Monday, November 23, 2009

Exploring Wines: Part 6, Learning Grape Varieties

It has been awhile since my last "Exploring Wines" post here, and with the holidays coming up I thought it might be helpful to resume this series again with some handy tips. (I recycled this photo from a post in November 2007 because I like it so well). As with all my Exploring Wines posts, I wish to remind you that I do not profess to be a wine expert. I happen to collect wines and enjoy what I consume, and I am definitely not a wine snob either! My motto is: drink what you like. It is handy to have a basic understanding of types of wines and the grapes so when you peruse a wine list you'll have an idea of what they will be like. So much of wine tasting is subjective. But the manner in which grapes are grown (including weather and geography), harvested, aged and blended make a huge difference. The type of grape, or variety usually indicate the typical flavor of a wine. However, there are literally hundreds of hybrids and blends that wine maker use, so nothing is absolute. In addition, winemakers often blend multiple grapes to achieve a particular flavor. The label will usually indicate the type of wine, list the percentages of varieties blended to give an indication of flavor. For today's post, I'll just focus on sharing some information on the grapes. There are some grapes that can be grown anywhere in the world, and others that are more common to a specific region or country. So I've broken these into two groups: International Grapes and Regional Grapes.
International Grapes

The following are varieties of grapes that can be grown in various parts of the world:
Pinot Noir
: (red) Cherry, raspberry, violets, game, mid-ruby hue
Riesling: (white) Aromatic, delicate, racy, expressive, rarely oaked Syrah/Shiraz: (red) Black pepper, dark chocolate, notable color, tanins Cabernet
Sauvignon: (red) Black currant, cedar, high tanins Chardonnay: (white) Broad innoffensive, unless left in oak too long Merlot: (red) plump, soft and plummy flavors Sauvignon Blanc: (white) Grass, green fruits, razor-sharp flavor, not usually oaked Gewurztraminer: (white) Lychee, roses, heady, high alcohol, deep color, full body Semillon: (white) Figs, citrus, lanolin, full body & rich
Muscat Blanc: (white) Grapey, simple, sweet, floral. Regional Grapes
Here are varieties of grapes that typically are more regional. The regions I have called out are either the origin or where they are typicall
y known for being grown. Genache Noir: (red) Pale,can be sweet & spicy, ripe (Mediterranean) Sangiovese: (red) Savory, lively, fruity (Central Italy) Cabernet Franc: (red) refreshing, aromatic, not too heavy (Southwest France/Bordeaux) Tempranillo: (red) berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb. (Spain) Mourvedre: (red) Blackberries, wild, gamey or earthy flavor, with soft red fruit (Provence, France) Nebbiolo: (red) violets, tar, herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles and prunes. (Italy- Piedmont) Zinfandel: (red) warm berry flavors, or blackberry, anise & pepper, depending on climate (Northern California)
: (red) Very dark
and robust, spicy and rich, sometimes gamey (Southwest France/Bordeaux)
Touriga Nacional:
(red) Tannic, black fruits, usually good as a p
ort (Portugal)
: (red) Deep red color, spices, berries, medium bod
y (Bordeaux)
Pinot Gris: (white) flavor varies greatly on origin. Medium to full body, fruity and floral, pungent (Burgundy, France)
Chenin Blanc
: (white) Honey, damp straw scent, very versatile, good for food pairings (Loire, France a
nd S. Africa)
(white) Heady, full-body, hawthorn blossom, apricot, floral and fruity. (France- Rhone)

Pinot Blanc
: (white) Lively, light, similar to Chardonnay. Fruity- apple and melon flavors (Alsace, France)

(white) Almond, marzipan aroma, full-body, also honey, quince, spice & pear
(Rhone, France)
Use this information as a guide, depending on a variety of factors, or blends each wine could have a different taste.
A few examples of actual wines:

* Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Labeled as a Cabernet, but the bottle indicates that
it is a Bordeaux blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. These subtleties give it a complexity in flavor. * Penfolds Grange 2004, Shiraz Primarily a Shiraz/Syrah but also includes 4% Cabernet
* Chateau Cheval Blanc Saint Emilion Bordeau Red 2003 The label indicates that its actually Half Cabernet Franc, half Merlot
* Duckhorn Estate Grown Merlot 2006

It's 86% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc
. The estate grown means that all the grapes used in this wine were from Duckhorn vineyards, and did not buy any grapes from other vineyards. Below is a different Duckhorn label, but you get the idea:

For your convenience, here are links to prior posts on Exploring Wines:
Part 1: Exploring Wines

Part 2: Tasting & Enjoying
Part 3: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Zinfandels
Part 4: Pairing Suggestions with Turkey
Part 5: Key Attributes of Wine
Thanks for stopping by today!
-Rick Rockhill


A Lewis said...

Oh my gosh! My Savior! I'm one of those who know what I like and don't like but have no idea much about appropriate words, phrases, etc when it comes to actually telling someone about it! Thank you so much.

KathyA said...

Wow! Unbelievably informative!

© Karelian Blonde said...

Thank you for posting this! I have always been a Merlot kind a girl but I am very partial to any sweet German/Greek/Spanish white wines.

Wine is a lovely thing to enjoy :)

MeMe said...

What a great blog. I love wines! I prefer the dry wines. Chardonnay, Merlot, and sometimes a Pinot Grigio.

Rhodester said...

Rick, are you planning an "exploring beer" series? I'm feeling left out :-P


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