Wines by Grape
Port and still wine can be made from more than 80 different grape varieties, but in practice the vineyards are dominated by five key varieties; Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Of these, aromatic Touriga Nacional is the most highly regarded, and Touriga Franca the most widely planted. Vineyards tend to be an eclectic cross-section of port grape varieties, often with more than 20 present within a single vineyard.
Douro table wines are typically made from the same grape varieties as their esteemed port cousins, but a number of international varieties have also found a home in the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer are among the more common non-native grapes planted here.
Native to Austria, the Grüner is the most widely planted grape in that country. It is also the most important, though it hasn't really caught on in other regions. Productive and rather hardy, although it ripens late, the Grüner is known for producing crisp and fresh wines that have notes of pepper, spices and grapefruits. Can improve for many years in bottle when given care, sometimes taking on the exotic fruit character of an aged Burgundy.
The best examples come from the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal regions of Austria. It also grows in other Easter European countries under the synonyms Veltlin Zelene and Veltlini. A great match for asian-inspired cuisine or spicy dishes.
Possibly the greatest and certainly the most diverse and versatile of all the light-skinned varietals. Grown throughout the world in cooler climates, most notably Germany where it has been the undisputed king in terms of quality for over 300 years. Riesling buds late, ripens (relatively) early and can cope well with harsh winters. Her greatest attribute is the sum total of incredibly ripe fruit flavors, floral aromatics, bracing acidity and a well-defined expression of the terroir in which it is grown. No other varietal can match this, all the while creating versions that range from painfully dry and acidic to sublimely rich and sweet. Dry versions often are described as having a blend of minerals, flowers, peaches and lime zest. Sweet versions can be honeyed, floral, unctuous and dripping with ripe stone fruits. Riesling also has great longevity, with both sweet and dry versions improving in bottle for decades.
Germany has made Riesling famous and vice versa and the best examples of Rieslings from Germany carry a distinction of ripeness from Kabinett (most dry) through Spätlese and Auslese (more sweet) to the botrytised versions of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese to Eiswein which is made from frozen grapes.
Great examples of Riesling can also be found in Austria in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions, as well as Alsace in northeastern France. In the new world look to the cool climates of the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes areas of North America, as well as Washington and Ontario. Australia is now producing fine Rieslings as well in the cool Clare Valley region where the wines have a decided steeliness from the lime, minerals and heavy acidity therein.
One of the classic Vinifera grapes, the Sauvignon Blanc has enjoyed success in many corners of the winegrowing world, mostly in cooler climates. Though susceptible to mildew and rot, Sauvignon Blanc is a vigorous varietal whose wines have become synonymous with "light and crisp." From its origins in the Bordeaux region of France, Sauvignon Blanc has gained fame for producing wines that are high in acidity, citrus fruits, minerals, herbs and a grassy character that can be pleasant when yields are low and downright ammonia-esque when the grapes are not fully ripe. Common are aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lime zest, slate, fresh grass, straw or even a certain smoky character when the wine hails from the Loire valley's Pouilly-Fumé. Most versions are best consumed young and fresh. Sauvignon Blanc also takes well to Botrytis (as in the world-famous wines of Sauternes) and produces sweet wines of considerable depth, character and aging potential.
Originally from Bordeaux where it is often blended with Sémillon in both dry and Botrytised versions, Sauvignon Blanc can also be found through much of the rest of France. Especially fine examples are made in the Loire valley (Tourraine, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé) as well as in Chablis (Sauvignon de St.-Bris) and in the southern areas of Languedoc and Rousillon.
It is in New Zealand and California that it has found some of its latest success. In the 1960s Robert Mondavi cleverly renamed the grape Fumé Blanc and a revolution was born. Today Sauvignon Blanc grows throughout California with fine examples that range from dry and light to more full, oak-aged examples that border on Chardonnay-like richness. Sauvignon Blanc has put the New Zealand wine industry on the globe as the bright fruits, gooseberries, and insanely high acidity levels found within these wines have become quite popular.
Chardonnay is probably the greatest of all white grapes. It has almost single handedly changed the fortunes of many wine-growing regions and countries. Chardonnay's appeal lies in her productivity, adaptability and a great ability to retain Chardonnay-like character no matter where it is grown. So many countries, with so many climates, produce so many styles from so many wine-making techniques. Chardonnay has been the greatest benefactor of the "New World" way of labeling wines by the grape varietal instead of the region. Chardonnay can range in styles from crisp and structured, through full and rich, all the way to syrupy and fat. Flavors roam from citrus to tropical fruits, to smoke and butter, and even herbs and red raspberry.
The origins and best examples of Chardonnay come from the Burgundy region of France. It is also a crucial component of Champagne and most other sparkling wines. Chardonnay grows with some success in every wine producing country on earth, with Portugal seemingly the only exception.
