Fine Wine Grape Types

Robust, top-quality southern Italian red grape variety found mainly on the volcanic slopes of Campania and Basilicata in Italy's south. It is thought to have been introduced by the Ancient Greeks when they colonised southern Italy between 600-500 B.C. It is the sole component of what used to be one of Italy’s greatest red wines, Campania's Taurasi, now experiencing something of a comeback thanks to a new wave of passionate quality conscious wine-growing in Southern Italy. Its other great expression is in neighbouring Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture.
Aligoté originates from Burgundy where it is used to add a bit of life and bite to the local crème de cassis in order to make Kir. There are some good stand-alone examples, however, producing fresh and invigorating wines. The most mineral and complex of these are to be found around the communes of Pernand-Vergelesses in the Côte de Beaune and Bouzeron in the Chalonnais.
A white grape variety indigenous to Piedmont in North West Italy. It can produce excellent medium-bodied, dry wines that are for the most part tank fermented and bottled young. The wines can show markedly 'Rhônesque' flavours of greengage and peach.
As widely planted in Italy as Sangiovese, but at its best in the hills around Alba and Asti in Italy's north-west, where it is planted on east and west facing slopes. Good, low-cropped Barbera has a deep colour, low tannins, crisp acidity and rich fruit flavours of forest fruit, cherry and, particularly, blueberry. It works well either as a tank-aged fruit driven wine or, chiefly for the old vines and well-placed single vineyard sites, as a complex, silky barrique-aged wine.
Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc acts both as great blender with its special herb infused red berry fragrance, and at the same time as a form of insurance policy.

On the cooler, clay soils of the Right Bank it adds backbone to many of the Merlot-dominated St Emilions and Pomerols. There are a small number of outstanding Cabernet Franc-based blends on the right bank, the most sought after being Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Dôme, Angelus and Vieux Château Certan. Outside of Bordeaux it's the major red grape of the Loire valley, where huge strides in quality have been made over the last decade by producers such as Yannick Amirault, Domaine de la Butte, Charles Joguet and Château de Hureau. Here it is mainly produced as a 100% single varietal wine, highly expressive, pungently scented, vital and silky.
Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Variety which died out in Bordeaux after phylloxera but has since been revived in Chile, where it is also known as Grande Vidure.
Indigenous to Etna in Sicily, old-vine Carricante is seeing something of a resurgence in producing excellent white wines on Mont Etna, Tenuta Tere Nerre's Etna Bianco is an excellent example
Chardonnay is one of the most widely-grown and versatile of all white grape varieties. As a relatively neutral grape, it offers a near transparent map of winemaking style, climate and terroir. It is the ideal grape variety for Burgundy, where it serves to mirror the complex nuances of the myriad of terroirs found in this hallowed land. Chardonnay produces a variety of wines from the minerally and unoaked styles found in Chablis, the fatter nuttier examples in Meursault, to the tropical fruit-driven versions found in the New World. It is also the major grape variety in Champagne, where it produces lively floral wines, namely in the Côte de Blancs. It can be found throughout Europe and the New World thanks to its versatility. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American.
Now widely planted across the world (notably in South Africa), Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety native to the Loire Valley where it produces a range of wine styles; sweet, dry and sparkling with complexity, depth and often longevity. In the middle Loire, Chenin Blanc is used for Anjou, Montlouis, Saumur, Savennieres, Vouvray, and Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume wines.
Piedmontese dry white with crisp Alpine acidity probably best appreciated in the wines of Gavi and also forming part of Verona's Bianco di Custoza, fuller high-quality barrel-fermented examples produced around Barbaresco.
Not sweet despite its name this is a north-west Italian variety that has a deep colour low acidity and high tannin levels. Made for drinking young, it's alive with blossom and herb aromatics and vibrant cherry fruit flavours. It is a finicky grape that does not like excessive heat or cold so it tends to work well on the high altitude south facing slopes in Montelupo and Dogliani, or the north facing lower sites in and around the Barolo Communes. Dolcetto is generally aged in old oak or steel tank.
