Wine Grapes aka Wine Varietals

A little info on some classic wine grapes...

There are so many different wine grapes (wine varietals) and this is by no means a complete list or index of wine grapes (there are literally thousands of wine grapes). Our current information is based on the wines produced by the popular "base" wine grapes / wine varietals from a specific appellation, region and/or country that best represents the varietal and the resulting wines. This section will continue to expand so come back for more!

Wine Varietals (Wine Grape) Overview:
Nebbiolo is a popular nobile wine grape in Italy and considered to be one of the best red wine producing grapes in the world.

The Cabernet grape (sometimes referred to as the king of grapes) is one of the most widely known and internationally grown grapes. The Cabernet varietal is the most popular wine making grape in the well known regions of California's Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

Pinot Noir, which is continuing to grow in popularity in the US, is best known for producing high end French Burgundy wines. Semillon is a favorite grape for producing rich desert wines.

Sangiovese (and Sangiovese Grosso) is the basis for the widely popular Italian wines of Tuscany.

Of course there is Chardonnay which widely popular in France and is worldwide. It is most well known for making white Burgundy in France and being a popular every day drinking wine in the US.

Malbec, commonly used over the years for blending with many other grapes, is now becoming a widely accepted solo varietal primarily produced in Argentina.

Tempranillo is the one of the primary grapes used for making premium red wines in Spain.

Pinotage is a cross bred red grape originating in South Africa and generally produces a fruity style of wine.

The grape index below will discuss these wine varietals in more detail.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is considered one of the great red wine varieties native to Italy, with the most famous appellation being Piedmont where it is most widely planted today. The Nebbiolo grape is typically bigger, darker, tannic, tart and alcoholic compared to other wines. It has a nose of cherries, raspberries, roses, truffles, tar and anise and has rich, chewy, deep and a long finish. It is a very cellar worthy wine and prized by collectors. The wine itself is generally lighter in color and gets a more rust colored hue to it as it ages.

Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme, all (DOCG) wines, are all wines produced from nebbiolo. During harvest, usually in late in October, a heavy fog sets into the Langhe region where many Nebbiolo vineyards are located and a frosty milky coating forms over the berries as they reach maturity. A solid Nebbiolo wine can complement the heartiest meats and stews as well as stong, aged cheeses that may be overpowering for other wine varietals. The Nebbiolo varietal is also known as Spanna, Picutener and Chiavennasca in different Italian areas. Nebbiolo is difficult to cultvate and, to date, very few nebbiolo cuttings or clones have been exported.

Cabernet Sauvignon

In the wine making world the Cabernet grape is commonly referred to as the "king" of grapes. It is the one grape whose basic characteristics are strong enough to be recognized no matter where it is grown (unlike other grapes). This masculine grape provides the "backbone" to a lot of wine blends and also stands well on it's own generally offering up hearty, intense and deep wines that stand the test of time. Cabernet provides sturdy tannins that vary from soft to harsh. The flavors we taste in a cabernet vary with the age of the vines as well as the environmental influences. The older vines have a tendency to impart earthy, leathery, tobacco, cocoa and smoky flavors. Younger vines tend to dominate with dark fruit flavors like currant, black cherries, plums, blackberries and often hints of vegetables and herbs with tougher tannins.

Pinot Noir

The Pinot Noir grape produces some of the most elegant wines in the world. Although, unlike the cabernet grape, the pinot noir grape can take on very different personalities from region to region. In the famous Burgundy region of France this grape produces what many consider to be the finest wines in the world. Where it is grown in this region also greatly affects the perception of quality (which translates into price). This grape is also growing in popularity in the US - primarily in Oregon and California but the resulting wines are really quite different.

Semillon

The Semillion grape is an early ripening golden colored grape varietal which is most widely planted in Bordeaux, France. Semillion is a fairly easy wine grape to cultivate and has been grown internationally and currently is popular in Australia and the US. It is often used for blending with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc but can also stand on its own. The semillion varietal generally exhibits crispy, citrus, herbaceous, fig like characteristics often coupled with nutty and/or toasty flavors. These semillion wines have the ability to improve with some cellar time.

