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Grape varieties

Appreciating a vineyard’s identity

The variety of grape used in a wine is the factor with the biggest influence on its taste. The choice of grape variety is based on the region it’s grown in, its exposure to the sun, its resistance, its yield and whether it will be blended or not with other varieties.

 

Appreciating the grape varieties with your senses

When a wine is tasted, it is appreciated with the different senses. A wine lover pays attention to grape variety when selecting a bottle because it gives them an idea of the product. A variety’s description is based on the senses, in the order the sense organs—eye, nose and mouth—carry out their task of appreciation.

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Eye

The colour, its intensity and the viscosity are observed.

Nose

The aromas are smelled.

Mouth

The basic flavours (acid, sweet and bitter) are tasted, the aromas appreciated and the texture and tannins (for red wines) acknowledged.

 

In black and white

There are two types of grape: black grapes and white. Each is made up of the same elements, but the colour of their skin is responsible for the colour of the wine. Though white grapes can only produce white wine, black grapes can produce white wine if the skins are separated from the juice.

To find out more, discover the stages of vinification.

 

White grape varieties

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a white grape variety that comes from the village of the same name in the sub-region of the Mâconnais in Burgundy. Known internationally, it is the basis of the great white wines of Burgundy, but has conquered such wine-producing countries as the United States (California), Australia, Chile and Canada.

 

Did you know?
  • Chardonnay is the most widely known variety in the world and is used to create some of the best dry white wines on the planet.
  • Blanc de blanc Champagnes are only produced with Chardonnay.
Characteristics Description
Visual Straw-yellow, to golden when oaked
Olfactory Apple, white fruit, linden, peach, butter, toasted almonds, toast, flint, vanilla
Taste Some are lively and full-bodied with mineral notes, like Chablis, while others, aged in oak casks, have a fatter texture, with notes of butter, almond, toast and vanilla.
Pairings Lively, mineral Chardonnay: raw oysters, seafood platters, pan-fried fish

Oaked Chardonnay: white meats, chicken, fatty fish in cream or mushroom sauce, triple-cream cheese
Growing regions France (Chablis, Côte de Beaune), California, Australia, Chile, Canada

 

Sauvignon

Sauvignon is a variety that originates from the Gironde and the Loire in France (two regions that claim its origin). It makes distinctive wines of great freshness with notes of fruit and herbs. Outside of France, it is marvellously well adapted to the climates of New Zealand, Chile and the United States (California).

 

Did you know?

  • The term Fumé Blanc, used in California and Chile, is a synonym for Sauvignon.
  • Often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle varieties, the Sauvignon grape is used to make sweet wines of the Sauternes, Loupiac, Barsac appellations.
  • It is one of the parents of the famous Cabernet-Sauvignon grape, which derived from a cross long ago between Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Characteristics Description
Visual Light yellow with greenish hues, to straw-yellow and golden when aged in oak casks
Olfactory Citrus fruit, blackcurrant buds, boxwood, kiwi, asparagus, passion fruit, flint, toasted notes
Taste Good acidity, aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, vegetal notes, mineral (flint, chalk)
Pairings Smoked salmon, goat cheeses, shellfish, fried fish, boiled lobster
Growing regions France (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Graves) New Zealand, California
Riesling

Riesling is a white variety with a disputed origin (inhabitants of both the Rhine valley and the Moselle claim it as their own). Highly responsive to its soil, it, more than others, is a variety that reflects the richness of its growing region. Though Germany and Alsace are the variety’s standard-bearers, some very fine vintages can be found in Austria and in certain countries of the new world.

 

Did you know?
  • Certain Rieslings have a distinctive odour of petrol and hydrocarbons.
  • Rieslings are the prime ingredient of the magnificent ice wines of Canada, Germany and Austria, and the basis of late-harvest and Alsace’s Sélection de Grains Nobles wines.
Characteristics Description
Visual Robe with straw hues when young, becoming more deep and golden after a few years in the bottle
Olfactory Linden, hawthorn acacia, lemon peel, peach, green apple, honey
Taste Lively, full-bodied, with fruity and mineral notes
Pairings Dry whites: sushi, sauerkraut, and fish and seafood seasoned with ginger, coriander or lime

Sweet whites: foie gras, fruit salad, crème brûlée
Growing regions France (Alsace), Austria, Germany, Australia, Oregon, Canada, New Zealand
Chenin blanc

Chenin Blanc is a variety that originated in the Loire Valley. Even today, it is ubiquitous in its region of origin, where it produces dry, sweet, very sweet and sparkling whites. Chenin Blanc wines are appreciated for their freshness and have conquered wine-producing countries from Canada to South Africa.