Susceptible to raisining and noble rot (known as aszú in Hungary's Tokaji), this full-bodied, high acid quality grape is the major partner in the blend with Hárslevelú which makes up Tokaji, the rich, long-lived wines of the Tokaj region in Hungary, now undergoing a revival thanks to western investments and the legendary winemaker Istvan Szepsy, who also makes a very classy, full-bodied dry version.
Gamay is found in the Beaujolais where, on granite slopes, it makes wine that cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world. Thanks to poor winemaking over the last decade and the Beaujolais Nouveau stigma, Gamay has experienced a dip in popularity of late. Unjustly so, for it can produce wines brimming with juicy fruit, and is perfect slightly chilled and drunk alfresco. Gamay is also found in the Loire and in Burgundy, forming a partnership with Pinot Noir to make Bourgogne Passetoutgrains
This is the classic white grape of Soave Classico and, being relatively low yielding contrary to the notorious Trebbiano, is the high quality grape of the region. From top hillside sites producers such as Gini make characterful wines bursting with crisp citrus and pear fruit, ageing and developing nicely in bottle with hints of peach, honeydew melon and almond coming through.
The Spanish spelling of Grenache, used in Rioja with Tempranillo and on its own or blended in Priorat. Some of the finest wines from Spain can be found in Priorat, look out for well established producers such as Sara Perez at Mas Martinet or the superb Mas Doix and Vall Llach.
One of the most distinctively perfumed grapes in the world, Gewurztraminer is the Alsace grape which smells of fragrant rose petals, jasmine and lychees. It produces spicy wines that have a tendency to be on the heavy side, though made correctly by good producers such as Domaine Weinbach, it has a fresh uplifting finish. In its late-harvest form, it makes deliciously rich, opulent, exotic whites. It partners particularly well with strong cheeses such as Munster. Growers in New Zealand and Oregon are also experimenting with the variety.
One of the world's most widely planted grapes, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety which does best as a low yielding bush vine. It produces warm spicy sloe fruit-dominated wines whose ultimate expression is in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding southern villages. Excellent results can also be found in the Roussillon, parts of the Languedoc, the Vales near Adelaide, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha.
Grenache Blanc is the white form of Grenache, and is planted in Southern France. Adding richness and weight, it is often blended with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane. It is one of the permitted varieties in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Also known as "feuille de tilleul", this is Tokaj region’s other important autochtone grape variety after Furmint. The bunches are long, loose, less prone to botrytis than Furmint, its berries are full of characteristic flavours. Hárslevelu wines are mainly pear, grapefruit, dill aromas, paired with nice acidity, also with elegant almond and sometimes with smooth acacia honey notes.
Now little used in Bordeaux or the rest of France outside of Cahors, Malbec has found its 'home' in Argentina. Typically riper than Malbec from France, the wines from Argentina have developed a strong commercial appeal being accessible yet with a defined varietal character of black fruit, coffee and chocolate. The best Malbec has good ageing potential and is typically paired with red meats. Obra Prima Reserva from Familia Cassone, is an excellent example of Argentinean Malbec, offering complexity and richness from 100 year old vines, at a price that affirms Argentina's position as delivering excellent value for money in wine.
This is a quintessential northern Rhône grape variety, producing full bodied, nutty wines with relatively low acidity. Often blended with the fresher Roussanne to make the dry whites of Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph, Côtes du Rhône and at its best, the rare white Hermitage. It is becoming increasingly popular in the south of France as a blender, on its own as an early drinking Vin de Pays single varietal, as well as in Australia’s Goulburn Valley and California.
The supple, alluring plummy characteristics of Merlot have made it hugely popular the world over. It is often blended with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, though on its own there are some very serious, long-lived examples in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, where it is planted on both cool clay and hotter gravely soils. It is grown more extensively throughout France and the rest of the world to produce soft, approachable, uncomplicated wines, namely in the Languedoc, Chile, California, Italy and Australia.
