Grapes explained

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Albarino

The grape of Galicia in north-west Spain and the Vinho Verde region of Northern Portugal, where it is referred to as Alvarinho. A variety on the up outside of its homeland, plantings in the cool of New Zealand have reaped rewards. White petal and delicate stone fruit flavours support the variety’s refreshing acidity and distinctive minerality. If you were looking for a New World Chablis, Albarino from Marlborough might well hit the spot!

Barbera

A grape variety originally from Northern and Central Italy, particularly the villages of Asti and Alba. Barbera is a high acid red variety with soft tannins, which marries beautifully with oak. In recent years it has seen plantings appear in countries as far afield as Australia and Argentina. Excellent as a blending variety, Barbera adds wonderful notes of cherry, blueberries and raspberry to the mix.

Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the most ubiquitous grape varieties in the world; Cabernet Sauvignon. Together with Pinot Noir it vies for the crown of greatest red variety in the world. So multifaceted and so adaptable, it is as happy in the Pauillac vineyards of Château Latour as it is in the high altitude vineyards of the Andes. So suited to oak and with a firm tannic backbone, it is very often utilised as part of a blend. Though Bordeaux is its natural home, it has spread through the wine world, finding notable homes in Stellenbosch, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley to name but a few.

Cabernet/Merlot

A New World take on a classic Bordelais pairing. Cabernet’s cassis and Merlot’s summer berry and stone fruit flavours combine, often with rich vanilla oak, to offer a deliciously reliable blend. It is to be found as a blend throughout the wine world, with notable successes in the Margaret River, Stellenbosch, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Limestone Coast regions.

Cabernet/Shiraz

Cabernet Sauvignon’s blackberry and cassis fruit blends perfectly with Shiraz’s blueberry and spice notes. A mainstay of Australian red blends, it is in this country that the finest examples can be found.

Chardonnay

Possibly the most famous grape variety in the world, Chardonnay has found a home in pretty much every corner of the wine world. From crisp, flinty Chablis styles to full-bodied, oaky, rich Napa Valley Chardonnay it is a variety which has the ability to morph according to the climate or winemaking philosophy. It also has the capacity to produce amongst the greatest white wines in the world. Some praise indeed for this chameleon variety, the likes of which may only truly be matched by Riesling or Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc

Vouvray, Savennières and Montlouis are villages in France famous for their superb expressions of Chenin Blanc. Add to this list Stellenbosch in South Africa and the picture is complete. A waxy, citrus and cream styled white variety with stunning acidity and natural balance, it can produce deeply-flavoured wines from dry through to botrytis-affected sweet styles. It is a natural in every sense and in the hands of the greatest growers in South Africa shows the shimmering potential of the Rainbow Nation on the world stage.

Cinsault

Cinsault (or Cinsaut) is a red variety which is prolific in Southern France and South Africa. Primarily utilised around the world to add aromatic complexity when blended with other varieties, it yields well and resists drought. In the hands of growers such as Kaapzicht in Stellenbosch, old vine Cinsault harvested with low yields and then sensitively managed in the cellar push the expectations of this often maligned variety – the potential for greatness is becoming recognised more and more as each new wine is enjoyed.

Fiano

A variety on the verge of extinction until mid-way through the 20th century, Fiano is grown widely in Italy’s Campania region, specifically around the village of Avellino. A classically proportioned varietal it has a honeyed apricot, generously-textured palate with good minerality and freshness. The good news is that it is making something of a comeback internationally, especially in Australia where plantings have appeared in Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek.

Gewurztraminer

With its roots firmly in the Alsace region of northern France, Gewurztraminer is an aromatic white grape variety which is capable of creating wine styles ranging from bone dry to botrytised, richly-flavoured dessert wines. Unoaked, with a tell-tale aromatic profile of lychees and rose petals and a broad spectrum of juicy spiced flavours enveloping the nose and palate, Gewurztraminer is a wonderful partner to Asian cuisine.

