Varietals

We're going to share some of the best resources that we've found, online and offline, to learn about varietals, about where they grow, and about the wines made from them in different regions.Some of the resources are for subscribers only, others are available for free, and we want to be sure our customers have access to the best resources.

Pinot Noir

Wine Spectator ran a series called Great Grapes, it's available to subscribers for their site, and in magazine archives from May 2006. Pinot's article was called Great Grapes: Seduction in a Glass. Burgundy, California, Oregon and New Zealand are the areas best known for Pinot Noir (and though it's planted extensively in Champagne, of course it goes into Champagne).

Chardonnay

Great Grapes from Wine Spectator featured a whole series of articles (subscriber only) on Chardonnay from the most well-known regions. Great to understand how terroir makes a difference.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Great Grapes from Wine Spectator featured a whole series of articles (subscriber only) on Cabernet Sauvignon from the most well-known regions. Great to understand how terroir makes a difference.

Following are descriptions of the most commonly used Vitis vinifera grapes. American wine is also made from native Vitis labrusca,(Niagara, Delaware, Concord, etc.).

 

 

BARBERA(Red) [bar-BEHR-uh]

This grape is successful in Italy's Piedmont region, where it makes such wines as Barbera d'Asti and Barbera d’ Alba. Its wines are characterized by a high level of acidity (meaning brightness and crispness), deep ruby color and full body, with low tannin levels; flavors are berrylike. However, new respect for aging these wines, and a more aggressive stance towards developing serious versions have changed previous thoughts of this grape.  Its main attribute as a blending wine is its ability to maintain a naturally high acidity even in hot climates, like Argentina. The wine has more potential than is currently realized and may stage a modest comeback as Italian-style wines gain popularity.

 

BRUNELLO(Red) [broo-NEHL-oh]

This strain of Sangiovese is the only grape permitted for Brunello di Montalcino, the rare, costly Tuscan red that at its best is loaded with luscious black and red fruits, tobacco notes and chewy tannins.

 

CABERNET FRANC(Red) [cab-er-NAY FRANK]

Increasingly popular as both stand-alone varietal and blending grape, Cabernet Franc is used primarily for blending in Bordeaux, although it can rise to great heights in quality, as seen in the grand wine Cheval-Blanc. In France's Loire Valley it's also made into a lighter wines in Chinon, Bourgeil, and Samur. It is well established in Italy, particularly the northeast, where it is sometimes called Bordolino. California has grown it for more than 30 years, and Argentina, New York, Washington and New Zealand are picking it up.

As a varietal wine, it usually benefits from small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and can be as intense and full-bodied as either of those wines. But it often strays away from currant and berry notes into stalky green vegetable flavors that become more pronounced with age. Given its newness in the United States, Cabernet Franc may just need time to get more attention and rise in quality. This is typically a light to medium-bodied wine with more immediate fruit than Cabernet Sauvignon and some of the herbaceous odors evident in unripe Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

CABERNET SAUVIGNON(Red) [cab-er-NAY SO-vin-yon]

The undisputed king of red wines, Cabernet is a remarkably steady and consistent performer throughout much of the world. While it grows well everywhere, in specific appellations it is capable of rendering wines of uncommon depth, richness, concentration and longevity. Bordeauxhas used the grape since the 18th century,  blending it with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and sometimes Petite Verdot. The Bordeaux model is built around not only the desire to craft complex wines, but also the need to ensure that different grape varieties ripen at different intervals or to give a wine color, tannin or backbone.

Elsewhere in the world Cabernet Sauvignon is as likely to be bottled on its own as in a blend. It mixes with Sangiovese in Tuscany, Syrah in Australia and Provence, and Merlot and Cabernet Franc in South Africa, but flies solo in some of Italy's IGT blends. In the United States., it's unlikely any region will surpass Napa Valley's high-quality Cabernets and Cabernet blends. Through most of the grape's history in California (which dates to the 1800s), the best Cabernets have been 100 percent Cabernet. Since the late 1970s, many vintners have turned to the Bordeaux model and blended smaller portions of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot into their Cabernets. The case for blending is still under review, but clearly there are successes. On the other hand, many U.S. producers are shifting back to higher percentages of Cabernet, having found that blending doesn't add complexity and that Cabernet on its own has a stronger character.

