The type of grape used in winemaking determines the variety of wine produced. Here’s a guide to the classic grape varieties around the world:
Red wine variety found in Italy, France and surrounding Balkan region. Used to make an aromatic, robust varietal wine with moderate aging potential.
Semi-classic grape commonly grown in the Piedmont region and most of northern Italy. 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.
CABERNET FRANC [Cah-burr-NAY Frahnk]
One of the parent grape varieties that gave rise to the Cabernet Sauvignon. Mainly found in cooler, damper climatic conditions than its offspring. Widely grown in the Loire region of southwest France. Bordeaux wines commonly contain a blend of both Cabernet varietal wines, a practice increasingly being followed in California and elsewhere. Wine from these grapes has a deep purple color, when young, with a herbaceous aroma. Just like Cabernet Sauvignon.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON [Cah-burr-NAY Sow-vee-NYOH]
A “noble” grape famous as one of the main varieties, along with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and others used to create the magnificent French Bordeaux region blended red wines. 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 due to high sugar content and, conversely, lower than optimum acid levels in most years and so may tend to age less successfully than the blended french versions. Many other countries have seen their regions develop into prime producers – Argentina, Chile, Italy and New Zealand).
Very limited plantings of this red wine grape are now found in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France where it is used to produce deep red wines occasionally used for blending purposes. The worlds largest vineyard area under cultivation of this variety is now found in the Santiago region of Chile, South America. Some claim that, in Chile, some individual plantings of this variety has been mistakenly labeled as Merlot due to certain similarities.
This variety is the best-known white-wine producer grown in France. The Chardonnay vine is widely planted in the Burgundy and Chablis regions. Hugely successful in many regions of the world due to its mid-season ripening and versatility. Australia and New Zealand have succeeded in producing world-class wines in recent years. In its Burgundy, France it’s homeland, Chardonnay was for the sole vine responsible for all of the finest white Burgundy. In the late 20th century however, it was transplanted in most of the worlds wine regions – where varietal labeling has become the norm.
CHENIN BLANC [SHEN-ihn, BLAHN]
A widely grown white-wine producing variety, known as Steen in South Africa, Pineau de la Loire in the Loire region of France and under the alias name White Pinot (Pinot Blanco) elsewhere in the world. Often made in a number 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.
Grown in the Piedmont region of Italy and used to make both dry and spumante-style sweet red wines. (Sparking wine)
At least three different vitis vinifera grape species are permitted to use the term “Gamay” as their label-specified variety in the U.S.A. The Gamay Noir, Gamay Beaujolais and Napa Gamay. At one time or another each one was thought to be the true Pinot Noir variety of Burgundy before it was determined that many cepage clones existed.
GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS [Gah-MAY, Bo-zho-LAY]
According to investigations by Dr. Olmo of Davis U. the Gamay Beaujolais variety 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.
Alternate name for the Grenache grape in Spain.
A clone of the parent Traminer variety. Widely grown, having literally dozens of synonym names in various countries including Traminer Rot. Best known as one of the mainstay grape varieties for which the french Alsace region is famous the popular Gewürztraminer 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 – 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. – (where it ripens in late September) – Australia and New Zealand. In Australia the variety is also known under several alias names. Among these are Traminer Musque, Gentil Rose Aromique and Red Traminer. Cool climate growers should be aware that, in addition to quite large successful plantings of the above variety, a well-regarded cross named Traminette, developed by Cornell University in the U.S.A over the last 30 years, is currently very successfully cultivated on small commercial acreages in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and several other cool northern regions of the USA.
Also confusingly known under the synonym names Alicante in the south of France and Guarnaccia in the Ischia DOC, Campania, Italy. It should not be confused with the shortened name for the late nineteenth century cross Alicante Bouschet. Grenache is currently widely grown in Spain, (where it is known under the name Garnacha), the south of France and also in California. Is now believed to be descended from the grape named Cannonau, an ancient variety widely grown in Sardinia. It is the main grape used in the red wine blend known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and, along with the Mourvèdre, 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 pale red wines that are mainly useful for blends. Older vines give juice that produces a creditable varietal. Often “hot” due to high alcohol content and with a distinctive orange colored tint. Also used to make some of the better rosé wines of Provence in southern France.
(JOHANNISBERG) RIESLING [yoh-HAHN-ihss-berk, REES-ling]
(aka White Riesling in New York state (USA), Ontario and British Columbia (Canada), Riesling in Germany, Rheinriesling in Austria, Riesling Renano in Italy and Rhine Riesling in Australia). A white-wine producer variety widely grown along the Rhine river and tributaries – (e.g: Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Mosel, Nahe regions etc.) – in Germany and also in other cool 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 “Spätlese” 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. and the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada produce excellent dry versions in the Mosel and Alsation styles in addition to consistent freezing temperature extracted juice made into “ice-wine”, “eiswein”.