Grenache

One of the most widely-planted red varieties in the world, Grenache ripens late so needs hot, dry conditions for success. The Rhône Valley, Spain, Barossa and McLaren Vale all utilise Grenache’s raspberry and strawberry characteristics either as stand-alone varietals or part of a blend. Some of the greatest expressions of pure Grenache can be found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where wines including Château Rayas and Domaine La Barroche’s Pure cuvée embrace the Pinot Noir-like properties of Grenache to great effect.

Grüner Veltliner

True connoisseurs of easy-going, refreshing, but refined whites have long enjoyed Austria’s native Grüner Veltliner for its grapefruit and lemon-peel flavours, sometimes with a floral note, often with a twist of white pepper and dash of spice. As a variety it shares much character with its close relative, Riesling. Still relatively hard to come by on the High Street, Grüner is starting to make big strides in the New World where innovation and trends are rapidly seized upon. Finding natural homes in cool climate, marginal regions such as Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley to name but a few, there is an instant, modern appeal to the juicy, fresh and un-oaked purity of these food friendly and aromatically complex wines. Try pairing Grüner with lemon-laced white fish; pan-fried scallops and salad, or with the lightest of chicken dishes.

Hárslevelü

This white grape may be hard to pronounce, but it is the second most widely-planted grape in Hungary. It is best known as one of the three grapes that make up the sweet wines of Tokaj Wine Region, where it is added to Furmint and Muscat to bring floral aromas and richness to the blend. These days it is also increasingly appearing on its own as a dry varietal white. The name Hárslevelü translates as ‘linden leaf’, and good examples of are powerfully aromatic, rich, green-gold, with linden honey flavours, minerality and great depth.

Lagrein

Lagrein is a red grape variety which hails from the Alto Adige in northern Italy. In a region famed for its cool climate expressions of Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio it seems paradoxical that the heat-loving Lagrein variety should find such success. The Bolzano basin within the region is the reason for this anomaly; proving a hot spot for the variety and actually enjoying some of Italy’s warmest weather. In fact, only Sicily records higher average summertime temperatures anywhere in the country! Stylistically the variety has a deep, dark purple appearance with aromas of raspberry and plum. On the palate it is a touch lighter than expected with a faintly earthy, rustic backbone that vies with the red cherry fruit and cured meat tinged notes. Think of it as a weighty Pinot Noir style with just a touch of leather adding interest. Hugely enjoyable alone, it is a wonderful partner to food. Though still largely cultivated in northern Italy, the variety has travelled well into the southern hemisphere – a notable success can be found courtesy of Stanley Estates in New Zealand’s Awatere Valley.

Malbec

In its native Bordeaux, Malbec is little more than a blending component. In Argentina, Australia and increasingly, South Africa, it offers bold, expressive, richly-flavoured reds that simply cry out for a juicy steak! Notes of cured meat, cocoa, scorched earth and cherry liqueur-like flavours lead the way.

Merlot

The variety which made Château Pétrus in Pomerol famous, however it can undoubtedly be considered an international variety which is almost as ubiquitous as Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is a generous, plush and fruit forward variety which often acts as the foil in Cabernet led blends. As a single varietal it offers red stone fruit flavours and often a velvety core.

Muscat

Aromatic, fresh and full of citrus, peachy, grape liqueur flavours – you have discovered Muscat! Capable of creating a multitude of styles from dry to fully sweet, botrytised through to low alcohol wines; though rarely the most complex varietal it is utterly charming and on-trend. Muscat shouts from the glass with rarely found youthful energy, and in the case of Moscato d’Asti in Northern Italy is very much this taster’s (not so) guilty pleasure!

Nebbiolo

One of the world’s single greatest grape varieties, Nebbiolo is sensational when placed in the hands of growers such as Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco or Elio Grasso in Barolo who succeed in keeping the varietal’s raw power in check by gentle vinification and barrel maturation. Wild strawberry and rose petals, scorched earth and graphite, Nebbiolo has it all, yet remains surprisingly versatile. The variety has made moves into the Barossa Valley and further afield in Australia, where some excellent, expressive and quite unique examples can be found.