Its classic flavors are currant, plum, black cherry and spice. It can also be marked by herb, olive, mint, tobacco, cedar and anise, and ripe, jammy notes. In warmer areas, it can be supple and elegant; in cooler areas, it can be marked by pronounced vegetal, bell pepper, oregano and tar flavors (a late ripener, it can't always be relied on in cool areas, which is why Germany, for example, has never succumbed to the lure). The best Cabernets start out dark purple-ruby in color, with firm acidity, a full body, great intensity, concentrated flavors and firm tannins. Cabernet has an affinity for oak and usually spends 15 to 30 months in new or used French or American barrels, a process that, when properly executed imparts a toasty cedar or vanilla flavor to the wine while slowly oxidizing it and softening the tannins. Microclimates are a major factor in the weight and intensity of the Cabernets. Winemakers also influence the style as they can extract high levels of tannin and heavily oak their wines.

 

CARIGNAN(Red) [karin-YAN]

Once a major blending grape in Southwest France, this varietal is at its best in the Northeast of Spain, lending chewy, spicy, even gamey notes to the great Priorat and Montsant wines.  California has long abandoned the abuse in blending this grape, yet still gives it space in the vineyard as a hybrid with Cabernet Sauvignon named Ruby Cabernet.  Portions of Italy have used Carignan also, yet it seems Spain and some Chilean wines will do best in the future.  A smaller berry and yield keeps the plantings to a minimum due to economics.

 

CARMENERE(Red) [car-men-YEHR]

Also known as Grande Vidure, this grape was once widely planted in Bordeaux, but is now associated primarily with Chile. Carmenere, along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was imported to Chile around 1850. Carmenere had been mislabeled for so long that many growers and the Chilean government once considered it Merlot; the new Chile has embraced their mistake and branded this grape as a national treasure.  Carmenere always has a slight vegetal note, more of fresh fennel or sausage meats with fennel seed.  Smells of tomato leaves or green peppers can be mistaken for Cabernet Franc yet the sheer mouth weight of good Carmenere will say differently.  In modest versions, it is a light Chilean Cabernet.

 

CHARDONNAY(White) [shar-dun-NAY]

As Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of reds, so is Chardonnay the king of white wines, for it makes consistently excellent, rich and complex whites. This is an amazingly versatile grape that grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world. In Burgundy, it is used for the exquisite whites, such as Montrachet, Meursault and Pouilly-Fuissè, and true Chablis; in Champagne it turns into Blanc de Blancs. Among the many other countries that have caught Chardonnay fever, Australia is especially strong.

Chardonnay was introduced to California in the 1930s but didn't become popular until the 1970s. Areas such as Anderson Valley, Carneros, Monterey, Russian River, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Valley, all closer to cooler maritime influences, are now producing wines far superior to those made a decade ago.

Though there is a Mâconnais village called Chardonnay, no one agrees on the grape's origin.

When well made, Chardonnay offers bold, ripe, rich and intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, peach, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch and hazelnut flavors. Winemakers build more complexity into this easy-to-manipulate wine using common vinification techniques: barrel fermentation, sur lie aging during which the wine is left on its natural sediment, and malolactic fermentation (a process which converts tart malic acid to softer lactic acid). No other white table wine benefits as much from oak aging or barrel fermentation. Chardonnay grapes have a fairly neutral flavor, and because they are usually crushed or pressed and not fermented with their skins the way red wines are, whatever flavors emerge from the grape are extracted almost instantly after crushing. Red wines that soak with their skins for days or weeks through fermentation extract their flavors quite differently.

Because Chardonnay is also a prolific producer that can easily yield 4 to 5 tons of high-quality grapes per acre, it is a cash cow for producers in every country where it's grown. Many American and Australian Chardonnays are very showy, well oaked and appealing on release, but they lack the richness, depth and concentration to age and have in fact evolved rather quickly, often losing their intensity and concentration within a year or two. Many vintners, having studied and recognized this, are now sharply reducing crop yields, holding tonnage down to 2 to 3 tons per acre in the belief that this will lead to greater concentration. The only downside to this strategy is that lower crop loads lead to significantly less wine to sell, therefore higher prices as well.

