INTERNATIONAL GRAPE VARIETIES
Cherry, raspberry, violets, game, mid-ruby hue.
This most elusive grape is relatively early ripening and extremely sensitive to terroir. Planted somewhere hot, it will ripen too fast and fail to develop any of the fascinating flavour compounds it’s relatively thin skins can harbour. Pinot Noir’s perfect place on earth is Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, where, if the clones,vine-growing, and wine making techniques are right, it can convey intricate differences of terroir.
So haunting are great red burgundies charms that growers everywhere try to emulate them, but so far onlyNew Zealand, Oregon and the coolest corners of California and Australia have had much luck. It is rarely blended for still wine, but with Chardonnay and it’s cousin Pinot Meunier is part of the standard recipe for Champagne.
Blackcurrant, cedar, high tannic.
Synonymous with serious red wine capable of ageing into subtle splendour. For this reason Cabernet sauvignon is also the most travelled red wine variety, but since it is a late ripener it is viable only in warmish climates. Even in it’s homeland, the Medoc-Graves it may not ripen fully in all seasons. But when it does, the colour, flavour, and tannins packed into the thick skins can be remarkable. With careful wine making and barrel ageing, it can produce some of the longest living reds of all. In Bordeaux it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In warm climates as in Chile or northern California it makes delicious unblended wine.
Black pepper, dark chocolate, notable colour, and tannic.
In its northern Rhone valley home Syrah most famously makes great, dark, long-lived Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. It is now planted allover southern France, where it is commonly used in blends. Syrah tastes quite different in Australia, where, called, Shiraz, it is the country’s most planted red grape, making dense, rich, potent wines in places as warm as Barossa, though it can still have a hint of black pepper in the cooler reaches of Victoria..
Today growers all over the world are experimenting with this easy to love grape, whose wines, however ripe, always have a savoury kick at the end.
Plump, soft, and plummy.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s traditional blending partner, especially in Bordeaux, where its early ripening makes Merlot so much easier to grow. Easier to ripen than Cab Sauv in cooler vintages, it is more alcoholic in warmer ones. Merlot also has an independent existence as a varietal, particularly in the USA where it is considered easier todrink than Cabernet. It reaches its apogee in Pomerol where it can result in voluptuous, velvety essences. It is also common in Chile.
Aromatic, delicate, racy, expressive, rarely oaked.
Riesling is to white wine what Cabernet Sauvignon is to red; it can make entirely different wines in different places and can age magnificently.
Often underrated and under priced for most of the late 20thCentury, Rieslingis slowly becoming more fashionable. The wines tend to be powerfully scented,reflecting minerals, flowers, lime, and honey depending on its provenance,sweetness and age.
Broad, inoffensive—unless overoaked.
The white burgundy grape, but so much more versatile than Pinot Noir.Chardonnay can be grown and ripened without difficulty almost everywhere.It has become the world’s best known white wine grape, perhaps because unlike Riesling it does not have a particularly strong flavour of it’s own, which is one reason why it responds so well to barrel fermentation and/or oak ageing. It routinely takes on whatever character the wine maker desires; vivacious and sparkling, refreshingly unoaked, rich and buttery.
Grass, green fruits, razor-sharp, rarely oaked.
Piercingly aromatic, extremely refreshingly and best drunk relatively young. Sauvignon Blanc’s original home in France is in the Loire, particularly in and around Sancerre and Pouilly sur Loire for Pouilly Fume, where it can vary considerably according to vintage. Grown in too warm a climate it can loose its characteristic aroma and acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc does particularly well in New Zealand, notably Marlborough, as well as the cooler parts of South Africa. In Bordeaux it is mixed with Semillon to make both dry and luscious sweet wines.
Figs citrus, lanolin, full-bodied.
Semillon is included here on the basis of the exceptional quality of sweet wines produced from it, particularly in Sauternes and Barsac where it is traditionally mixed with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s relatively thin skins makes Semillon highly susceptible to botrytis mould that can in the right conditions concentrate the grape miraculously with noble rot. It is the most planted white grape in Bordeaux where it is also responsible for some fine, oaked dry wine in Graves. Australia’s Hunter Valley has a special affinity with it making long lived complex wines.
REGIONAL GRAPE VARIETIES
Pale, sweet, useful for rose.
Grenache is widely planted round the Mediterranean and is the most planted grape of the southern Rhone, where it is often blended with Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault. It is widely grown in Roussillon, where, with Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, its high alcohol levels are useful for the regions famous Vins Doux Naturels.
As Garancha it is the most planted red grape in Spain. In California and Australia, it is revered only if the vines are very old or if blended with Syrah and Mourvedre.
Savoury, lively, variable from prunes to farmland.