A productive varietal that is very resistant to drought. Cinsault is known for producing light, fruity and heavily perfumed wines, most often as either a Rose or blended with another heartier grape (usually Carignan). Aromas and flavors of blue fruits and spices are common.
Cinsaut calls the south of France home. It is very productive in the Languedoc and southern Rhone where it is known as the Picardan. One of the 13 varietals permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The Spanish name for the Mourvèdre of France. A thick-skinned varietal that grows best in the hot central areas of Spain such as Jumilla. High in tannins Monastrell has lots of black fruit flavors as well as spices, leather, and in less-ripe conditions, herbal nuances.
Important grape, along with Palomino Fino, in the production of Sherry. Pedro Ximénez, or P.X. as it is also known, can be quite crisp and dry when vinified still but is more frequently used as a sweetening agent in Sherry. The grapes are dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and flavors.
In the DO of Montilla-Moriles in the south of Spain the dried P.X. grapes are vinified and then aged in barrel for many years and produce fortified wines of considerable character and sweetness. Citrus fruit notes are common in the dry style but the fortified versions can be heavy with figs, dates, molasses and coffee.
Part of the blend with Macabeo and Xarel-lo that make up the Spanish sparkling wine Cava. When grown in cooler climates the Parellada can be coaxed to produce excellent still wines with hints of citrus and golden apples that will take well to long-term aging. Also found in the Cariñena region further to the west.
One of the three grapes (along with Macabeo and Parellada) that are used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava. Xarel-lo is found mainly in the northeastern region of Catalonia. Though prone to frost damage, Xarel-lo is a very productive and usually retains medium to high levels of acidity. In the Alella region of Catalonia, Xarel-lo (here known as Pansa Blanca) is used to produce still wines that are crisp and fresh, with notes of stone fruits, cream and a sometimes vegetal quality.
The most popular light-skinned grape of northen Spain. High in production, the Macabeo takes well to hot and dry regions. It also buds late which makes it less likely to be harmed by frost. Together with the varietals Parellada and Xarel-lo it is used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava. Wines from the Macabeo are dry, medium in acidity, and have notes of delicate wildflowers and bitter almonds. Macabeo is best consumed young.
Besides Cava the best examples of Macabeo come from Rioja, where it is known as Viura, and now makes up 90% of white wine production in that area.
Famous more for its high productivity than for producing wines of distinction, the Carignan is one of the most highly planted grapes that you have probably never heard of. Planted in huge amounts in the south of France, most of which is used for industrial purposes. The Carignan is heavy in acidity, tannins and color, which make it great for blending, but also high in bitterness, which makes it not so hot by itself. It grows well in hot climates, exhibiting flavors of pepper and plum in its inky depths.
Carignane originated in Spain where it is known as Cariñena, but dominates the south of France, especially the Languedoc where it is known as Carignan.
The great cépage of the Rhône valley, where in the environs of Hermitage, St. Joseph, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie, Syrah has been famous since Roman times and is resposible for some of the finest red wines in the world. Productive and resistant to both heat and cold, Syrah can be made into a wide range of styles from simple and fruity to complex, brooding and powerful. One of her greatest attributes is to retain a certain peppery characteristic no matter where the roots have taken hold. Aromas and flavors in Old World versions can range from black fruits and white pepper to any "earthy" descriptor that you like including mushrooms, bacon, leather, game and especially, burnt rubber. Versions from Australia, South Africa and the United States tend towards a sweeter and more fruit-forward style, usually with a plush mid-palete feel and medium tannins.
Syrah from the northern Rhône can be intense and closed in youth but has the ability to age gracefully for many years. In the southern Rhône it is a useful blending partner with Grenache in the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In other areas of southern France Syrah has become a star, often blended with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Look to the areas of Languedoc-Rousillon, Provence and Vin de Pays for fine wines that are often great bargains. Italy, Spain and even Switzerland is also home to some fine Syrahs, but it is the new world that is at the center of Syrah's recent success.
Syrah is partly responsible for the increase in the quality of South African red wines as they move away from Pinotage.
Arguably the greatest of dark-skinned grapes, the Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in all but the coolest of wine growing countries. It has a distinct blue skin which contributes a heavy pigment to the wine, and a relatively large pip that contributes high tannins. These tannins allow it to take well to oak, and also help to preserve the wine and contribute to its great longevity. Perhaps the grape's greatest attribute is its ability to produce distinctly Cabernet-esque wines, no matter where it is grown. Aromas of violets and cedar, and flavors of chocolate, black currants and mint are common.
Bordeaux is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon. The great wines of the Medoc and Graves are primarily Cabernet although blends with Merlot or Cabernet Franc are the norm. Other good examples come from Spain (Priorat), Italy (the supertuscans of Tuscany), eastern Europe, Australia (Coonawarra), South America, South Africa and North America. It now dominates the Napa and Sonoma Valleys of California, both as a blend and also as 100% Cabernet, and grows well in both Washington and New York states.
