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Grape varieties

Grape varieties influence a wine’s colour, aroma, flavour and style. The winemaker might shape the wine for his own purpose, and soil and climate will have their influences, but fundamentally the grape is the heart and soul of every wine and in learning about wine you will do well to focus first on the classics.

Red

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Bordeaux: Medoc
  • Merlot – Bordeaux: St. Emilion / Pomerol
  • Pinot Noir – Burgundy
  • Syrah – Northern Rhone

White

  • Chardonnay – Burgundy
  • Sauvignon Blanc – Loire: Sancerre / Pouilly Fume / Touraine
  • Riesling – Germany: Mosel / Rheingau

Pick up any wine book and you can read about Cabernet Sauvignon`s thick dark blue grape skin which gives the wine structure and depth of colour – and conversely Pinot Noir`s much thinner grape skin which results in more delicate, translucent wines with lower tannins, and all that is very interesting but we`re not going to cover it here.

Instead we have provided a list of aromas and flavours in wines associated with single grape varieties; the idea being that you can use the list to try to identify some of the characteristics in the wine in front of you. In time, with enough practice, you will begin to recognise the smells and flavours again in another wine of the same grape variety, and with this recognition and little extra knowledge your appreciation of wine increases a million fold.    

Choosing Your Wines

I would suggest you go to your local wine merchant and ask for some recommendations. Better still, give me a call and I will take pleasure mixing a case for you, to your budget, and I’ll even provide my own tasting notes! The wine doesn`t have to be made up with 100% of the grape variety, provided it is the dominant one. For example, as often as not Cabernet Sauvignon is mixed with a little Merlot, and vice versa. No matter. By all means buy bottles from the New World and elsewhere where the grape variety is prominently labelled, this way you can be sure the wine is at least 75% of the named variety. But also be sure to taste examples from the areas I have named alongside the classics because these are their original homes and the best of these are some of the best you will ever taste.

Also, unless your merchant expressly points out a good example at £5-7 per bottle (our Ventisquero range from Chile is such an example), then, if at all possible, dig deeper in your pockets and ideally spend £10+ per bottle. After all, you are investing in a lifelong hobby and you are quite possibly tasting wine for the first time (rather than just drinking it) so take it seriously, why not. I have a theory about this. Rather drink better and a little less. Make a really good bottle last a few days – a glass a day maybe – or better still on the weekend enjoy a special bottle with your partner or a good friend. And make the bottle the occasion!

Wine characteristics

Keep in mind that certain aromas & flavours in your glass may not specifically be associated with the grape variety. Most obvious is the affect on wine of wood and in particular oak. Typically oak adds vanilla and light spices to a wine`s character, but oak`s affinity with certain grape varieties can result in more complex and interesting aromas and flavours, such as sandalwood and musk, even coconut, cacao and coffee. In these wines the obvious nature of the grape variety will be muted, disguised, even transformed – more complex versions. Different. As climate conditions and variable soils can create differences. As age will transorm still further, sometimes adding leather, game or smoke characteristics to the wine . Yet still , at the core, you will find the essence of the grape.   And in your glass you might well find one, two or even several of the aromas and flavours in our list to describe it, but not likely all because rather they describe the spectrum of potential flavours the grape variety offers, from around the world and from youth to old age. And only some of them, such it the complexity of wine. 

Red Grapes

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackcurrant, cigar-box, tobacco, cedarwood, dark chocolate, mint leaf, eucalyptus, red fruits, lead pencil, vanilla,  grass, musk, vanilla & spice
  • Merlot: Plum, fruitcake, blackberry, red wine gums,  mint, bell pepper, blackcurrant, blueberry, chocolate, spice 
  • Pinot noir: Strawberry, redcurrants, red plum, violets, black cherry, raspberry, loganberry, truffles, farmyard, game , leather, mushroom, earthiness.
  • Syrah / Shiraz: Blackberry, blackcurrant, ground pepper, cigar smoke, coffee beans, toast, red berries, plum, mint, spice, raspberry, chocolate, tar, game
  • Gamay: Strawberry juice, banana, bubble-gum, pepper, blackberry, cherry, red berry
  • Nebbiolo: Stewed prunes, plums, spice, leather, game, tar, truffle, liquorice, fennel, roses, violets
  • Zinfandel: Raspberry, blackberry, black fruit, brambly, spice, vanilla, plum
  • Sangiovese: Red cherry, red fruit, plum, cranberry, mulberry, fresh herbs, leaf, new leather, game
  • Malbec: Prune, plum, red berry, raspberry, black cherry, mulberry, blackberry, liquorice, tar, leather, game
  • Carmenere: Red fruit, plum, coffee bean, mocha, spice, vanilla
  • Tempranillo: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, tobacco leaf, leather
  • Pinotage: Plum, blackberry, cherry, banana, tobacco, burnt rubber, leather, smoke, spice
  • Carignan: Earthy black fruit, spice, leather, summer fruits
  • Grenache: Dark red cherries, black fruit, herbs, sweet pipe smoke, white pepper, raspberry, thyme, fennel, rosemary, raisins
  • Cabernet Franc: Black fruits, violets, leaf, grass cuttings, lead pencil shavings, rapberry, herbs
  • Barbera: Plum, cherry, vanilla, spice, juicy-fruit

White Grapes

  • Chardonnay: Honey, fresh butter, cream, hazelnut, meadow flowers, pear, apple, fresh-baked bread, melon, grapefruit, pineapple, mango, peach, lime, tropical fruit, butterscotch, vanilla, smoke, mineral, toast, clove, cinnamon, mineral, nectarine
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Gooseberry, elderflower, fresh herbs, asparagus, lemons, crunchy apples, freshly mown grass, mineral, passionfruit, melon, blackcurrant leaf, nettles, green bean, tinned pea, guava, mango
  • Riesling: Lime, fruit salad, petrol (with age), toast, honeysuckle, rhubarb, mineral, red apple, honey (with age), melon, floral (rose petal, white flowers), citrus
  • Chenin Blanc: Beeswax, honey, red apples, pears, quince, peardrops, peach, wet woolly jumpers!
  • Viognier: Apricot, peach, spring blossom, honey, nutmeg, honeysuckle, lime blossom, mineral, jasmine, spice
  • Gewurztraminer: Spice, lychee, Turkish Delight, rose petal,  oil, ginger, mango, cinnamon, pot pourri, melon, cloves, red apple
  • Muscat: Grapey, orange, marmalade
  • Pinot Gris: Spice, honey, lychee, peach, smoke, oil, red apple, pear
  • Semillon: Honey, orange blossom, lemon zest, lime juice, hop sack, marmalade, waxy, toast & butter
  • Pinot Blanc: Appley, creamy, nutty, grapey, clean / neutral, smokey 
  • Albarino: citrus, fresh, grapefuit, tropical fruits
  • Bacchus: Elderflower, floral, fruity, lemony
  • Roussanne: Earthy, peach, apricot, lemon, hawthorn, white flowers, almond, greengage, lime blossom
  • Marsanne: Waxy, honey, tropical, marzipan, nutty, honeysuckle, tropical fruits
  • Muller-Thurgau: Floral, sweet pea, spicy, mineral
  • Gruner Vetliner: White pepper, celery, herbs, gherkins, dill, lemon peel

Happy imbibing!