 

Did you know?

  • Chenin Blanc grapes are the basis of the great dry (Savennières, Vouvray) and sweet (Bonnezeaux, Coteaux-du-Layon, Quarts de Chaume) whites of the Loire Valley.
  • Though the Loire is the cradle of the Chenin Blanc, South Africa is its most prolific grower.
Characteristics Description
Visual Light straw colour to golden and even amber nuances
Olfactory Green apple, pear, flowers, chalk. The sweet wines give off aromas of honey, peach, apricot, acacia, quince, barley sugar and brioche.
Taste Extremely vivacious, the best are full-bodied with mineral notes. Dessert wines have the same freshness with an unctuousness and notes of tropical fruit.
Pairings Dry whites: sushi; sauerkraut; fish and seafood seasoned with ginger, coriander or lime

Sweet whites: foie gras, fruit salad, crème brûlée
Growing regions France (Loire Valley), South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
Gewürztraminer

A variety as imposing in name as it is in its richly aromatic blend of exotic fruit, flowers and spices. Very common in Alsace, Gewürztraminer can also be found in Germany, Italy, and, in recent years, the United States and South America.

 

Did you know?

  • The prefix Gewürz (“spice“ in German) in this case means perfume, while Traminer is the botanical ancestor of the Gewürztraminer grape, discovered in the village of Tramin in Tyrolean Italy.
  • The exuberance of Gewürztraminer makes it the ideal complement for Indian food and highly perfumed Thai dishes.
Characteristics Description
Visual Deep colour, with golden hues intensifying in dessert wines
Olfactory Powerful, rose, honey, nutmeg, pink pepper, lychee, orange peel
Taste Highly aromatic with low acidity; aromas tasted are the same types as those smelled.
Pairings Dry wines: Washed-rind cheeses (Munster, Pied-De-Vent); seafood; shellfish; white meats seasoned with coconut milk, coriander, cumin, curry and cinnamon

Sweet wines: sautéed foie gras; lychee, mango and pineapple desserts
Growing regions France (Alsace), Austria, Germany, Italy (South Tyrol), New Zealand, Canada, Australia
Pinot gris

The Pinot Gris vine likes cool, sunny climates, like those of Alsace, its prime growing region. It can also be found in Italy, Germany and Central Europe. Its roundness and perfumed bouquet have persuaded new producing countries to adopt it, particularly New Zealand and the United States.

 

Did you know?

  • It is available in Italy under the name Pinot Grigio.
  • It is a grey variation of Pinot Noir distinguished by the colour of its grapes.
Characteristics Description
Visual Deep golden yellow
Olfactory Honey, spring flowers, spice, mango, apricot, pear
Taste Round, fresh, honeyed, musky and more exotic in Alsace; in Italy it has more minerality.
Pairings White meats, fish, poultry, seafood served with cream sauce, ginger, honey, mushrooms, white fruit
Growing regions France (Alsace), Germany, Italy, New Zealand, United States (Oregon), Austria, Australia

 

Black grape varieties

Cabernet franc

Cabernet Franc grapes can be found in temperate regions such as Bordeaux, where it is often blended with other local varieties, and in the Loire valley. More recently, it has spread to Italy, Canada, the United States and South America. Its red-fruit bouquet is sometimes accompanied with very distinctive vegetal notes.

 

Did you know?

  • Cabernet Franc is part of the extended family of Cabernets, the most famous of which is Cabernet-Sauvignon
  • It is the sole grape variety used in the Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Chinon appellations
Characteristics Description
Visual Light red, to red with glints of violet
Olfactory Strawberry, raspberry, red fruit, plum, liquorice, pepper, violet, leafy, herbal
Taste When vinified alone, as it is in the Chinon or Bourgueil regions, it has a good acidity, and aromas of raspberry, blackcurrant and violet, often accompanied by vegetal notes. It is often blended with Bordeaux, adding notes of spice, liquorice and plum.
Pairings Cold cuts; white meats served with a tomato, mustard or aromatic herb sauce; poultry with red wine; grilled vegetables
Growing regions Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Chinon, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Veneto, Ontario, United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina
Cabernet-Sauvignon

Known worldwide thanks to the fine wines of Bordeaux, Cabernet-Sauvignon grows in nearly every wine-growing region where the heat and the sunshine allow. Its intense black fruit aromas and powerful structure make it a particularly delightful wine and go a long way to explaining its growing popularity.