Muscadet, also known as Melon de Bourgogne, is planted in the Loire Valley, at its mouth around Nantes. Producing light, crisp, refreshing whites with high acidity, Muscadet can be the perfect match to seafood. The better wines come from the Cotes de Grandlieu appellation and are 'sur lie' meaning the wine has more exposure to its 'lees' giving more complexity.
There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat à Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its grapey aromatic character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, to the lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti wines of Piedmont that make for enthralling, refreshing aperitif or after dinner drinking.
Arguably Italy's greatest red grape variety, responsible in North-West Italy’s Piedmont region for the great reds of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero. At its best it produces wines of an aromatic complexity and subtlety similar to that of great Burgundy, a region from where many pioneering producers such as Elio Altare drew their inspiration. The aromas and flavours are very different in profile to Pinot Noir however, usually characterised by roses, tar and truffle. Naturally tannic and acidic, Nebbiolo wines are excellent for long term ageing.
A grape variety indigenous to Sicily, long-forgotten until a few years ago. It has been recently revived by Marco de Grazia's Tenuta del Terre Nerre where it is grown on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The wines have a real Burgundian elegance and charm to them, with the balance and finesse to ensure good ageing.
One of the five permitted varieties in red Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is late ripening and thick skinned, it is not widely planted but is now being used increasingly, albeit in minute quantities, in Bordeaux and in Bordeaux blends across the 'New World'.
Pinot Blanc is most commonly associated with the full-bodied dry white wines of Alsace which can offer top everyday drinking with its apple, peach and pear-like character and acts as a very good aperitif, or with plain fish and shellfish. It is also grown in Burgundy, forming the base of some white Marsannays such as Bruno Clair’s delightful example. Outside of France, it is popular in Italy as Pinot Bianco, Austria as Weissburgunder and grown in parts of Eastern Europe as well as Oregon and California, where Chalone make a speciality of it.
Pinot Gris is also known as Tokay Pinot Gris in Alsace though the prefix Tokay was dropped to appease the Tokaji Wine governing body in Hungary. This is a slightly spicier and more expressive version of its stablemate, Pinot Blanc, and actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is one of the chief dry white varieties in Alsace, but also produces some deliciously sweet, age worthy, late-harvest styles. It is the same grape as northern Italy's Pinot Grigio, Germany's Grauburgunder or Ruländer and Hungary's Szürkebarát and is starting to become fashionable in New Zealand.
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, California’s Carneros, Oregon and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.
One of the world’s noblest grape varieties, Riesling produces scented, refreshing, mineral wines from dry to lusciously sweet. Its bad reputation, tarnished by the cloying and completely unrelated Liebfraumilch, is one of the wine world’s great injustices. Its heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces floral spritzy off-dry to medium wines packed with lime and apple fruit or, when affected by botrytis, honeyed apricot characteristics. In Alsace, Austria’s Wachau and Germany’s Franken there are some exhilarating, complex dry versions that work very well with Oriental fusion foods, as well as some stunning sweet versions. Some superb lively fruit-forward styles are cropping up in New Zealand, Constantia in South Africa and the cooler parts of Australia and California.
A noble white Rhône grape variety blended with Marsanne to produce Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and Hermitage, as well as being a component of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The grape can make wines that boast extraordinary class, finesse, with fine acidity demonstrating greengage fruit characteristics. Usually unoaked, Roussanne can support some barrel ageing but only when the wood is old. Found rarely on its own the most famous example is the glorious, long-lived Roussanne Vielles Vignes of Beaucastel.
Meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the noble grape of Chianti, Carmignano, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montpulciano. A fussy grape to grow, but when done properly can produce some of the world’s most enthralling red wines. It can produce lively, sappy young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours. Quality has soared over the last year as productive clones have been grubbed up and since the old practices of blending it with weak, lean white grape varieties have died down.
