Marks and Spencers Wine

Grape Varieties

The problem with learning is that we all want to know more about wine, or anything for that matter, but we haven’t the time, can’t retain the knowledge, tired after a day’s work or get bored along the way!

Wine angel is here to help you retain this knowledge. We need to develop a relationship with wine; learn, nurture, trust our instinct and know what we are drinking. And the best way to start is by learning the main grape varieties in this simple format, to help you remember this important and useful information.

Pick a grape a week and learn it this way and I think you will be surprised by the results…your brain will remember the pneumonic GRAPE, so when you need to recall a flavour, region or piece of information when, for example, looking at a wine list or tasting a wine, you will be able to access this information much easier and remember so much more. 

Each grape is set out in the following format to help you. Click on each grape variety on the right hand side and get learning! So, no more picking up wine books and making your head spin – we can all become wine connoisseurs before our very eyes!

Grape Varieties

There are literally hundreds of different grape varieties, and consumer recognition of each individual variety is becoming more evident as we become more knowledgeable and more aware of what we buy. People recognise grape variety e.g. Chardonnay, Shiraz; over styles, producers or particular vineyards. That is why New World wines(e.g. Australian), ‘brand’ grape varieties as they state these clearly on their bottles. This gives the consumer much more information. So, quite clearly, the best place to start to learn about wine is by learning your grape varieties!

You have to learn different types of grapes to know and recognise different types of wine. There will be no more asking for a ‘glass of red wine’…that’s like asking for some food and not specifying what you would like! We have all done it?!

Grape varieties are one big family, and are connected genetically e.g. The mummy and daddy of Cabernet Sauvignon are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc!

Grapes are like people…many different types, connected via family or friends, displaying all types of strengths and weaknesses; some combine well and are better together than alone. Others hold their own and others are only suited to particular homes and climates, where others travel the world!

International Grape Varieties

Thus named ‘international’ as this list of main grape varieties are grown all across the world. Unfortunately, many wine regions have ripped up vineyards of their ‘local varieties’ in favour of these grapes to meet the consumer demand for recognisable grape varieties e.g. Chardonnay.

Each grape has a classic flavour, however each varietal will taste slightly different depending on where it is grown e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Bordeaux vs. California Napa Valley; climate, soil, style, blending with other grapes and many other factors. This is where the French discuss ‘terroir’.

Terroir is the magic factor which is based on many factors such as geographical position, aspect, climate, soil type and a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ which can allow a vineyard to produce an outstanding wine in comparison to a mediocre wine from the same grape grown and produced in another vineyard..even if it is next door!

Red International Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz

White International VarietiesChardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Gewurztraminer

Note: Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. Named Syrah in Old World regions and Shiraz in New World regions.

Regional Grape Varieties

These are grape varieties indigenous to a particular area, e.g. Tempranillo in Spain, Pinotage in South Africa. These are, however, gaining more and more appeal and are being grown in foreign wine regions as they offer an additional range of flavours, aromas, and characteristics than the international varieties. They are used to produce single varietal wines or are blended with international grapes to portray its distinct qualities and to complement the other grapes used in each blend.

To widen your wine knowledge and palate, try and taste as many of these regional varieties as possible and you may find your favourite grape variety!

Here is a simplistic table of the most common regional varieties, where they are originally grown and the classic taste. Of course, the flavours and styles change depending on producer and region. There are literally hundreds of Regional grape varieties; this is just a taster of the vast world of grapes that awaits you!

Regional Grape Colour Main Origins Classic Taste
Alvarinho/Albariño White Spain and Portugal Aromatic, light, green apple or peachy.
Cabernet Franc Red Loire Valley, France and NE Italy Blackcurrant and grassy
Chenin Blanc White Loire Valley, France; South Africa and California Honey and fruity jam.
Gamay Red Burgundy, France; Loire Valley, France; Switzerland Very fruity, fragrant and light
Grenache Red Southern Rhône Valley, France and Spain Peppery and sweet
Mourvèdre Red Southern France and Spain Blackberry, farmyard, leather and earth-like
Muscat Blanc White France, Italy, Australia and Spain Grapey and flowery
Nebbiolo Red Italy Dried fruit, tar and roses
Pinotage Red South Africa Highly tannic, spicy, berry fruit, meaty and bananas
Pinot Blanc White Alsace, France and Italy Vanilla, cream and citrus fruit
Pinot Gris White Alsace, France and Italy Honey and smoky
Sangiovese Red Italy Cherry fruit to earthy prunes with age
Tempranillo Red Spain Strawberries, leather and tobacco
Touriga Nacional Red Portugal Highly tannic, black fruits
Viognier White Rhône Valley, France Aromatic, flowery, apricots and blossom
Zinfandel/Primitivo Red California, USA; Italy Rich, intense, with black fruits and high alcohol levels

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