Chardonnay's popularity has also led to a huge market of ordinary wines, so there's a broad range of quality to choose from in this varietal. There are a substantial number of domestic Chardonnays, which can range from simple and off-dry to more complex and sophisticated. The producer's name on the wine, and often its price, are indicators of the level of quality.

 

CHENIN BLANC(White) [SHEN'N BLAHNK]

This native of the Loire valley has two personalities: at home it's the basis of such famous, long-lived whites as Vouvray and Anjou, Quarts de Chaume and Saumer, but on other soils it becomes just a very good blending grape. It is South Africa's most-planted grape, though there is called Steen, and both there and in California it is currently used primarily as a blending grape for generic table wines. Chenin Blanc should perform better in California, and someday it may. It can yield a pleasant enough wine, with subtle melon, peach, spice and citrus notes. The great Loire whites vary from dry and fresh to sweet, depending on the vintage and the producer. In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is even used for fortified wines and spirits.

 

DOLCETTO(Red) [dole-CHET-to]

Almost exclusive to northwest Piedmont, this produces soft, round, fruity wines fragrant with licorice and almonds that should be drunk within about three years. It's used as an economic safety net for producers of Nebbiolo and Barbera wines, which take much longer to age. There are seven DOCs: Acqui, Alba, Asti, Dinao d'Alba, Dogliani, Langhe Monregalesi and Ovada.

 

GAMAY(Red) [ga-MAY]

Beaujolaismakes its famous, fruity reds exclusively from one of the many Gamays available, the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. Low in alcohol and relatively high in acidity, the wines are meant to be drunk soon after bottling; the ultimate example of this is Beaujolais Nouveau, whipped onto shelves everywhere almost overnight. It is also grown in the Loire, but makes no remarkable wines. The Swiss grow it widely, for blending with Pinot Noir (Dole); these wines often need chaptalization. California, meanwhile, grows a variety called Gamay Beaujolais, a high-yield clone of Pinot Noir that makes undistinguished wines in most places where it's grown. In the United States the grape is used primarily for blending, and acreage is declining, as those serious about Pinot Noir are using superior clones and planting in cooler areas.

 

GEWüRZTRAMINER(White) [geh-VERTS-trah-mee-ner]

Gewürztraminer can yield magnificent wines, as is best demonstrated in Alsace, France, where it is made in to a variety of styles from dry to off-dry to sweet. The grape needs a cool climate that allows it to get ripe. It's a temperamental grape to grow and vinify, as its potent spiciness can be overbearing when unchecked. At its best, it produces a floral and refreshing wine with crisp acidity that pairs well with spicy dishes. When left for late harvest, it's uncommonly rich and complex, a tremendous dessert wine.

It is also popular in Eastern Europe, New Zealand, New York and the Pacific Northwest.

 

GRENACHE(Red) [greh-NAHSH]

Drought- and heat-resistant, it yields a fruity, spicy, medium-bodied wine with supple tannins. The second most widely planted grape in the world, Grenache is widespread in the southern Rhône. It is blended to produce Châteauneuf-du-Pape (although there are some pure varietals) and used on its own for the rosès of Tavel and Lirac; it is also used in France's sweet Banyuls wine. Important in Spain, where it's known as Garnacha, it is especially noteworthy in Rioja and Priorato. Grenache used to be popular in Australia through the 1960’s, but has now been surpassed by Syrah; a few Barossa Valley producers are making wines similar to the Rhone Valley. In California it may make a comeback as enthusiasts of Rhône style seek cooler areas and an appropriate blending grape.

Grenache Blanc, known in Spain as Garnacha Blanca, is bottled in the Southern Rhône. It's used for blending in France's Rousillon and the Languedoc, and in various Spanish whites, including Rioja.