This grape also produces some of the finest sweet wines - desert wines in the world. These sweet wines are produced from moldy grapes infected by botrytis which is referred to as noble rot. This noble rot encourages a sweet viscous concentrated juice to be extracted resulting in a delicious sweet golden honey style wine called sauterne wine. These Semillion based sauterne wines are blended with sauvignon blanc and a little Muscadelle and get richer and more complex with some cellar time. Sauterne wines commonly show flavors of apricot, peaches, pineapple and honey with the added complexity of malolactic fermentation which can add cream, smoke, butter and vanilla. The most famous desert wine is Château d'Yquem Sauterne which is usually about 80% Semillion.

Sangiovese - Sangiovese Grosso

The Sangiovese grape is a red wine Italian grape and, as mentioned earlier, the base grape for the widely popular Chianti (70%+); Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (70%+); lesser known (and fairly new to DOCG) Morellino di Scansano (85%+); and Carmignano "a Super Tuscan" (50%+) wines of Tuscany, Italy. Its name comes from the Latin "sanguis Jovis" meaning "blood of Jupiter (Jovis)". While these wines can improve with age they generally don't last more than 10 years. Rarely will you see a 100% sangiovese wine because of it's tendency to produce acidic, hard and light bodied wines. This grape is also very susceptible to rot due to its thin skin. But, given the proper environment (including Limestone soils), a good harvest, proper barrel aging and a complementary blend of grapes by the right winemaker and these wines are fabulous!

The Sangiovese Grosso grape varietal, from which the Brunello grape is classified as, is considered to be a superior clone of the Sangiovese grape and is responsible for producing the Brunello, the signature Brunello wine being from the commune of Montalcino and known as Brunello di Montalcino which must be made from 100% Brunello of the sangiovese grosso clone. These clone based wines are darkly colored Sangiovese wines and produce much sturdier wines and have the ability to cellar well beyond 10 years, unlike the Sangiovese parent.

Chardonnay

The Chardonnay grape is one of the most widely grown grapes in the world and is the most planted grape in wine growing regions today. Chardonnay is a green skinned "white" grape which is thought to have originated in eastern France in the renowned Burgundy wine region. It is very sensitive to it's terroir which allows it to bring many different flavors into the wines it produces. From the leaner, more mineral driven, crispier old world wines of Chablis, France to the more buttery, oaky, fruitier with a tropical fruit edginess that wines being produced in the "New World". The Chardonnay grape can take on many different personalities depending on it's environment. Although it can grow in almost any vineyard soil type it does tend to produce it's best wines when planted in chalk, limestone or clay.

Chardonnay is an important grape for producing Champagne as well. While many champagnes are blended with different grapes there are 100% chardonnay champagnes produced.

Malbec

The Malbec grape is a fairly small, juicy, dark purple colored grape that is indigenous to France and has historically been more of a popular Bordeaux blending grape.

Argentina has rediscovered this grape after producing Malbec wines a long time ago after which they replanted with more popular grapes. Since then, with excellent soils and climates for producing Malbec, Argentina has rediscovered this grape and has been replanting it. Malbec is a fairly climate sensitive grape and Argentina provides a good dry climate. The cooler, higher altitude, climates of Mendoza produce a thicker skinned grape resulting in darker inky wines with higher acidity and stronger tannins. The lower region's grapes are juicier with thinner skins and produce fruitier red wines that are better to drink young. The result has been very successful in the US markets.

Tempranillo

The Tempranillo grape is Spain's most well known native grapes. It is a vibrant, aromatic varietal that offers spicy, red fruit aromas and flavors. Tempranillo translates to "little early one," which references fruit's short growing season.

Pinotage

The Pinotage grape is a cross-bred red wine grape that is part Pinot Noir and part Cinsaut. It was created in the 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, a professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch. The general intention of blending one of the most popular and revered wine making grapes (Pinot Noir) with the Cinsaut grape (known as Hermitage in South Africa) with the hope to produce a great, hearty, easy to grow pinot style of wine.

Pinotage is still the is the most prominant wine grape grown in in South Africa but has suffered criticism due to what some have said are like chemical/solvent overtones. Pinotage is often used for blending.

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