Nero d'Avola

Originating from the Sicilian village of Avola, Nero d’Avola translates as the black (grape) of Avola. As a variety it produces bold, rich, perfumed, velvety reds and does not require oak to enhance its charm. Stylistically the variety is a chameleon, capable of producing intoxicating, concentrated and vigorous styles as capably as delicate, black-cherry styled, cocoa-tinged examples where elegance, balance and immediacy are the key attributes. As the variety has gained in popularity, plantings have made their way from Nero’s Sicilian homeland to the New World. Australia in particular has seized upon the variety’s versatility together with its inbuilt tolerance to high temperatures in the vineyard.

Pinot Blanc

Probably the least well known of the Pinot family, Pinot Blanc is a variety full of bold, richly-flavoured white peach and pine kernel flavours. In its native Alsace it creates exceptional wines. It can be handled the same way as Chardonnay with oak integration or more delicately, to accentuate the varietal’s fine acidity and fruit balance.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio

Full of honeyed spice and clean zingy freshness, Pinot Gris is capable of producing a broad array of wine styles. From steely dry whites to fully botrytis-affected sweet styles, it is a variety eager to please. Thai food screams for Pinot Gris, especially those from New Zealand where the wines’ deeper, honeyed, citrus flavours seem to flow so well.

Pinot Noir

If Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of wines then Pinot Noir is the wine of kings. So delicate, pure, feminine and graceful, it is arguably the finest variety in the world, responsible for the great wines of Champagne and Burgundy. Temperamental, yes, and difficult to cultivate, but can any other grape offer such dimensions of flavour or intellectual gratification? I would struggle to find one stronger! Summer berry compote flavours, with redcurrant and pink petal aromas, it is often pale in the glass, yet can offer depth and vigour simply unachievable from any other grape.

Pinotage

South Africa’s very own variety, created in the early 20th century by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. A variety which the home nation has taken to its collective heart, in the right hands and with gentle, delicate handling in the winery, Pinotage is a lush, fruit driven, black cherry jam and white pepper styled variety. When the focus is more on a traditional feel, extended barrel maturation can bolster the variety into creating more of a Bordelais clone. Some great examples exist, famously from Kanonkop and Kaapzicht Estate; both to be found in Stellenbosch.

Red Blend

A combination of varieties said to produce a more rounded or complete expression of the vineyard or estate. Some of the very greatest wines in the world are blends, including red and white Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Champagne.

Riesling

Another white varietal with a claim to be the greatest in the world. So many dimensions possible, so true to its terroir and capable of producing wines through the full spectrum of sweetness, from steely dry to richly exotic. With notably high natural acidity Riesling has a firm backbone for extended ageing. Never married to oak, it is all about citrus notes, orange blossom, lime, lemon and conference pear. With time in bottle, tell-tale notes of kerosene start to appear on the nose.

Roussanne

One of the true great white varieties of the Northern and Southern Rhône, Roussanne as a pure varietal is fairly rare, however Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes a world famous example which carries the vieilles vignes label. A bold, weighty white varietal it has a delightfully rich mouthfeel supporting the sweet green herb, citrus and honey like flavours. An under-rated variety for sure, it is steadily growing in popularity around the world with notable examples appearing in Australia and South Africa.

Sangiovese

Italy’s great red varietal and certainly ubiquitous in its homeland. Sangiovese has a beautifully sleek flavour profile of red cherries and earthy aromas of tea leaf. Though not as aromatic as Pinot Noir or Syrah, it does marry extremely well to oak and is particularly favoured as a foil in Cabernet-based blends. The ‘Super Tuscan’ movement in the 1970s and ’80s, led by wines such as Antinori’s Tignanello, recognised the strengths of Sangiovese when paired with international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The growth of popularity has seen it appear in countries like Australia, where stunning examples can be found in McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Marlborough, Darling, Margaret River… Villages and regions which all have one thing in common; their own individual take on Sauvignon Blanc. The variety has classic zingy freshness, citrus notes and in the case of Marlborough in particular, gooseberry aromatics and flavours. Very pure, it can often be opulent yet also the opposite, with taut mineral notes. A classic, modern varietal with huge popularity, usually unoaked, there are an increasing number of food-focused expressions with a little barrel maturation adding texture and lift.

