A "noble" grape famous as one of the main varietals, along with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and others, (many of which are distantly related), used to create the magnificent french Bordeaux region blended red wines. Helps make wines of classic breed, intensity and complexity that often need to bottle-age for at least 5-10 years in order to reach peak flavor condition. The most successful plantings in North America are mainly on Long Island (N.Y.) and the cooler regions of northern California. In the warmer regions of California, grapes made into a single varietal wine will often produce higher than optimum levels of alcohol and, conversely, lower than optimum acid levels in most years and so may tend to age less successfully than the blended french versions. Aromas and flavors include: Black-currant, blackberry, mint (etc). In the last decades of the twentieth century many other countries have seen their regions develop into prime producers - (e.g: Australia, Argentina, Chile, Italy and New Zealand).
This grape is the best-known white wine grape grown in France and is more correctly known as the same Pinot Chardonnay grape widely grown in the Champagne region. The Chardonnay is also widely planted in the Burgundy and Chablis regions. There, as in the cooler regions of North America and California, the wine made from it is often aged in small oak barrels to produce strong flavors and aromas. Possessing a fruity character - (e.g: Apple, lemon, citrus), subsequent barrel-influenced flavors include "oak", "vanilla", and malo-lactic fermentation imparted "creamy- buttery" components. Australia and New Zealand have succeeded in producing world-class wines from this grape in recent years by using cold fermentation methods that result in a desired "flinty" taste in the dry versions.
A widely grown white-wine grape variety, known as Steen in South Africa, and Pineau de la Loire in the Loire region of France. Often made in a variety of styles with or without some residual sugar. It is the favored grape of the Anjou region of France and, although naturally a hard acidic grape slow to mature, is made into fine sweet wines that age well for a least ten years in the bottle. In the U.S. the grape all too often ends up in the generic jug wines of bulk producers as acidity enhancer for otherwise flabby high sugar/alcohol blends.
A clone of the parent Traminer varietal. Widely grown, and one of the mainstay grapes for which the Alsace is famous, the popular Gewurztraminer produces white wines with a strong floral aroma and lychee nut like flavor. It is often regarded as somewhat similar in style to the Johannisberg Riesling - (below) - when vinified as slightly sweet yet tart. Occasionally it is made into a "botrytized" late harvest dessert style wine. Does well in the cooler coastal regions of Western U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
JOHANNISBERG RIESLING (aka Riesling in Germany and Rheinriesling in Austria):
A white-wine variety widely grown along the Rhine river and tributaries - (e.g: Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Mosel, Nahe regions etc.) - in Germany and also in other temperate regions of Europe. It is also grown in N. America, where it can produce a flowery, fruity dry wine with high acid and low alcohol not unlike the german "Kabinett" version or a semi-dry style with some residual sugar similar to the german "Spatlese" version. If infected with appropriate amounts of "botrytis", it can make outstanding late-harvest wines - (e.g: comparable to the german "Auslese" series). The Finger Lakes region of New York state in the U.S. produces excellent versions in the Mosel style and the North-West coast of N. America seems to have the right conditions for creating the richer, earthier Rheinhessen taste, as do the cooler regions of California. Australia now produces excellent versions of the dry, crisp Alsation-style, as well as fruitier semi-sweet Mosel-type wines, as has New Zealand in recent years.
Classic grape widely grown in the Bordeaux region of France and elsewhere. The red wine bears a resemblance to Cabernet Sauvignon wine, with which it is sometimes blended, but is usually not so intense, with softer tannins. Matures earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. In California it is a popular varietal on its own and also as a percentage constituent of the red wine blend resembling Bordeaux claret called "Meritage". It does extremely well in the state of Washington and shows great promise on Long Island, N.Y. Other countries such as Chile, Argentina and New Zealand also seem to have the right climate for this variety.
Another "cepage" family of clone varieties, making both red and white wines. Most are of the muscat type, having the unique aromatic character commonly associated with muscat wines. These include the Muscat Blanc, (aka Moscato di Canelli and Muscat Frontignon). Mostly these grapes are made into medium-sweet and dessert style table or fortified wines. Producers of sparkling wines often use the Muscat grape to create wines in the style of Italian Spumante.
NEBBIOLO (aka Spanna grape):
Grape responsible for the long-lived, fine red wines of the Piedmont region of Italy. The role of honor includes "Barolo", "Gattinara", "Barbaresco" and "Ghemme"; all huge, tannic wines that at their best can take decades to mature when vinified in the traditional manner.