 

GRüNER VELTLINER(White) [GROO-ner VELT-linner]

The most widely planted grape in Austria, it can be found to a lesser extent in some other parts of Eastern Europe. It achieves its qualitative pinnacle in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions along the Danube River west of Vienna. Gruner, as it's called for short, shows distinct white pepper, tobacco, lentil and citrus flavors and aromas, along with high acidity, making it an excellent partner for food. Gruner is singularly unique in its flavor profile, and though it rarely has the finesse and breeding of the best Austrian Rieslings (though it can come close when grown on granite soils), it is similar in body and texture.

 

MALBEC(Red) [MAHL-beck]

Once important in Bordeauxand the Loire in various blends, this not-very-hardy grape has been steadily replaced by Merlot and the two Cabernets. However, Argentina is markedly successful with this varietal due to good drainage and great sunlight. The rich cocoa notes and deep colors would belie the old world versions that had been around for centuries from towns such as Cahors.  In the United States Malbec is a blending grape only, but a few Washington wineries use it, the most obvious reason being that it's considered part of the Bordeaux-blend recipe.

 

MARSANNE(White) [mahr-SANN]

This grape is at home in the Rhône (along with Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier). Australia, especially in Victoria, has some of the world's oldest vineyards. The northern Rhone has all but forbidden it as a blending grape, as it tends to overproduce, leave little acidity, and smell of Elmer’s glue.  At its best, Marsanne can be a full-bodied, moderately intense wine with spice, pear and citrus notes.

 

 

 

MERLOT(Red) [mur-LO]

Merlot is the red-wine success of the 1990s: its popularity has soared along with its acreage, and it seems wine lovers can't drink enough of it. It dominates Bordeaux, except for the Medoc and Graves. Though it is mainly used for the Bordeaux blend, it can stand alone. In St.-Emilion and Pomerol, especially, it produces noteworthy wines, culminating in Château Petrus. In Italy it's everywhere, though most of the Merlot is light, unremarkable stuff. But Ornellaia and Fattoria de Ama are strong exceptions to that rule. Despite its popularity, its quality ranges only from good to very good most of the time, though there are a few stellar producers found around the world.

Several styles have emerged. One is a Cabernet-style Merlot, which includes a high percentage (up to 25 percent) of Cabernet, similar currant and cherry flavors and firm tannins. A second style is less reliant on Cabernet, softer, more supple, medium-weight, less tannic and features more herbs, cherry and chocolate flavors. A third style is a very light and simple wine; this type's sales are fueling Merlot's overall growth.

Like Cabernet, Merlot can benefit from some blending, as Cabernet can give it backbone, color and tannic strength. It also marries well with oak. Merlot is relatively new in California, dating to the early 1970s, and is a difficult grape to grow, as it sets and ripens unevenly. Many critics believe Washington State has a slight quality edge with this wine. As a wine, Merlot's aging potential is fair to good. It may be softer with age, but often the fruit flavors fade and the herbal flavors dominate.

 

MOURVEDRE(Red) [more-VAY-druh]

As long as the weather is warm, Mourvèdre likes a wide variety of soils. It's popular across the south of France, especially in Provence and the Côtes-du-Rhône, and is often used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is the M of the growing popular GSM blends in New World countries. Languedoc makes it as a varietal, Spain uses it in many areas (Monastrell), and Australia names it Mataro. In the United States it's a minor factor now, pursued by a few wineries that specialize in Rhône-style wines. The wine can be pleasing, with medium-weight, spicy cherry and berry flavors and moderate tannins. It ages well.

 

MUSCAT(White) [MUSS-kat]

Known as Muscat, Muscat Blanc and Muscat Canelli, it is marked by strong spice and floral notes and can be used in blending, its primary function in California. Moscato in Italy, Moscatel in Iberia: This grape can turn into anything from the low-alcohol, sweet and frothy Asti Spumante and Muscat de Canelli to bone-dry wines like Muscat d'Alsace. It also produces fortified wine such as Beaumes de Venise.