Shiraz/Grenache

A Southern Rhône pairing, Shiraz’s aromatics and blueberry fruit join with Grenache’s wild strawberry and pepper notes to full effect. They complement each other beautifully, often with the addition of another Rhône variety; Mourvèdre. These tend to be extravagant, alcoholic and bold examples with the Barossa Valley being particularly noted for its world class production.

Shiraz/Tempranillo

Shiraz (aka Syrah) is the grape variety of choice in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in the Northern Rhône and more recently has enjoyed fantastic success in the New World, in particular south-east Australia. Meanwhile, Tempranillo is the mainstay of Rioja. They are wonderful partners, with Shiraz bringing fruit power and a peppery edge, and Tempranillo adding savoury elements and complex tannin structure. A great combination and often offering really great value.

Syrah/Shiraz

Also known as Syrah, Shiraz was the variety which introduced the world to the concentrated and masculine wines of 1990s’ Australia. Here in the Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale it produces wines of great density and richness. In South Africa there tends to be more structure and freshness with earthy tannins. It is a variety which alters in the bottle very much as a result of the individual winemaker’s philosophy, as well as reflecting the unique terroir of the estates. Great with oak, it offers lavender, kirsch, black cherry and cured meat aromas and flavours. In its native Northern Rhône it is famous for the wines of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, whilst in the New World can lay claim to providing Australia with its two most famous wines; Henschke’s Hill of Grace and Penfold’s Grange.

Taminga

An excellent Australian white variety created in the 20th century and specifically suited to hot climates, Taminga retains excellent acidity and has a pronounced Gewürztraminer-like spice character. Capable of creating excellent dessert styles, it is still something of an unknown in the wine world but has great potential.

Tempranillo

The grape that made Rioja and Ribera del Duero famous and one which helps to add body when used in a blend. More and more growers are releasing stand-alone expressions which offer a delicate scent of pink petals, plum and strawberry. Wonderful when married with oak, Tempranillo is also known as Tinta del Pais, Cencibel and Tinto Roriz. It is often referred to as Spain’s ‘Noble Grape’.

Tinta del Pais

Otherwise known as Tempranillo, this is the grape that made Rioja and Ribera del Duero famous and one which helps to add body when used in a blend. More and more growers are releasing stand-alone expressions which offer a delicate scent of pink petals, plum and strawberry. Wonderful when married with oak, Tinta del Pais is also known as Cencibel and Tinto Roriz. It is often referred to as Spain’s ‘Noble Grape’.

Torrontes

An aromatic variety almost completely exclusive to Argentina. Showing attributes similar to a combination of Muscat and Gewurztraminer, it is ripe, full of mandarin, peach and pear flavours with a faintly spiced character. No oak is used to help retain Torrontes’ fine aromatic profile, with the Salta region in north-west Argentina particularly noted for its high quality as the grape thrives in its cold, dry, windswept conditions.

Verdelho

A Portuguese grape variety, Verdelho is most famous as being one of the main varieties used in the production of Madeira. An early-ripening variety, more recently it has found a new home in South Australia where significant plantings in Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale have introduced the world to an Aussie take on the variety. Lime flavours with hints of honeysuckle with age, Verdelho offers a delightfully round and rich mouthfeel.

White Blend

A combination of varieties said to produce a more rounded or complete expression of the vineyard or estate. Some of the very greatest wines in the world are blends, including red and white Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Champagne.

Zinfandel

Originally thought to have Italian origins, Zinfandel is a variety ubiquitous in California. From the semi-sweet blush wines through to high impact expressions such as Geyserville from Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel’s spicy richness and deeply concentrated black berry fruit flavours tick so many boxes. Its ease of oak aging lends additional mocha and vanilla notes to many releases. It could quite feasibly offer the greatest barbeque tie-in of all time! Old vine examples add depth to the flavour profile and value for money can often be found off the beaten track.

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