Semi-classic grape grown in the Bordeaux region of France and in other areas under the names Médoc Noir, Côt or Pressac, while in the Alsace it has the local name Auxerrois. Also grown in the cooler regions of California. The vine is widely planted in Argentina where it is being used to produce very popular varietal wines. As a varietal it creates a rather intense, inky, red wine so it is also commonly used in blends, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to create the renowned red French Bordeaux “claret” blend. In California and other areas it is increasingly being used for the same blending purpose.
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, with mid-late ripening. Moderate cold-hardiness. 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. Results in the Finger Lakes region of N.Y., where it ripens in early October, have been mixed due its relative lack of cold-hardiness and the fruit subject to bunch rots. Recently some have claimed that many of the labeled Chilean varietal wines are actually of the Carmenère variety. Other countries such as Argentina and New Zealand also seem to have a suitable climate for this variety.
Another 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, Muscadel, Moscato di Canelli. These clones are mostly used for making medium-sweet and dessert style table or fortified wines. Small acreages of Orange Muscat in the Central Valley of California allow a local variation of this wine to be made by at least one producer, a situation that also occurs in Australia. Hot climate producers of sparkling wines often use the various Muscat grape clones to create wines in the style of Italian Spumante.
Grape responsible for the long-lived, fine red wines of the Piedmont region of Italy. The role of honor includes traditionally vinified “Barolo”, “Gattinara”, “Barbaresco” and “Ghemme”; all huge, tannic wines that at their best can take decades to mature.
PETITE SIRAH [peh-TEET sih-RAH]
Historically has been something of a “mystery” vine. When first imported into California this variety somehow acquired the subject name possibly as a result of a labeling error confusing it with Petite Syrah. Traditional Californian wine blends under the name of Petite Sirah produce dark red, tannic wines in the warmer regions of California, used mainly as backbone for Central Valley “jug” wines. In the cooler northern regions, where many very old vines still exist, it is often made into a robust, balanced red wine of considerable popularity.
PINOT NOIR [pee-noh NWAHR]
The premier grape of the Burgundy region of France, producing a red wine that is lighter in color than the Bordeaux reds such as the Cabernet’s or Merlot. It has proved to be a capriciously acting and difficult grape for N. American wineries, best results being obtained in cool, fog-liable regions such as the Carneros region of northern California. The worlds best “quality” wines are reputed to result from a mixing of suitable clones; a common practice in Burgundy, France. Cherished aromas and flavors often detected in varietal wines include cherry, mint, and raspberry.
PINOTAGE [pee-noh TAHJ]
This grape has been widely grown and successful in South Africa since its release in 1925. Also currently grown in Brazil, Canada, California (USA), Virginia (USA) and Zimbabwe. Also grown in some quantity on New Zealand’s North Island where it is used to produce flavorsome, early-maturing wines that are considerably less concentrated or complex than South African versions.
PINOT GRIGIO [pee-noh GREE-zOH”]
Synonym name of the Pinot Gris where grown in Italy. Planted extensively in the Venezia and Alto-Adige regions where it can produce crisp, dry wines with good acid “bite”.
PINOT GRIS [pee-noh GREE]
Mutant clone of Pinot Noir. Has several synonym names in France, eg. Fromentau in the Languedoc, Malvoisie in the Loire or Pinot Beurot in the Burgundy region where it is selectively used in blends because it produces high sugars. In Germany and Austria it is known as the Ruländer or Grauer Burgunder where it is used to make pleasant, young, white wines in the southern regions. Similar aliases are used in the german settled regions of Australia. In northeastern Italy it is known as Pinot Grigio. 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 – (not to be confused with the Hungarian Furmint grape used to make the famous “Tokaji” sweet wines). Also grown in western coastal regions of the U.S.A. where it ripens earlier than Chardonnay.
Also known as the Weisser Riesling. Premier white wine grape of Germany and Alsace, known as Rheinriesling in Austria and Riesling Renano in Northern Italy. (See (Johannisberg) Riesling above).
(Pronounced “sahn-joe-veh-zeh”). 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, also known under the historical synonym name Sangioveto, used for standard Chianti Classico DOC wines. Old vine derived wine is often used in the better versions, needing several years aging to reach peak. A third clone, Morellino, is used in a popular wine blend with the same name found in the southern part of the province. Recent efforts in California with clones of this variety are very promising, producing medium-bodied reds with rich cherry or plumlike flavors and aromas.
SAUVIGNON BLANC [SOH-veen-yown, blahnk]
Classic white-wine producer variety commonly planted in the Bordeaux and eastern Loire regions of France. Shows vigorous growth and is late maturing. Members of the cépage are now thought to be descendants of the ancient Fié variety once common in the Loire region of France. The sauvignon cépage apparently derives the latter part of its name from the color of its skin. Other members include the recent – (4-97) – genetic parental link to Cabernet Sauvignon and other mutations known as the Sauvignon Noir, Sauvignon Jaune and Sauvignon Rose. The last named grape is also known as Sauvignon Gris. In the Styria region of Austria the variety is occasionally referred to as the Muskat-Sylvaner. All versions of the cépage show a tendency towards a grassy, herbaceous flavor in the grapewine, often referred to as “gooseberry” by professional tasters, 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.
