Decoding Wine Words: Grape Varietals (Part 2)

red_grapes_1In case you missed it, a few weeks ago we posted about decoding white grape varietals. Today we are adding the part two we promised about red grapes. To recap from the last article…

A grape varietal is literally a subspecies of grape that is made into wine. In some parts of the world, wines are named after grape varieties (America, Australia) and in others wines are named after regions (Europe). In general, if a wine is named after a grape varietal it must consist of at least 85% of that grape.  It is also illegal and/or highly discouraged to use names of traditional places for a name of a wine if the wine was not made there. Good examples of this are Chablis (a region in France, producing mainly Chardonnay) and Burgundy (a region in France that was once used to describe Pinot Noir).

Cabernet Franc: Native to France, Cabernet Franc is often found as a component in some of the world’s best blends including Bordeaux. As the ‘father’ to Cabernet Sauvignon (with Sauvignon Blanc) it often plays second fiddle, but in its own right can be one of the most complex and deeply flavored red grapes. Look for good single varietal (non-blended) versions from the Loire Valley, France; California; and Australia. Flavors include bell pepper, black currant, and raspberries.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Also native to France, Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the king of the red grapes in the world. Its full flavor, high tannin, and high alcohol structure has hit a cord with Americans and abroad. Each region makes its own version of the grape, and today it is produced in almost every wine region in the world. A wide range of flavors including black currant, black cherry, plum, and spice.

Malbec: Originally a minor component in the Bordeaux blend, Malbec made a move and a jump in popularity in Argentina. Still being refined in style and structure, the best versions are found in Argentina and Chile. Blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, coffee, and earth.

Merlot: Merlot has had a tricky past. Another component of the Bordeaux blend, especially in the blends made in St-Emilion and Pomerol, Merlot exploded on the California scene in the 1980′s. Blame it on a certain movie (Sideways) or poor quality of production, Merlot was branded the inexperienced wine drinkers wine and became a faux-paus. Premium styles of Merlot express the true flavors of the grape are starting to recover from the unfortunate mass reputation. The best show flavors of plum, chocolate, and dark cherry.

Pinot Noir: The most finicky wine to grow, Pinot Noir can often fetch some of the highest prices in the wine world. Originally from Burgundy, excellent versions of Pinot Noir are now made in Oregon, California, and New Zealand. Pinot Noir, more than any other red grape, expresses its terrior – or region where it is grown. It can have flavors of strawberries, mushrooms, red cherry and earth.

Syrah: Predominately grown in the Rhone region of France, Syrah is now becoming more sought after from consumers. A group of winemakers – called the Rhone Rangers – are popularizing Syrah and other grapes from the Rhone region in California.  Syrah is a versatile grape and can be remarkably different in cool and hot climates. In general, flavors include black cherry, spice, pepper, and leather.

Zinfandel: Zinfandel is a true All-American grape. Virtually all the Zinfandel production in the world is produced in America – most notably California. Little know fact is that Zinfandel is actually the identical twin of an Italian grape, Primitivo. Flavors include raspberry, blueberry, pepper, chocolate, and toffee.

2 Responses to Decoding Wine Words: Grape Varietals (Part 2)

  1. Jules says:

    Great break down. I’ve been obsessed with Zins lately but am trying hard to venture out. So many great varietals out there to true!

    Jules of Canines & Couture

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