 

NEBBIOLO(Red) [NEH-bee-oh-low]

This is the great grape of Northern Italy, which excels there in Barolo and Barbaresco; these are strong, age worthy wines. So muscular that wood is almost a necessity, Nebbiolo also ranks to the bottom of the color chart unless significantly aged.  Stewed plums, almonds, fruitcake and dates can be primary indicators in accessing this grape. As the vines have mutated through inbreeding over the last century, yields have dropped, and the cost of good Nebbiolo skyrocketed, leading to better versions of Piedmont’s other grapes. Mainly unsuccessful elsewhere, Nebbiolo also now has a small foothold in California. So far the wines are light and uncomplicated, bearing no resemblance to the Italian types.

 

PETITE SIRAH(Red) [peh-TEET sih-RAH]

Known for its dark hue and firm tannins, Petite Sirah has often been used as a blending wine to provide color and structure, particularly to Zinfandel. On its own, Petite Sirah can also make intense, peppery, age worthy wines, but few experts consider it as complex as Syrah itself.

There has been much confusion over the years about Petite Sirah's origins. Petite Sirah is believed to actually be Durif, a grape variety from Portugal and Old-School France. A study done at the University of California at Davis determined not only that 90 percent of the Petite Sirah found in California is indeed Durif, but also that Durif is a cross between Peloursin and Syrah.

 

PINOT BLANC(White) [PEE-no BLAHNK]

Often referred to as a poor man's Chardonnay because of its similar flavor and texture profile, Pinot Blanc is used in Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, Italy and California and can make a terrific wine. When well made, it is intense, concentrated and complex, with ripe pear, spice, citrus and honey notes. Can age, but is best early on while its fruit shines through. Pinot Blanc is also available as a blended, pedestrian wine in too many markets.

 

PINOT GRISor PINOT GRIGIO (White) [PEE-no GREE or GREE-zho]

Known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, where it is mainly found in the northeast, producing quite a lot of undistinguished dry white wine and Collio's excellent whites. As Pinot Gris, it used to be grown in Burgundy and the Loire, though it has been supplanted, but it comes into its own in Alsace—where it's previously known as Tokay. Southern Germany plants it as Ruländer. When good, this varietal is soft, gently perfumed and has more color than most whites. The Pinot Gris of the new world (Oregon is best) has no resemblance to that of the Italian and Loire variety, as it is more aromatic and richer in the mouth.

 

 

PINOT NOIR(Red) [PEE-no NWA]

Pinot Noir, the great grape of Burgundy, is a touchy variety. The best examples offer the classic black cherry, spice, raspberry and currant flavors, and an aroma that can resemble wilted roses, along with earth, tar, herb and cola notes. It can also be rather ordinary, light, simple, herbal, vegetal and occasionally weedy. It can even be downright funky, with pungent barnyard aromas. In fact, Pinot Noir is the most fickle of all grapes to grow: It reacts strongly to environmental changes such as heat and cold spells, and is notoriously fussy to work with once picked, since its thin skins are easily bruised and broken, setting the juice free. Even after fermentation, Pinot Noir can hide its weaknesses and strengths, making it a most difficult wine to evaluate out of barrel. In the bottle, too, it is often a chameleon, showing poorly one day, brilliantly the next.

The emphasis on cooler climates coincides with more rigorous clonal selection, eliminating those clones suited for sparkling wine, which have even thinner skins. These days there is also a greater understanding of and appreciation for different styles of Pinot Noir wine, even if there is less agreement about those styles—should it be rich, concentrated and loaded with flavor, or a wine of elegance, finesse and delicacy? Or can it, in classic Pinot Noir sense, be both? Even varietal character remains subject to debate. Pinot Noir can certainly be tannic, especially when it is fermented with some of its stems, a practice that many vintners around the world believe contributes to the wine's backbone and longevity. Pinot Noir can also be long-lived, but predicting with any precision which wines or vintages will age is often the ultimate challenge in forecasting. Pinot Noir is the classic grape of Burgundy and also of Champagne, where it is pressed immediately after picking in order to yield white juice. It is just about the only red grown in Alsace. In California, it excelled in the late 1980s and early 1990s and seems poised for further progress. Once producers stopped vinifying it as if it were Cabernet, planted vineyards in cooler climates and paid closer attention to tonnage, quality increased substantially. It's fair to say that California, Oregon and New Zealand  have a legitimate claim to producing world-class Pinot Noir.