Classic grape widely grown in the Bordeaux region of France and 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. Australian grapes, particularly those grown in the Hunter Valley region where the fruit has also been historically known as Hunter (River) Riesling, are famous for producing dry and sweet wines from this varietal that will age admirably for 20 to 30 years. Another alias name used for this variety is Boal/Bual in its incarnation as one of at least four varieties using the same name for use in fortified wines on the island of Madeira. Back in France, it has the synonym names Chevrier, Columbier, Malaga and Blanc Doux. Those grown in South Africa, where the grape is known as the Green Grape and also as Semillion, have not fared so well in popular favor and are not extensively planted at present. 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. In the past it was also known under the alias name Hermitage.
A grape variety associated with the Rhone Valley region of France, famous for creating “Hermitage” red wine. In southern France some regard the grape as taking two forms, the Grosse Syrah and Petite Syrah, distinguished only by berry size. Experts reject this distinction but it has in the past led some wine producers in North and South America to mistake California vineyard plantings of Petite Sirah, which produces a very dark red and tannic wine judged simple in comparison to the true Rhone Syrah, as the latter grape. DNA analysis has now shown (Meredith C.P., et al., “Am. J. Enol. Vitic.” 50(3): 236-42 1999) there is in fact a probable cross-variety relationship. In the cooler regions of Australia a (presumed) clone of the Rhone variety, once known as the Scyras, is grown very successfully and now known as Shiraz. In the state of California, depending on location, vintage or fermentation technique, the grape is used to either produce a spicy, complex wine or a simple wine. Considerable acreage is grown in South Africa, and also in Argentina where it has historically been called the Balsamina grape until the late 1960’s.
Fine winegrape used in best quality red wines of Spain. Also known under the alias name of Cencibel in La Mancha and as Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. Has over thirty synonym names listed in the Geilweilerhof database (see above). Some other reported versions that exist are the Tinto Fino of the Zamora region, Tinta del Pais of the Ribero del Duero and Tinta de Toro in the Toro region. In Portugal the grape is known as the (Tinta) Roriz and Aragonez. Large acreages are grown in Argentina. Also found in the Central Valley of California where it is known as Valdepeñas and mainly used to make grapejuice much favored by home-winemakers sold under the “Valdepenas” name in N. America.
Still grown in France, where it is better known as Savagnin Blanc, and in California but almost everywhere else has been largely replaced by its much more intense and aromatic offspring Gewürztraminer clonal variety. The subject name is still used in Australia as an alias name for Gewürztraminer and, confusingly, is also known there under the synonym name Savagnin Rose.
Alternate name for Ugni Blanc grape – see below. Has many mutations/sub-varieties such as Procanico etc where found in Tuscany and Umbria, Italy.
Semi-classic white grape variety grown in the Rhone Valley, France and California. 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 wine can vary from almost Riesling-like character to almost Chardonnay character, depending on production method, but is not noted for aging ability and is best drunk while young. Recently planted small commercial acreages in the eastern Finger Lakes region of New York state are now yielding enough grapes to allow one winery to make limited amounts of varietal wine.
An important grape variety, also thought to be the variety once known as Black St. Peter in early 19th century California lore, currently grown in California and used to produce robust red wine as well as very popular “blush wines” called “white Zinfandel”. The oldest vines found in the Dry Creek and Amador regions are notable for their ability to produce superior juice; eg. the “Bevill-Mazzoni” clone from the Dry Creek appellation was recently reported (7/2000) as yielding excellent results even as a young vine. Zinfandel is noted for the fruit-laden, berry-like aroma and prickly taste characteristics in its red version and pleasant strawberry reminders when made into a “blush” wine. While its origins are not clear it has been positively identified, via DNA analysis at UC Davis (California), as the Primitivo (di Gioia), a variety grown in Apulia, southern Italy. According to an Italian report of 1996 the latter variety may have a relationship to members of the Vranac variety cépage grown in Montenegro, the state that, combined with Serbia, constitutes what remains of the former Yugoslavia. Other contenders were certain mutated members of the Mali Plavac, (a.k.a Plavac Mali), cépage varieties which are mainly grown in the coastal area known as Dalmatia, a province of Croatia recently a part of the former Yugoslavia and located just across the Adriatic sea from the shores of Italian Apulia. Research is presently (7/98) underway to explore possible relationships. The origin of the grapename “Zinfandel” in California is currently not known but is thought by some to be a corruption of Zierfandler, a completely unrelated white variety still grown in the Balkan region of Europe. It has been noted that mid-19th century catalogs mention a red (ie. “roter”) mutation of that variety. A plausible hypothesis is that a naming error arose due to attribution and shipping mistakes made during unreliable early-19th century transport and handling to New World destinations.