‘In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.’ (Napolean Bonaparte)
The grape or blend of grape varieties used to make a wine is a key factor influencing the style and quality of wine that is produced. There are hundreds of grape varieties that can be used to make wine, but only a small number of these have established a global reputation.
The WSET level 1 Award in wines (which I took at Leiths school of Food and Wine in London) introduces the following principle white and black grape varieties.
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
Chardonnay is one of the most popular and widely planted grape varieties. It’s capable of producing dry wines in a variety of different styles in cool climates. Chardonnay wines are high in acidity, light-to-medium bodied and have green fruit (apple) and citrus (lemon) aromas in warm climates, Chardonnay wines have a medium acidity, and a medium to full body, with stone fruit (peach) and tropical fruit (pineapple, banana) flavours.
Chardonnay is the grape used for the white wines of Burgundy in France. The wines are medium-bodied with high acidity and aromas of citrus 9lemon) and stone fruits (peach). They may also have vanilla notes from maturation in oak. The wines from Chablis come from the coolest part of Burgundy, and have high acidity and a light body with flavours of green fruits (apple) and citrus (lemon). These wines are typically unoaked. Other places well known for producing Chardonnay wines include Australia and California.
Chardonnay can also be used in the making of Champagne, where it’s often blended with Pinot Noir.
(Chardonnay flavours diagram and Acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc produces dry wines that have a pronounced intensity of aromas and refreshing acidity. Sauvignon Blanc wines are medium-bodied and have aromas of green fruit (apple), citrus (lemon, grapefruit) and herbaceous notes (asparagus, green bell pepper, cut grass). They are often fermented in stainless steel tanks and are usually not matured in oak, to retain their characteristic Sauvignon Blanc aromas. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre from France are popular wines made from this variety.
Pinot Grigio is a very popular grape variety that produces wines with high acidity, a light body and simple flavours of pear and lemon. Pinot Grigio wines are typically dry. They are usually fermented in stainless steel tanks and not matured in oak, to retain fruity flavours. Pinot Grigio is mainly associated with Italy but is also grown in other countries.
Reisling produces wines that range from dry through to sweet, but all have high levels of acidity. The high acidity helps to balance any sweetness. The wines have pronounced aromas that can range from floral and green fruits (apple) to citrus (lime, lemon) to stone fruits (peach, apricot). Reisling wines can be light -to-medium-bodied. They are often fermented in stainless steel tanks and not matured in oak.. Reisling is the classic grape of Germany where it’s produced in a range of dry to sweet styles. Alsace in France, and Australia produce Reisling wines in a dry style.
Cabernet Sauvignon is widely planted around the world, and produces dry wines with high levels of tannins and acidity. They can range between medium-and-full bodied, and have aromas and flavours of black fruits (blackcurrant, black cherry) and herbaceous notes (green bell pepper, mint). The wines are often matured in oak, which adds flavours of cedar and vanilla. Due to its high levels of tannins, Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with other grape varieties, such as Merlot in Bordeaux, which adds softness and body to blend. It’s also grown widely in California, Australia, Chile and South Africa. In Australia, it’s sometimes blended with Shiraz, which adds aromas of spice.
Merlot makes wines that are generally dry and medium-to-full-bodied with medium acidity and tannins. Merlot wines can have flavours ranging from red fruits (strawberry, plum) to black fruits (blackberry, black cherry0. They are often matured in oak, giving aromas of vanilla. Merlot is widely grown in a number of places, such as Chile and California to produce soft, fruity wines. It’s also commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds tannin and acidity to the blend. Bordeux is the most famous region for Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blends, but this blend is now common in many other places.
Wines made from Pinot Noir tend to be dry and light bodied, with low tannin levels and high acidity. They have flavours of red fruit (strawberry, red cherry, raspberry) and are often matured in oak, which can give vanilla and clove aromas. Pinot Noir is the grape used for red Burgundy and its the principal black grape in New Zealand. When producing red wines Pinot Noir can also be used in the making of Champagne, where it’s often blended with Chardonnay.
