White Grape Varieties

Aligoté: A thin-skinned white grape grown in Burgundy and Bulgaria. It makes dry wines of moderate alcohol content, but with higher levels of acidity. In exceptionally hot years the wines can have good weight and richness.

Chardonnay: One of the most popular white wine grapes in the world. It is responsible for producing the greatest white Burgundies and is one of the three major grape types used in Champagne. The wines vary from the light fresh unoaked wines from cooler climes through to the rich, fat, tropical fruit examples from the New World.

Chenin Blanc: This grape has a good acidity level, thin skin and a high natural sugar level, making it suitable for either sparkling or sweet wines, although some dry wines are also made from it, notably from the Loire, South Africa and Australia.

Gewürztraminer: Produces very aromatic wines, often described as spicy, but the complex bouquet can range from a grapey aroma through to a pungent peppery nature. It grows best in cooler climates where a better level of acidity is assured. These rich wines are normally dry although there are several Vendange Tardive (late harvest) versions, especially in Alsace, which can be both rich and sweet.

Muscadelle: No relation to the Muscat grape, although it does have a distinctively musky bouquet. Used in small quantities in Bordeaux, it adds a distinctive, lingering after-smell to some white wines. Also known as Tokay in Australia (no relation to the European Tokay) where it is used to produce a very sweet and rich liqueur wine.

Muscat: Known for its distinctive orangey and musky aroma and pronounced grapey flavour. The wines produced range from dry to sweet, still to sparkling and fortified.

Pinot Blanc: most successfully grown in Alsace, where it produces light, fruity and mostly dry wines.Pinot Gris/Tokay: Another grape perhaps most successfully grown in Alsace, where it can produce rich, succulent wines of great complexity and quality. It also produces many sweet fortified wines throughout the world.

Riesling: One of the classic German grape varieties. It can make wines of such a tremendous fruit-acid ratio as to be in a class of its own. They are typically light in body, low in alcohol, but intensely flavoured and very long lived. Styles range from light and crisp through to rich and sweet. With some bottle age the finest Rieslings develop a zesty almost oily bouquet.

Sauvignon Blanc: A grape variety best defined in the Loire and New Zealand, where it produces characteristically aromatic dry wines with a bouquet often described as gooseberry, elderflower, blackcurrant or cat's pee!

Semillon: Best known for its susceptibility to botrytis or noble rot, a characteristic which lends the grape to the production of the great sweet wines of Sauternes. It is also often found blended with Sauvignon Blanc.

Viognier: An up and coming varietal planted extensively in Southern France and the New World. This aromatic grape reaches its zenith in the great white wines of Condrieu, and Hermitage in the Northern Rhône.

Red Grape Varieties

Cabernet Franc: A variety best known as the grape of Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil in the Loire, It is used extensively in the Bordeaux vineyards where it is often blended with its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Although traditionally associated with the wines of Bordeaux this grape is now one of the most predominant varieties in the world. Rich in colour, bouquet and depth it makes wines of great complexity which age particularly well in wood. The typical blackcurrant flavour develops over time as do the tannins, the trademarks of great Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carignan: Originally a Spanish grape, Carignan is extensively grown in Southern France and is used to blend many of the appellations of the area (Côtes du Rhône, Côtes de Provence).

Cinsault: Another grape which is grown extensively throughout the Southern Rhône, Provence and Languedoc regions. It is used to particularly good effect in Châteauneuf du Pape and the rosés of Provence.

Gamay: The famous grape of Beaujolais (although it is also grown elsewhere) where the wine can be enjoyed very young. However the ten classic crus (e.g. Fleurie, Brouilly etc) produce heavier red wines that can be aged for up to 10 years and produce Pinot Noir varietal traits.

Grenache: Another of the cépages used in the production of Châteauneuf du Pape and other great Rhône wines. It is also grown extensively in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha and is the mainstay of Rioja.

Malbec: Otherwise known as Auxerrois. This is the main grape of the Cahors appellation and is also grown in small quantities in Bordeaux and the Loire. This notoriously tannic grape is now often blended with the softer Merlot in the making of Cahors wines.

Merlot: Predominant in the vineyards of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the Merlot fruit is soft, supple and luscious. It adds a velvety finish to many wines that might otherwise be harsh and is an increasingly popular mono-varietal all over the world.

Pinot Meunier: This is a crucial grape in the production of Champagnes that are destined to be drunk young, because of its upfront fruitiness. It produces a slightly earthy flavour, which means that 100% Pinot Meunier wines are rare.

Pinot Noir: One of the three Champagne grapes and of course the great red grape of Burgundy. At its best Pinot Noir produces some of the greatest and most complex wines in the world, despite its light appearance. Increasingly this grape is being planted throughout the world although arguably no other region has yet come close to the quality of Burgundy.

Syrah/Shiraz: A variety of grape that is grown successfully throughout the world. In Australia, where it is known as Shiraz, it produces rich jammy wines and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Grenache. In France, where it is know as Syrah, some of the best examples are to be found in the Northern Rhône (Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage).

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