 

Did you know?

  • Cabernet-Sauvignon is at the heart of the Bordeaux Left Bank’s biggest appellations, such as Pauillac and Margaux.
  • Cabernet-Sauvignon is one of the better known black grape varieties. Worldwide, surfaces planted with Cabernet-Sauvignon come second only to Merlot.
Characteristics Description
Visual Deep purple-red to opaque
Olfactory Blackcurrant, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, plum, spice, liquorice, leather, graphite, cedar, mint
Taste When young, wines made from Cabernet-Sauvignon have aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, liquorice and mint, rounded out with perfumes of chocolate or vanilla when barrel-aged. As they get older, they can develop notes of leather, spice or tobacco.
Pairings Red meat seasoned with pepper, mushrooms, rosemary, mint or a pepper coulis. When it comes from a warm climate and gives off riper fruit aromas, it’s delicious with a slow-cooked tomato sauce.
Growing regions Bordeaux, Languedoc, Spain, Italy, California, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa
Gamay

Highly appreciated for its intense freshness, its quenching power and its aromas of red berries, Gamay is the iconic Beaujolais variety. It grows in the cool and mountainous parts of France, Switzerland and Canada.

 

Did you know?
  • It is the sole grape variety of the Beaujolais appellation and its 10 vintages (Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côtes-de-Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour).
  • It is officially known as black Gamay with white juice because other varieties of Gamay are teinturier varieties, whose darker juices are used to boost the colour of wines.
Characteristics Description
Visual Light red, to ruby red with violet tints
Olfactory Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, banana, peach, violet, iris, rose, jasmine, peony and spice
Taste Generally supple, light and low in tannins. When used in certain Beaujolais vintages (e.g. Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent or Chénas), it can be more robust. Its aromas are always dominated by a beguiling fruitiness and straightforward acidity.
Pairings White meat or poultry accompanied with mustard, delicate fine herbs, red fruit or red fruit sauce, or tomatoes. Also complements meats such as sausages, rillettes or poultry terrines.
Growing regions Beaujolais, Loire Valley, Savoie, Switzerland, Canada.
Pinot noir

Grown in Champagne, Savoy, the Loire Valley and Alsace, Pinot Noir owes its fame to the great wines of Burgundy. The cooler regions of California, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina are also conducive to its growth. It makes delicate wines with complex perfumes of red fruit and spice.

 

Did you know?
  • It is used in certain Champagne blends, especially the Blanc de Noirs.
  • Thanks to the legendary wines it produces in Burgundy, Pinot Noir has conquered the world, and is now grown from Canada to New Zealand.
Characteristics Description
Visual Light red to dark ruby red
Olfactory Cherries, strawberry jam, spice and almond. Over time, it takes on nuances of mushroom and wet earth.
Taste Rarely powerful, Pinot Noir wines are generally marked by great aromatic complexity, supple texture and admirable freshness. When young, they give off aromas of cherry and almond, but after a few years develop notes of spice, leather and undergrowth.
Pairings Braised beef, white meats, duck and wild game birds, or offal seasoned with roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, sweet spices, black pepper, mustard, tarragon or red berries.
Growing regions Burgundy, Loire Valley, Savoie, Champagne, Alsace, Switzerland, United States, New Zealand, Canada.
Malbec

Originally from the region of Quercy, Malbec produces powerful and structured wines with black fruit aromas. Argentina has made Malbec its variety of choice and, with 21,000 hectares planted, has become the world’s largest producer of the variety.

 

Did you know?

  • Malbec is the principal variety of the Cahors appellation, where it is used to make dense, robust wines, and is widely planted in Argentine where it produces more supple wines.
  • It’s known as Côt or Auxerrois in Cahors. In Bordeaux, however, they call it Malbec, and that’s the name it goes by in the rest of the world.
Characteristics Description
Visual Dark red to opaque with violet hues
Olfactory Violet, liquorice, tobacco, plum, blackberry, red and black fruit
Taste Produces generous and quite robust wines with floral, black fruit, blackberry and anise notes.
Pairings Grilled, braised or stewed red meats; roast beef or offal seasoned with mustard, cinnamon, prunes, black olives or roasted or sun-dried tomatoes. Red wine, port or prune-flavoured sauces also go well with it.
Growing regions Cahors, Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Argentina, Chile
Merlot

Though Merlot favours temperate climates, like those of Bordeaux, it’s a versatile variety that can flourish nearly everywhere the vine is grown. It is present in Italy, Spain, Central Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and is as common in North America as it is in South.

