This white grape is the most widely planted in the world’s two leading wine producing countries, France (as Ugni Blanc, or Rossola Brandica in Corsica) and Italy (Trebbiano/Trebbiano Toscano). Despite its popularity, it is still relatively unknown to most wine drinkers, and it is unlikely to appear on many wine labels. The reason for this is that it is most commonly used in blends – both white and red – or distilled into brandy, especially in the Armagnac and Cognac regions of France. It is also the grape used to produce balsamic vinegar. The grape comes originally from Tuscany, as the name Trebbiano Toscano suggests.
Ugni Blanc is mainly used as a relatively neutral base for blends. It is light, crisp and refreshing but also simplistic, and is prized mainly for its high productivity and low acidity (which makes it very useful for brandy making). It is extremely hardy, with its resistance to disease being one of its key selling points.
Legend has it that the grape was first brought to France from Italy in the 14th century at the time that the Pope relocated to Avignon in the south Rhône Valley. It was grown as Ugni Blanc across southeastern France in the 15th and 16th centuries.