Flavours Pinot Noir.
This grape variety is known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia. It produces dry wines that are medium-to-full-bodied, with high tannins and medium acidity. Typical flavours are black fruits (blackberry, black cherry), with spice (black pepper, liquorice). Many are matured in oak to give flavours of vanilla or coconut to the wine.
The Northern Rhone in France can produce wines that are medium-bodied with fresh black fruit (blackberry) and pepper aromas. In comparison, warm regions in Australia can produce full-bodied Shiraz wines with jammy black fruit (black cherry) and liquorice flavours.
Examples of Wine
Champagne – This is a French sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s typically dry and has a high acidity with aromas of green fruits (apple) and citrus (lemon) and bread notes.
Sancerre – This is a dry, medium bodied French white wine. It’s typically unoaked with high acidity and pronounced green fruit (apple) and herbaceous (grass) aromas. It’s made from Sauvignon Blanc.
Chablis – This is a dry, medium-bodied French white wine. It’s unoaked with high acidity, green fruit (apple) and citrus (lemon) aromas. It’s made from Chardonnay.
Burgundy – These wines come from the Burgundy/Bourgogne area of France. They can either be white or red. The white wines are made from Chardonnay and can be baked or un-oaked. They are dry, medium-bodied, and often show riper fruit flavours than Chablis, such as citrus (lemon) and stone fruits (peach). The red wines are made from Pinot Noir and are dry. They tend to be low in tannins and light bodied with high acidity, and have flavours of red fruits (raspberry, red cherry and sometimes vanilla and cloves from oak. The Fresh word for Burgundy, ‘Bourgogne,’ is sometimes used on wine labels of both white and red wines from Burgundy.
Bordeaux – These wines come from the Bordeaux region in France. They are most often red, with high acidity and tannins. These red wines are dry and medium-tofullbodied with aromas of black fruits (blackberry, blackcurrant) and cedar notes from oak. They are typically a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Other Examples of Wine
The following list includes a number of other wines that are not made using the principle grape varieties.
Prosecco – This is a light-bodied, sparkling white wine from Italy, with green fruit (pear) and floral aromas. It can be either dry or medium sweetness.
Cava – This is a dry, sparkling wine from Spain. It has flavours of green fruit 9pear) and citrus 9lemon).
White Zinfandel – This is a rose wine from California. It’s unoaked and has low alcohol, a medium level of sweetness and flavours of red fruits (strawberry and raspberry).
Beaujolais – This is a dry, light-bodied red wine from France that is unoaked, with fresh flavours of red fruits (raspberry, red cherry0 and low tannins.
Cotes du Rhone – This is a dry, medium-bodied red wine from France, with red fruit (strawberry, plum) and peppery flavours. It can be baked or unoaked.
Chianti – This is a dry, medium-bodied Italian red wine with high tannin and acidity, red fruit flavours (red cherry, plum) and aromas of cloves from oak.
Rioja – This is a dry, medium – to full-bodied red wine from Spain that typically has red fruit (strawberry) and vanilla flavours from oak.
Chateauneuf – du-Pape – This is a dry, full-bodied, high alcohol red wine from France showing red fruit (strawberry) and clove from oak.
Sauternes – This is a sweet white wine made in Bordeaux. It’s full-bodied with flavours of stone fruits (apricot0, honey and vanilla (from oak) and a balancing high acidity.
Sherry – Sherry is a fortified white wine from Spain. It’s made in a range of styles and can be dry, medium or sweet.
Port – This is a fortified wine from Portugal, Sweet and high in alcohol. It’s made in a range of styles. It’s typically red, full bodied, with high tannins and black fruit (blackberry) flavours.
I’m going to stop now because I don’t know about you but my brain is spinning with all there is to learn about the often daunting world of wine. Watch this space to learn more about Storage and Service of Wine and my favourite topic of all Pairing Wine with Food. Please get in touch with SurreyK to share your wine stories.