There are various styles of Sauvignon Blanc from the fragrant, fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, to the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is also a vital component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. As a dry wine it has sprung to particular fame in New Zealand where it is made in a very pungent, expressive style with notes of kiwi passion fruit and mango. While South Africa has also had great success with the variety. Generally considered for youthful consumption, age-worthy examples can be found in Bordeaux, and the Loire from the likes of Didier Dagueneau and François Cotat.
Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented. It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where it is susceptible to Botrytis rot, which helps concentrate the fruit sugars, acids and flavours, producing some of the most luscious and long-lived sweet wines in the world. The most renowned example is Château d'Yquem, although there are a plethora of estates throughout the region whose wines come close in quality. On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia's most individual full-bodied dry whites from the hot Hunter Valley.
Sercial is vital in the production of Madeira, either as a blend or as a dry style single varietal. Planted at altitude in the cooler North facing vineyards, Sercial has very high acidity which is required for the ageing potential of quality Madeira.
A variety that produces in Alsace good easy drinking wines of freshness and energy, while some serious dry and late harvest versions can also be found in its homeland Franken in Germany where it is grown on limestone slopes.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.
Tempranillo is now a widely recognised varietal, largely due to the international fame of Rioja, for which it is a key varietal. Being thick-skinned and producing vibrant fruit driven wines with depth and longevity it is often regarded as Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripening two weeks earlier than Garnacha, and having a short growing period, it is better suited to Rioja's higher and cooler Alta and Alevesa areas. Excellent examples from Rioja include St Vicente and Amancio from Eguren and the more traditional style wines of La Rioja Alta, namely Gran Reserva 904 and our own-label Rioja Reserva. As well as being planted throughout central Spain, the Toro region is increasingly recognised as producing world-class Tempranillo, the wines at Teso La Monja, namely Almirez, Alabaster and Victorino show signs of greatness! It is also known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero and Tinto Roriz in Portugal.
The local name for Tempranillo in Portugal. Grown across Portugal and used as a component in Port.
Touriga Nacional is best known as forming the back-bone to the very best Port. However, it is increasingly used for dry reds, not only in the Douro Valley but in regions such as Ribatejo. The single varietal Touriga Nacional, when blended with other indigenous or international varieties from Quinta do Alqueve, demonstrates how far Portugal has come in producing rich yet elegant wines with immediate appeal but longevity.
Trebbiano is the Italian version of the light and un-interesting French Ugni Blanc or Spanish Airen. Often used in producing Vin Santo.
One of the great white Spanish varieties, Verdejo can be found in the old Castillian region of Rueda where it thrives on sand and limestone soils. As a single varietal often un-wooded but suited, too, to part-barrel fermentation, this produces one of Spain's truly great whites.
Also grown in the Hunter Valley and Victoria, Verdhelo is best known in Madeira where it produces medium-dry wines for single varietal Madeira or in blends.
Most famous for the unique Condrieu wines of the Northern Rhone, the best exponents being Andre Perret, Francois Villard, Clusel-Roch and Rene Rostaing, Viognier is a white grape variety widely planted in Southern France for varietal Vin de Pays wines or to use in blends. It is now also being grown in Australia and California for blending with Syrah in deference to the practices in Cote Rotie, where up to 20% of Viognier is allowed to be added to Syrah to add an extra perfume to the wine.
Most recognised as a Californian varietal, Zinfandel is actually of Croatian origin and has been found to be the same as Italy's Primativo. Initially dominating Californian wine production in the late 19th Century, being a high yielding varietal, Zinfandel was largely grubbed up and replaced by Cabernet in the mid to late 20th Century. The commercial popularity of the off-dry rosé White Zinfandel has rejuvenated the plantings and though the varietal can sometimes be high in alcohol, there are some excellent examples available, including the excellent Heitz Cellars.