A white-skinned variety that is grown extensively in the region of Rueda in northwestern Spain. Wines from Rueda have a delightful mix of honey, pears and crisp acidity, while they also oxidise readily and can take on a nutty character with age. Often Verdejo is blended with both Viura and Sauvignon Blanc, but some examples of pure Verdejo grown at higher elevations can be excellent and take well to both oak and bottle aging. As the name suggests there are many reasons to suspect that this is the same varietal as the Verdelho of the Portuguese island of Madeira as well as the Verdello which can be found in Italy though as of yet no true connection has been made.
A productive and thick-skinned varietal, Albariño takes well to both moderate and warm climates. High yields can produce wines of less than distinguishing character, but when made with care Albariño can be quite aromatic and satisfying. Expressive aromas of citrus and stone fruits tied to a spine of vibrant acidity are common, making Albariño a wine that pairs wonderfully with seafood, especially shellfish. An ethereal saline quality is often described in young Albariños, probably imparted by the proximity of the Atlantic ocean to its most famous growing regions.
Albariño is native to the Rìas Baixas region of Spain and the Vinho Verde region of Portugal, both of which are located on the coast of the Atlantic ocean. The wines in Portugal can often contain a slight sparkle due to unresolved carbon dioxide. Albariño represents just one of a growing segment of good value wines from Spain, and is frequently a fresh and crisp choice.
Mazuelo is the name for Carignan used in the Rioja region of northern Spain. The third most planted varietal in Spain. Buds and ripens late, so is best suited for warm climates. Tannic and acidic the Mazuelo is most often used in Spain as a blending grape.
A red grape that was once of vital importance in the Rioja region of northern Spain. Prone to disease and low yields it nonetheless produces wines of considerable weight, pigmentation, perfume and quality. The low yields proved to be its undoing in both Rioja and in France where it is known as Morrastel. It was crossed with the hybrid Petit Bouschet to produce the heartier Morrastel-Bouschet which eventually replaced it. Still found in very small amounts in the southwest of France, as well as Rioja in Spain, Mendoza in Argentina (as Graciana), and in Australia.
Wine from Graciano has intense black fruits, red cherries and red plums and can be very long lived.
The French name for the Spanish Garnacha although the name Grenache is more common. The world's 2nd most planted varietal, with large amounts in France, Australia, California and all over Spain.
A sturdy vine that grows best as a shrub vine in intensely hot and dry growing regions, the Grenache is very versatile producing wines that vary in color from light rose to inky black and in sweetness levels from dry to dessert style.
The best Grenache can be found in the Rhone Valley of southern France. The wines of Vaquerays, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone, Languedoc Rousillon, and most impoortantly Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be very nice, if often the Grenache is blended with other wines.
The Spanish name for Grenache. Thought to be the correct name for this grape varietal as its origins are Spanish but it is now best known by the synonym used in France and the United States. Grown widely throughout Spain, Garnacha is particularly important in Rioja where it is blended with Tempranillo, and in Priorat where it is the main variety in some world class reds. So good is the old vine Garnacha that the other more well-known varietals used in the production of Priorat (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah) are kept in small amounts. Aromas and flavors of black pepper, roasted game and sweet black fruits are the norm.
The synonym used in the Spanish DO of Rioja for Macabeo, which is the most popular grape of northen Spain. High in production, the Macabeo takes well to hot and dry regions. It also buds late which makes it less likely to be harmed by frost. Together with the varietals Parellada and Xarel-lo it is used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava. Both still and sparkling wines from the Macabeo are dry, medium in acidity, and have notes of delicate wildflowers and bitter almonds. Macabeo is best consumed young.
Viura now makes up 90% of the still white wine production in Rioja. It can also be found in large quantities in southern France, particularly in the Languedoc area where it is usually blended with Grenache Blanc.
Tempranillo is the most famous and most important of Spain's native grapes, which is a vibrant, aromatic varietal that offers spicy, red fruit aromas and flavors. The grape's name translates to "little early one," a moniker that references fruit's early ripening tendency-- Tempranillo thrives even with a short growing season.
The varietal is at its best in top Riojas, where oak aging is employed to generate increased complexity and harmony. From the best sites, these wines can be remarkably concentrated with great aging potential. New wines from this region are darker, and more robust, with more dynamic primary fruit flavors than traditionally styled examples. These wines seem to reflect the influence of Spain's other key region for Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero.
Merlot is a red wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. Its softness and “fleshiness”, combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes in Bordeaux wine where it is the most widely planted grape. Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. The color has less of a blue/black hue than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and with a thinner skin and fewer tannins. There are three main styles of Merlot-a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins, a fruity wine with more tannic structure and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, mulberry and plum. Vegetable and earthy notes include black and green olives, cola nut, bell pepper, fennel, humus, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb and tobacco. Floral and herbal notes commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea, eucalyptus, laurel, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage, sarsaparilla and thyme. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.