 

Did you know?
  • Worldwide, it’s the black variety with the greatest surface planted.
  • In Bordeaux, it’s generally blended with Cabernet-Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but vintages developed solely from Merlot are common in Chile, California and Australia.
Characteristics Description
Visual Ruby red to violet red
Olfactory Raspberry, cherry, prune, blackcurrant, fig, prune, cinnamon, clove, liquorice, tobacco, undergrowth
Taste The source of wines with meaty, fleshy tannins, silky texture and intense fruit aroma. Over time, these aromas develop notes of mushroom, undergrowth, truffle or game.
Pairings Red meats accompanied by anise, fennel, tarragon, mint, black olives, blueberries, prunes, mushrooms, caramelized onions, black cherries or cranberries.
Growing regions Bordeaux, the south-west of France, Languedoc, Italy, California, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
Sangiovese

Sangiovese owes its renown to the great wines of Tuscany, justly famous since the Middle Ages. Common throughout the Italian peninsula, its perfumes of cherry and spice change subtly according to the place it is grown in. It can now be found in the temperate regions of California, where all the refinement of its aromas achieves full expression.

 

Did you know?
  • Sangiovese is the principal variety in the great Tuscan appellations, such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
  • It is grown all over Italy, North and South, which explains the diversity of wines made from it.
Characteristics Description
Visual Ruby red to dark red
Olfactory CWild cherry, fresh fruit, violet, spice. As it ages, it develops aromas of leather and undergrowth.
Taste The source of varied wines, from supple to tannic, and light to robust.
Pairings For the more supple Sangiovese wines, grilled white meats and poultry accompanied with red wine sauce, tomato sauce, or sun-dried tomato pesto. When the wines are more robust, opt for a more flavourful red meat with the same garnishes.
Growing regions Italy, Corsica, United States, Argentina, Australia
Syrah

Syrah is a French variety from the northern part of the Rhône Valley. Because of its aromatic richness and intensity, its production has spread to the southern banks of the Rhône and to the Languedoc, Spain, Australia, the United States, Argentina and Chile, where cool nights and warm, humid days spur its growth.

 

Did you know?

  • The growing region of choice for Syrah is the northern Rhône Valley, and it is the sole variety used in the Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Côte-Rôtie appellations.
  • The name Shiraz is commonly used in Anglo-Saxon countries, and though the Shiraz wines of Australia or South Africa may appear very different from the French Syrah wines, they are made from the same variety of grape.
Characteristics Description
Visual Dark purplish red to dark.
Olfactory Black pepper, cinnamon, blackcurrant, cherry, raspberry, smoky, tar, prune, blackberry, olive, leather, liquorice, violet, cacao.
Taste Medium- to full-bodied, rich in tannins, generally powerful, generous and robust, with a spicy finish.
Pairings Goes well with a wide variety of red meat and game accompanied with black olives, black pepper, mustard, roasted or sun-dried tomatoes or herbs. Wines from warmer regions like Australia can be served with sauces made from red wine, dark chocolate, fruit (prunes, blackberries, blackcurrants) or port.
Growing regions Rhône Valley, Languedoc, Provence, Spain, California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia.
Tempranillo

Tempranillo is the Iberian variety par excellence. It’s grown in both Spain and Portugal, where it produces particularly aromatic and refined wines, but it is quietly expanding into other wine-growing regions such as those of Argentina and Australia.

 

Did you know?
  • Ubiquitous in Spain, Tempranillo is the principal variety of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero appellations.
  • Also grown in Portugal, it’s called Aragonez in the Alentejo and Tinta Roriz in the Douro.
Characteristics Description
Visual Ruby red to dark purple red.
Olfactory Blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, strawberry. Barrel-aging imparts aromas of vanilla and pastry.
Taste Medium- to full-bodied, rich and with some tannins, with low acidity and a velvety texture.
Pairings Offal; stews; braised white and red meats; spicy sausages; grilled meats seasoned with tarragon, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, mushrooms, black olives, roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, or prunes
Growing regions Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, United States