 

RIESLING(White) [REES-ling]

One of the world's greatest white wine grapes, the Riesling vine's hardy wood makes it extremely resistant to frost. The variety excels in cooler climates, where its tendency to ripen slowly makes it an excellent source for sweet wines made from grapes attacked by the noble rot Botrytis cinerea, which withers the grapes' skin and concentrates their natural sugar levels.

Riesling is best known for producing the wines of Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Rheingau wines, but it also achieves brilliance in Alsace and Austria. While the sweet German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines, along with Alsace's famed Selection de Grains Nobles, are often celebrated for their high sugar levels and ability to age almost endlessly, they are rare and expensive.

More commonly, Riesling produces dry or just off-dry versions. Its high acidity and distinctive floral, citrus, peach and mineral accents have won dry Riesling many fans. The variety pairs well with food, and has an uncanny knack for transmitting the elements of its vineyard source (what the French call terroir).

The wines from Germany's Mosel region are perhaps the purest expression of the grape, offering lime, pie crust, apple, slate and honeysuckle characteristics on a light-bodied and racy frame. Germany's Rheinhessen, Rheingau and Pfalz regions produces wines of similar characteristics, but with increasing body and spice.

In Alsace, Riesling is most often made in a dry style, full-bodied, with a distinct petrol aroma. In Austria, Riesling plays second fiddle to Gruner Veltliner in terms of quantity, but when grown on favored sites it offers wines with great focus and clarity allied to the grape's typically racy frame.

In other regions, Riesling struggles to maintain its share of vineyard plantings, but it can be found (often under synonyms such as White Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling) in California, Oregon, Washington, New York's Finger Lakes region, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and Canada.

 

SANGIOVESE(Red) [san-geeo-VEHS-eh]

Sangiovese is best known for providing the backbone for many superb Italian red wines from Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as the so-called super-Tuscan blends. Sangiovese is distinctive for its supple texture and medium-to full-bodied spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavors. Also signature is the leaf tobacco and violet nose.  When blended with a grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese gives the resulting wine a smoother texture and lightens up the tannins.  California has dabbled with moderate success emulating their Italian heritage, but it is for certain that the New World has no place when speaking of the wines from Italy made with sangiovese.  Expect sweeping stylistic changes as winemakers learn more about how the grape performs in different locales as well as how it marries with different grapes.

 

SAUVIGNON BLANC(White) [SO-vin-yon BLAHNK]

This is another white with a notable aroma; they can be  "grassy" or “grapefruit”. The pure varietal is found mainly in the Loire, at Sancerre (more mineral) and Pouilly-Fume (more full and rich). New Zealand has had striking success with Sauvignon Blanc, producing its own perfumed, fruity style (ruby red, guava, kiwi, lime) that spread across North America and then back to France.  Many winemakers treat it like in a sort of poor man's Chardonnay, employing barrel fermentation, sur lie aging and malolactic fermentation. But its popularity comes as well from the fact that it is a prodigious producer and a highly profitable wine to make. It can be crisp and refreshing, matches well with foods, costs less to produce and grow than Chardonnay and sells for less.

 

SÉMILLON(White) [SEM-ih-yon]

On its own or in a blend, this white can age. With Sauvignon Blanc, its traditional partner, this is the foundation of Sauternes and most of the great dry whites found in Graves and Pessac-Leognan; these are rich, honeyed wines,. Semillon is one of the grapes susceptible to Botrytis cinerea.  In the United States, Semillon enjoys modest success as a varietal wine in California and Washington, but it continues to lose ground in acreage in California. It can make a wonderful late-harvest wine, and those wineries that focus on it can make well balanced wines with complex fig, pear, tobacco and honey notes. When blended into Sauvignon Blanc, it adds body, flavor and texture.  South Africa has modest success also.

