BASIC GRAPE INFORMATION
RED GRAPE VARIETALS
Labeling the wines according to their varietals helps the consumer know what to expect when they select a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel. For a U.S. wine label to bear the name of the variety, it must be made with no less that 75% of that grape variety in the total blend.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON (cab-er-NAY soh-veen-YOHN) A primary grape variety grown throughout the world also one of the most important of several grape varieties used in red wine blends such as Meritage. The flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape include Blackberry, black raspberry, black currant, bell pepper, eucalyptus, mint, black olive, green olive, earth, mushroom, chocolate, cocoa, molasses, smoke, plum, cedar, tobacco, licorice, graphite. Depending on the vintage, good Cabernet Sauvignon can age for decades.
MERLOT (merh-LOH) Is extensively grown throughout the world. High-quality Merlot wines are medium to dark red in color, rich, and fruity. The flavors of the Merlot grape are of black currant, cherry, and mint. Merlot wines are rounder and more supple than Cabernet Sauvignons and usually can be enjoyed much earlier.
PINOT NOIR (PEE-noh-NWAHR) Is a grape variety that is very difficult to grow in the United States. It is widely grown in the region of Burgundy, France. The flavors are Cherry, raspberry, strawberry, prune, plum, pomegranate, coffee, spice, coriander, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, earth, smoke, mushroom, "barnyard", caramel, allspice, violets, lavender, jasmine, cocoa, sausage, citrus.
ZINFANDEL (ZIN-fan-del) Is considered California's red-wine grape. The flavors are Blackberry, raspberry, jam, cherry, port, plum, chocolate, olive, bell pepper, cloves, black pepper, spice.
SANGIOVESE (SAN-gee-oh-VAY-SEE) Cherry, raspberry, red plum, blackberry, cinnamon, dried flowers, vanilla, pepper, truffle, smoke, chamomile, rose petal, tar, coffee, anise.
SYRAH (see-RAH) Blackberry, black currant (cassis), black raspberry, black plum, white pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, anise, prune, oak, soy, chocolate, smoke, sausage, toast, violets
CABERNET FRANC (KA-behr-nay Frank) This grape is related to Cabernet Sauvignon, with more fruit-basket style fruit and less tannin. Less long-lived than its cousin, Cabernet Franc brings an herbal note ranging from slightly tobacco-flavored to pungently leafy. Used in Bordeaux, especially in Pomerol, but important in the Médoc as a blender. 100% Cabernet Franc wines are offered elsewhere in the world, notably in the Loire Valley where Chinon is the pinnacle.
GAMAY (GAH-may) Raspberry, strawberry, cinnamon, cloves, rose petal, jasmine, violets, cranberry, mineral.
BORDEAUX BLENDS (borh-DOH) The red wines of Bordeaux, all made of a blend from three and sometimes five permitted red grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The best red Bordeaux wines are slow to mature and need several years in the bottle to age gracefully.
BARBARESCO (bar-bah-RESS-koh) A wine from the village of Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape. This wine must be aged for two years, one year in wood. The Barbaresco Riserva must be aged for three years, one year in wood. These wines have rich, spicy flavors with notes of cherry, tar and perfume.
BAROLO (Ba-roll-lo) Outstanding red wine from the district of Piemonte in Northern Italy. Produced from the Nebbiolo grape. A robust red wine that can age for many years. By D. O. C. law Barolo must be aged in wood for a minimum of two years, if aged four or more years in wood it is allowed to be called Riserva.
BRUNELLO (Brew-nel-lo dee Mawn-tal-chee-no) This is a rare red wine from the district of Tuscany. Named for the Brunello grape, a clone of the Sangiovese grape. By law the wine cannot be sold until it is at least four years old, if aged five or more years it may be sold as a Riserva. The flavors are sweet cherry with leather tones.
GRENACHE (gren-osh) Grenache's roots are in Spain, where it is called Garnacha, but it is planted throughout southern France's Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, and the Southern Rhône regions, where it's blended with Cinsault and Carignan. It is the backbone of the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is blended with as many as twelve other grapes.
WHITE GRAPE VARIETALS
Labeling the wines according to their varietals helps the consumer know what to expect when they select a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. For a U.S. wine label to bear the name of the variety, it must be made with no less that 75% of that grape variety in the total blend.
CHARDONNAY (shar-don-NAY) Chardonnay that is being extensively planted throughout the world. In addition to being highly prized, Chardonnay is easy to grow and quite versatile. It's high in extract and, unless picked late, has good acid levels. Chardonnay is offered in the New World (outside western Europe) as big, creamy and juicy with copious amounts of oak. In Burgundy, it is more complex and long-lived, with less tropical and more mineral and apple flavors reflecting the cooler climate. The wide range of growing soils, as well as the winemaker's influence, produces a diverse spectrum of Chardonnay wines with varying characteristics.
SAUVIGNON BLANC (SOH-ven-yawn BLANC) Sauvignon Blanc wines have noticeable acidity and a grassy, herbaceous aroma and flavor. They are crisp, flavorful wines that generally should be drunk young.
GEWURZTRAMINER (guh-VURTZ-trah-mee-ner) A friendly and willing grape of the Muscat family with rich, pungent character and a nose like roses and a can of lychee nuts. It is good in Germany and Italy; great in Alsace where even when dry, it is so pungent it seems best with dessert. Good versions exist in the New World.
PINOT GRIS/PINOT GRIGIO (PEE-noh-GREE) This pleasant and tasty grape offers good drinkability in Italy, where it is commonly referred to as Pinot Grigio, Germany and the New World, but reaches its greatest heights in Alsace. It can taste of cream and apples and exists in well-made versions both sweet and dry.
RIESLING (REESe-ling) One of the world's greatest grapes, Riesling was treated with the respect it deserved 100 years ago when its finest bottlings routinely were bid for higher prices that Lafite or Latour. Grown throughout the world with mixed results, America offers decent versions and Australia gives the most credible of the New World offerings. Alsace offers the finest outside of Germany, with higher, more obtrusive alcohol levels. All of Germany's great wines (except a tiny portion) are from Riesling. This grape is rich and crisp when young, but can age for ten to fifty years and beyond, depending upon the winemaking style.
VIOGNIER (vee-ohn-YEA) A rare but cultish grape originating in Condrieu in the northern Rhone Valley. It is now being rapidly planted in California where it yields good examples showing pungent Gewurz-like notes and rich Chardonnay-like flavors.