mentioned in any Italian wine treatises before the 19th century. However, if the coincidence of names is coincidental, where could we find answers? To find answers, the authors go back to the Roman Empire, as the Romans used to call the areas they had recently conquered by the name 'termimus' (meaning 'frontier'), from which the place name Termeno derives. Therefore, the Traminer variety may have taken its name from another region, which was also called "termimus" by the Romans. Another document from the Middle Ages provides an even more solid hypothesis regarding the etymology of the name, which, among other things, places Traminer among the top varieties. In Roman times, the Aminee family of Greek origin identified its name with quality wines. During the Middle Ages, as the Benedictine monks used to use Latin terms, it is claimed that the name Traminer originated from corruption. From 'aminea', referring to high-quality wines, to der aminer, dr-aminer, draminer, and finally traminer. The overlap between Traminer and the Termeno varieties can therefore be attributed to the custom in medieval times whereby wines were sold under the name of the region where they were produced, regardless of the variety used. At that time, sweet wines from South Tyrol were famous. Among these wines, that of Termeno stood out, so it is possible that the name 'Traminer' did not refer to wines produced from the variety of the same name, but too sweet and aromatic wines of other varieties from Termeno.

So while the mystery of the name has been rather... solved, the origin of the variety remains nebulous. Some claim it originated in Germany, specifically the Luru Valley, others point to Kitzeck, in Styria, Austria, while others speculate that it originated in the Jura Canton of France, where Traminer is known by the name Savagnin.

Eventually, the search led to a 19th-century German wine writer who had identified wild vines on the small island of Ketsch on the Rhine, which bore remarkable morphological similarities to Traminer. With the advent of molecular biology, the hypothesis was confirmed and in 2001 these wild vines were identified as the ancestor of the Traminer/Savagnin variety.