Italy’s most planted grape, in its many forms, and particularly common in central Italy, most gloriously in Chianti Classico, Montalcino (as Brunello) and Montepulciano (as Vino Nobile). Today Tuscany’s many ambitious producers coax maximum colour and flavour from it. Sangiovese is increasingly planted elsewhere.
Light, aromatic, refreshing, rarely heavy.
The less intense and softer progenitor of Cabernet Sauvignon. Because it ripens earlier, Cabernet Franc is widely planted in the Loire and on the cooler, damper soils of St Emilion, where it is often blended with Merlot. In the Medoc - Graves,it is planted as an insurance against Cabernet Sauvignon’s failure to ripen. Much more resistant to cold winters than Merlot, it can make appetising wines in New Zealand and Washington. It reaches its silky apogee in Chinon, Bourgueil,Samur- Champigny and Anjou- Villages
Tobacco leaves, spice, leather.
Spain’s most famous grape. As Tinto Fino or Tinto Del Pais it provides the back bone of Rivera Del Duero’s lively, deep flavoured reds. In Rioja it is blended with Garancha. Its early budding makes its vulnerable to spring frosts and its thin skins to rot, but it is increasingly valued internationally for fine wines.
Animal, Blackberries, alcoholic and tannic.
This is a grape that needs considerable sunshine to ripen and is by far the most important grape in Bandol, Provence’s most noble wine, although it has to be aged with care.Throughout southern France, and South Australia, it adds flesh to Grenache and Syrah blends.
Tar, Roses, Violets, Orange with black tint.
Piemonte’s answer to Pinot Noir. In Barolo and Barbaresco it responds to every nuance of aspect and elevation, it will ripen only onthe most favoured sites. When fully ripe it is exceptionally high in tannins and acids, but long cask and bottle ageing can result inhauntingly seductive wines. Nebbiolo makes a wide range of other, usually lesser wines in North West Italy (in Valtelina and Gattenara for example), but like Pinot Noir it has shown a reluctance to travel.
Warm berry flavours, alcohol, sweetness.
Zinfandel was regarded as California’s own grape for a century, until it was established that, as Primitivo it was known at the heel ofItaly at least as early as the 18th century. DNA analysis has now established its origins as Croatian. The vine ripens unevenly but someberries build unparalleled sugars so that Zin can be as strong as 17 % alcohol. It is more commonly grown to produce enormous crops of much less intense wine in California’s Central Valley and sold as pale pink white Zinfandel.
Spicy and rich in Argentina, gamey in Cahors.
Malbec has long been a blending grape all over south west France, including Bordeaux, but is the dominant grape only in Cahors, where known as Cot, it hastypically made rustic wines suitable for only medium term ageing. Émigrés took itto Argentina, where in Mendoza it was so clearly at home that it has become the country’s most popular red grape and makes gloriously velvety, concentrated lively wines high in alcohol and extract. It thrives particularly in Mendoza’s Lujan De Cuyodistrict.
Tannic occasionally porty.
Portugal’s most famous grape, although just one of a wide range of grapes grown in the Druro Valley. It is increasingly bottled as varietal wine throughout Portugal and is increasingly used in Dao. Touriga Nacional is always high in tannins, alcohol and colour.
Very late ripening Bordeaux variety which is hardly found in Bordeaux today but is common in Chile. For long Carmenere was confused with Merlot but it has now being distinguished in the vineyard. Carmenere ids best blended with other Bordeaux varieties.
Full, golden, smoky, pungent.
This grape has its base in Alsace, where with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat it is regarded as a noble grape variety, responsible for some of the region’s most powerful wines. In Italy it is known as Pinot Grigio and produces dry wines. It is a speciality in Oregon.
Extremely versatile, honey.
Chenin Blanc is the grape of the middle Loire. In California it sometimes makes rather ordinary wines, but in the Loire it can makeage worthy distinctive wines in all stages of sweetness. Botrytized LoireChenins such as Vouvray can be long lived sweet wines. In the Loire Chenin Blanc also makes dry still wines as well as some sparkling Samur and Vouvray.
Heady, full bodied apricots.
Fashionable, distinctive variety that has now travelled from it’s home in Condrieu, northern Rhone to almost all parts of the world. Best drunk young, it is increasingly blended with other Rhone white grapes like Roussanne and Marsanne.
Lighter –skinned mutation of Pinot Noir. It is called Pinot Bianco in Italy. It is the everyday grape of Alsace. The grape is relatively low in acidity and is best drunk young.
Almond, marzipan, very full bodied.
Along with Roussanne this is the grape of white Hermitage in the northern Rhone. It is now planted throughout southern Rhone as well as in Australia. In southern France Marsanne is often blended with varieties such as Roussanne and Viognier. Its wines tend to be deep golden, heady and alcoholic.