S & SW France

Grape Types

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.