PINOT NOIR (see Gamay):
The premier grape "cepage" of the Burgundy region of France. It produces a red wine that is lighter in color than the Bordeaux reds (such as Cabernet and Merlot). In the attempt to produce the best wines from cooler regions, it has proved to be a capriciously acting and difficult grape for N. American west coast wineries. Cherished aromas and flavors often detected are cherry, mint, raspberry, truffles, and the ubiquitous gamey odor in new wines often referred to as "animale'" by the french winemaker.
Premier white wine grape of Germany, known as Rheinriesling in Austria. (See Johannisberg Riesling above).
Classic white-wine variety commonly planted in the Bordeaux and eastern Loire regions of France. Still a widely grown varietal in the U.S., its production has declined in favor of the popular Chardonnay. It shows a tendency towards a grassy, herbaceous flavor in the wine when the grapes are grown in temperate regions. In warmer regions, the flavors and aromas tend to be more citruslike, (e.g: grapefruit or pear), plus the characteristic "earthy" taste. New Zealand has had much success with the grape in recent years.
Semi-classic grape widely grown in the Bordeaux region of France and also elsewhere. This grape variety has a distinct fig-like character. In France, Australia and increasingly in California it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to cut some of the strong "gooseberry" flavor of the latter grape and create better balance. Wineries in many countries also use the grape to create dry single-varietal white wines. When infected by the "noble rot" fungi, (Botrytis cineria), it can be used to produce first-class sweet white wines such as those of the french Sauternes.
Alternate name for the french Syrah clone grape grown in Australia and responsible for very big red wines that are not quite as intense in flavor as the french Rhone versions.
A grape variety associated with the Rhone Valley region of France, famous for creating "Hermitage" red wine. In the cooler regions of Australia a similar grape is grown successfully and called the Shiraz. The parent grape is thought to have originated in ancient Persia. In the state of California, depending on location, vintage or fermentation technique, it is used to either produce a spicy, complex wine or a simple wine. The Petite Sirah, which produces a very dark red, tannic wine judged simple in comparison to the true Rhone Syrah, has no relationship other than the name.
While the origins are not clear it has been tentatively identified as the Primitivo (di Gioia), a grape species common to southern Italy. An important grape variety grown in California that is used to produce robust red wine as well as very popular "blush wines" called "white Zinfandel". Zinfandel is noted for its peppery, fruit-laden, berry-like aroma and taste characteristics in its red version and pleasant strawberry reminders when made into a "blush" wine.
EUROPEAN WINE GRAPE VARIETIES
Minor red grape commonly grown in central and southern Italy. Related to the Muscat variety, with strong aroma of that grape, it is grown extensively in the Abbruzzo and Apulia regions. Some plantings are also found in the warmer regions of California, U.S.A.
Semi-classic grape commonly grown in the Piedmont region and most of northern Italy. Now thought by some to be identical with the Perricone , or Pignatello, grape of Sardinia. Was probably imported into the U.S.A. late in the 19th century. Usually produces an intense red wine with deep color, low tannins and high acid and is used in California to provide "backbone" for so-called "jug" wines. Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards and allow production of long-aging, robust red wines with intense fruit and enhanced tannic content. Plantings in North America are mostly confined to the warm western coastal regions.
Semi-classic grape similar in many ways to Cabernet Sauvignon. Now strongly suspected of being a mutation particularly suited to cooler, damper climatic conditions. Widely grown in the Loire region where it is known as the Breton and in large areas of southwest France where it is sometimes known as Bouchy or Bouchet. In NE. Italy it is known as the Bordo grape. Bordeaux wines commonly contain a blend of both wines, a practice increasingly being followed in California. Wine from these grapes has a deep purple color, when young, with a fragrant aroma. Just like Cabernet Sauvignon, North American growth is mainly confined to the coastal regions; Long Island (N.Y.) and the Pacific Northwest showing signs of being very hospitable. New Zealand has also proved to be a potential good home.
Very limited plantings of this red wine grape are now found in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France where it is used to produce deep red wines occasionally used for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot.
Well-known grape widely grown in Piedmont region of Italy. Usually made into fast maturing, fruity and robust dark red wine with faintly bitter flavor. May be identical with the Douce Noir grape of the Savoie region of France and the varietal known as Charbono in California.
At least three different vitis vinifera grape species are permitted to use the term "Gamay" as their lable-specified variety in the U.S.. The Gamay Noir, Gamay Beaujolais and Napa Gamay. At one time or another, each one were thought to be the true Pinot Noir of Burgundy, before it was discovered that many cepage clones existed.
The Gamay Beaujolais grape is a widely grown, early-ripening clone of Pinot Noir that can do well in the temperate climates of the northwest U.S. and if picked promptly will produce a good red wine.