 

SYRAHor SHIRAZ (Red) [sih-RAH or shih-RAHZ]

Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in France, Penfolds Grange in Australia—the epitome of Syrah is a majestic red that can age for half a century. The grape seems to grow well in a number of areas and is capable of rendering rich, complex and distinctive wines, with pronounced pepper, spice, black cherry, tar, leather and roasted nut flavors, a smooth, supple texture and smooth tannins. In southern France it finds its way into various blends, as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Roussillon. Known as Shiraz in Australia, it was long used for bread-and-butter blends, but an increasing number of high-quality bottles are being made, especially from old vines in the Barossa Valley – these tend to be of sweet blackberry jam more than the attributes listed above. In the United States., Syrah's rise in quality is most impressive, with California producing the most and Washington producing the best.

 

TEMPRANILLO(Red) [temp-rah-NEE-yo]

Spain's major contribution to red wine, Tempranillo is indigenous to the country and is rarely grown elsewhere. It is the dominant grape in the red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, two of Spain's most important wine regions. When made in a traditional style, Tempranillo can be garnet-hued, with flavors of tea, brown sugar and vanilla. Red currants and cherries of all colors can be found.  When made in a more modern style, it can display aromas and flavors redolent of plums, tobacco and cassis, along with very dark color and substantial tannins. Whatever the style, Riojas tend to be medium-bodied wines, offering more acidity than tannin. The more modern styled Riberas, however, can be quite powerful, offering a density and tannic structure similar to that of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that which quite often it is blended. Tempranillo is known variously throughout Spain as Cencibel, Tinto del Pais, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre and Ojo. To date there are at least 400 names for this grape.

 

TREBBIANOor UGNI BLANC (White) [treh-bee-AH-no or OO-nee BLAHNK]

This is Trebbiano in Italy and Ugni Blanc in France. It is tremendously prolific; low in alcohol but high in acidity, it is found in almost any basic white Italian wine. Most current Tuscan producers do not add it to their wines, although in the 20th century it was allowable in even the best Chiantis.  Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was found to be this Ugni Blanc in the 1990’s and well explains the differences in taste. The French have used it for Cognac and Armagnac brandy; Ugni Blanc grapevines outnumbered Chardonnay by five to one in France during the '80s.

 

VIOGNIER(White) [vee-oh-NYAY]

Viognier, the rare white grape of France's Rhône Valley, is one of the most difficult grapes to grow, But fans of the floral, spicy white wine are thrilled by its prospects in the south of France and the new world. So far most of the Viognier produced in the United States are rather one-dimensional, with an abundance of spiciness but less complexity than they should have. True Viognier has a weight of lanolin and a peach pit bitterness that accentuates the great spice; many are lacking this and sometimes acidity.  Still, there are a few bright spots.  It is used in Condrieu's rare whites and sometimes blended with reds in the Northern Rhône (although Australia finally began this blending recently too).

 

 

ZINFANDEL(Red) [ZIHN-fan-dell]

The origins of this tremendously versatile and popular grape are Croatian, although it is often regaled as the cousin of Primitivo from Italy. It is the most widely planted red grape in California. Much of it is vinified into white Zinfandel, a blush-colored, slightly sweet wine. Real Zinfandel, the red wine, is the quintessential California wine. It has been used for blending with other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. It has been made in a claret style, with berry and cherry flavors, mild tannins and pretty oak shadings. It has been made into a full-bodied, ultraripe, intensely flavored and firmly tannic wine designed to age. And it has been made into late-harvest and Port-style wines that feature very ripe, raisiny flavors, alcohol above 15 percent and chewy tannins.  Zinfandel's popularity among consumers fluctuates. Zinfandel is enjoying another groundswell of popularity, as winemakers took renewed interest, focusing on higher-quality vineyards in areas well suited to Zinfandel. Styles aimed more for the mainstream and less for extremes, emphasizing the grape's zesty, spicy pepper, raspberry, cherry, wild berry and plum flavors, and its complex range of tar, earth and leather notes. Zinfandel lends itself to blending. Zinfandel is a challenging grape to grow: its berry size varies significantly within a bunch, which leads to uneven ripening. Because of that, Zinfandel often needs to hang on the vine longer to ripen as many berries as possible. Closer attention to viticulture and an appreciation for older vines, which tend to produce smaller crops of uniformly higher quality, account for better balanced wines.