Frankish and Hunnic grape varieties
A division of grape
A grape is a non-climacteric fruit, specifically a berry, that grows on the perennial and deciduous woody vines of the genus Vitis. Grapes can be eaten raw or they can be used for making jam, juice, jelly, vinegar, wine, grape seed extracts, raisins, molasses and grape seed oil. Grapes are also...

 varieties into Frankish and Hunnic grape varieties was practiced in German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

-speaking countries in the Middle ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and separated varieties considered to be better from those considered to be lesser. Frankish (fränkisch) grapes were considered noble grapes, and the designation derived from the Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

, as popular belief held that those were grapes introduced by Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 or at least through his edicts. Hunnic (hunnisch or heunisch) grapes, on the other hand, were the simpler varieties. It is unclear whether it was actually believed that these varieties had been introduced by the Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

, or if the term Hunnic was just used as a pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

. Another possibility is that heunisch derives from an old Low German
Low German
Low German or Low Saxon is an Ingvaeonic West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands...

 word for "large", and that has been applied to grape varieties with large berries, which give higher yields than the smaller-berried Frankish wines, but wines of lower quality and less concentrated flavours.

These terms can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. As an example, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen
Blessed Hildegard of Bingen , also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and...

 wrote in the 12th century that the Frankish wine was stronger and set the blood so much in motion that it was necessary to dilute it with water, while the Hunnic wine was more watery by nature and therefore had not to be diluted. Some of the earliest specific varieties to be mentioned as Frankisch were Traminer, Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris
Pinot gris is a white wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. Thought to be a mutant clone of the Pinot noir grape, it normally has a grayish-blue fruit, accounting for its name but the grape can have a brownish pink to black and even white appearance...

 and Riesling
Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally...

 in the 14th to 15th century. It could be noted that more than 500 years of not very well-documented viticultural history and highly uncertain grape identification separate Charlemagne and these written claims. Other traditional Frankish varieties are Elbling
Elbling is a variety of white grape which today is primarily grown in the upstream parts of the Mosel region in Germany and in Luxembourg, the vineyards of which are also located along Moselle River...

, Orléans
Orléans (grape)
Orléans is a variety of white grape which up until the 19th century was much grown in Germany, but in very little use since the early 20th century. It has large berries with thick skins and a high yield...

, Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is a black wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from Pinot noir grapes...

 and Silvaner
Sylvaner or Silvaner is a variety of white wine grape grown primarily in Alsace and Germany, where its official name is Grüner Silvaner. In Germany it is best known as a component of Liebfraumilch and production boomed in the 1970s to the detriment of quality, but it has long enjoyed a better...


The terms live on in the present names or synonyms of many varieties, such as Blaufränkisch
Blaufränkisch is a dark-skinned variety of grape used for red wine. Blaufränkisch, which is a late-ripening variety gives red wines which are typically rich in tannin and may exhibit a pronounced spicy character...

 (blue Frankish) and Weisser Heunisch (white Hunnic), the German name of Gouais blanc
Gouais Blanc
Gouais Blanc or Weißer Heunisch is a white grape variety that is seldom grown today but is important as the ancestor of many traditional French and German grape varieties. The name Gouais derives from the old French adjective ‘gou’, a term of derision befitting its traditional status as the grape...


DNA profiling from the 1990s has revealed that many classical grape varieties are crosses with parents in both the Frankish and Hunnic groups. Two examples are Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It is originated from the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand...

, which is a cross between Pinot (Noir) and Gouais blanc, and Riesling, which is a cross between Gouais blanc and another cross with a Traminer component. Thus, the Frankish group of varieties does not have a totally separate pedigree from the Hunnic group. This has led to a resurged interest in the Hunnic grapes, many of which lead a dwindling existence and are on the brink of becoming extinct.
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