A grape variety found widely grown in Spain, (where it is known under the name Garnacha), the south of France and also in California. It is the main grape used in the red wine blend known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and, along with the Mourvedre, Cinsaut and some others, makes good wine blends under the appellation "Cotes du Rhone Villages". In the warmer regions of California the Grenache grape tends to produce red wines that are often "hot" due to high alcohol content and with a distinctive orange colored tint. Also used to make some of the better rose' wines of Provence in southern France.
Semi-classic grape grown in the Bordeaux region of France and in other areas under the name Cot and in the Alsace has the local name Auxerrois. Also grown in the cooler regions of California. In Argentina the grape known as the Fer is now thought to be a clone of this varietal. Alone it creates a rather inky red, intense wine, so it is mainly used in blends, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the world renowned red Bordeaux "claret" blend. In California and other areas it is increasingly being used for the same blending purpose.
Minor grape mostly found growing in central and southern Italy. Generally made into a blend with Sangiovese in order to produce a fruity, round, yet balanced red wine with attractive aroma.
Robust mediterranean grape variety widely grown in the southern Rhone region of France and mainly used to introduce color and body to the red wine blends. Select limited plantings in California, where the grape is often called the Mataro, produce a wine that sometimes develops the "green tea-like" herbal character that Rhone region french growers refer to as "animale". Also widely grown in Spain where it has the name Monastrell.
Widely grown grape variety in California. Still thought by some to be the same stock as the minor french Durif grape, but recent DNA analysis has shown otherwise. Produces an dark red, tannic wine in the warm regions of California, used mainly as backbone for Central Valley "jug" wines. In the cooler northern regions can be made into a robust, balanced red wine of some popularity.
Grape grown in limited amounts. Found mainly in the temperate Bordeaux region St-Emilion subdistrict and used to make red wine later blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and other wines.
Mutation of the Pinot Gris vine. Grape is generally used to make dry, crisp, rather intense white wines in the Alsace, parts of Burgundy and in Austria. In the latter country it is known as the Weissburgunder. In California, a similarly named grape is used to make a fruity, rather subtle wine similar to the simpler versions of Chardonnay. Used in many of the better champagne style sparkling wines of California because of its acid content and clean flavor. However, recent research speculates that some plantings of this California grown grape varietal are actually the Melon de Bourgogne, (aka Muscadet de Bourgogne), a grape grown widely in the western reaches of the Loire region of France, and famous for producing the "Muscadet" tart white wines that match so well with shellfish meals.
Clone of Pinot Noir grown in western coastal regions of the U.S.. Also called the Malvoisie or Pinot Beurot in the Loire, and the former name in the Languedoc, regions of France. In Germany and Austria it is known as the Rulander or Grauer Burgunder where it is used to make pleasant, young, white wines in the southern regions. Versions named Auxerrois Gris and Tokay d'Alsace are also grown in the Alsace where the latter variety is used to make a golden-yellow wine with aromatic, fruity flavors that improves with a couple of years in the bottle - (but not to be confused with the Hungarian Furmint grape used to make the famous "Tokaji" sweet wines).
Minor grape grown in Veneto region of northern Italy and generally used to make both crisp, dry whites and also sparkling sweet wines often having a uniquely perfumed aroma.
Semi-classic grape grown in the Tuscany region of Italy. Used to produce the Chianti and other Tuscan red wines. Has many clonal versions, two of which seem to predominate. The Sangiovese Grosso clone Brunello variety is used for the dark red, traditionally powerful and slow-maturing "Brunello di Montalcino" wine. The other is the Sangiovese Piccolo, used for lesser Tuscan wines. Recent efforts in California with clones of this variety are very promising, producing medium-bodied reds with rich cherry or plumlike flavors and aromas.
(see Sangiovese above). Also known as the Prugnolo Gentile grape. Blended with Canaiolo (Nero) grape wine, it is the basic format used for all contemporary Chianti wines.
Alternate name for Ugni Blanc grape - see below.
(aka Trebbiano). Widely grown in Italy and Southern France. There it produces a fruity, acidic white wine, best drunk when young and chilled. In the Cognac region of France it is known as the Saint-Emilion grape.
Semi-classic grape varietal grown in the northern Rhone region of France. Has full, spicy flavors somewhat reminiscent of the Muscat grape and violets. New plantings in California have created much anticipation among that States wine community. Viognier can vary from almost Riesling-like character to almost Chardonnay character, depending on production method.
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- Michael Zanatta
Michael is a freelance writer and wine connoisseur whose family vineyards are in the Veneto region of Italy.