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Wine Grape Varieties: A Beginner’s Guide to 24 Popular Wine Grapes
McKenzie Hagan |
We all know that wine comes from grapevines, but do you know which ones? In this beginner’s guide to wine grapes, we break down 24 of the most popular wine grapes every wine lover should know.
From commonly known grape varieties like Merlot to ones you may have never heard of, like Pinotage, this guide will pull back the curtain on wine making and so you can see what goes into the wine you love.
Red Wine Grapes
First, let’s cover some of the most popular red wine grapes on the market today. We bet you’ll recognize at least a couple!
Merlot grapes and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are often grown together and then blended together when turned to wine.
Merlot is a black grape, which produces red wines with a lot of body and high levels of alcohol.
Merlot is most famously from Bordeaux, France but it’s grown all over the world. California, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and South Africa all successfully grow Merlot grapes.
The Pinot Noir grape is known for its fussy nature — it can be incredibly difficult to grow. However, Pinot Noir grapes make some of the most popular wines in the world.
While it is famed for the light-bodied red wine it produces, Pinot Noir grapes are also blended with Chardonnay grapes to make Champagne.
Pinot Noir wine is light on tannins and considered an easy drinking wine.
Premium Pinot Noir growing regions include Burgundy in France, Pfalz in Germany, and Santa Barbara in the USA.
Like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over the world in a wide range of climates. Large volumes of Cabernet Sauvignon are used for mass-produced, cheap wines. (Doesn’t sound appealing? We agree, which is why the Cab we use for our Red is made in small batches with sustainably farmed grapes.)
The grape is deep black and produces wine that’s very high in tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon wine has distinct berry flavors, such as blackcurrants, but also savory notes like bell pepper.
Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, they just have different names depending on where they are grown. In France, the best Syrah grapes come from Northern and Southern Rhône. Australian winemakers grow Shiraz in premium regions like Hunter Valley.
The grapes are small with thick skins and produce full-bodied, tannic wines. Syrah and Grenache are often blended together.
Grenache grapes have thin skins and are high in sugar and low in acidity. They produce young wines which have notes of strawberry and raspberry. When aged, the wine takes on more savory flavors, such as toffee.
Grenache grapes are often used to produce rosé wines.
Gamay is another grape grown in Burgundy, France. The grape produces medium-bodied wines, which are low in tannins and have fruity flavors. Common tasting notes include strawberry, raspberry, and cherry.
The Tempranillo grape is most famously grown in Spain. When blended with Grenache, Tempranillo is used to produce Rioja, a medium-bodied wine with high levels of alcohol.
Nebbiolo is a grape from Italy, which is used to produce two of the country’s most famous wines: Barolo and Barbaresco.
The grape produces full-bodied wines that are highly tannic. Common tasting notes include red fruits, flowers, and even savory notes such as mushrooms.
The Sangiovese grape is another popular grape in Italy, as it is used to produce Chianti.
The grape produces wines that are full-bodied, highly tannic, and acidic. Due to their high acidity, these wines also age well.
Zinfandel is a black grape used in red and rosé wines. While many Americans would like to believe that Zinfandel is as American as apple pie, the grape originated hundreds of years ago in Europe. That being said, today, California produces some of the best Zinfandel wines on the market.
The grape produces wines that have dried fruit flavors and sweet spices.
A close relative to the Pinot Noir grape, Pinotage is grown in hot climates, such as South Africa.
Pinotage grapes produce wines that have both fruity flavors and savory notes, such as leather.
The Carménère grape is often used in a blend with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is typically grown in hot climates, such as South America.
The wines produced with Carménère grapes are often highly alcoholic, high in tannins, and have peppery spice.
Like Carmenere, Malbec is grown in South America. While you do see it blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is usually seen as a single variety.
The wines produced from Malbec grapes often have spicy, savory flavors, like black pepper and cloves.
White Wine Grapes
Now, let’s move on to some of the popular white wine grapes grown throughout the world.
The Chardonnay grapes are one of the most popular grapes in the wine industry. Because Chardonnay can grow in a range of climates, it grows all over the world.
The best Chardonnay is said to come from Burgundy and Champagne but Australia, New Zealand, the United States, South America, and South Africa have prominent Chardonnay-growing regions too.
Chardonnay wines benefit from oak aging, which is rare for white wines. This gives the wine a slightly oaky, buttery quality.
Sauvignon Blanc is a highly aromatic grape. It produces wines which are highly acidic, with notes of gooseberry, passionfruit, and elderflower.
Premium Sauvignon Blanc grapes are produced in the Loire Valley in France. Still, many medium-climate wine regions produce high-quality Sauvignon Blanc. Napa Valley produces a range of celebrated Sauvignon Blanc wines.
The Riesling grape most famously comes from Germany, France, and Austria.
The grape is highly aromatic and produces fruity, floral wines that are high in acidity. Common tasting notes include lime, apricot, and mango.
Also known as Pinot Gris, the Pinot Grigio grape grows in France, Italy, and New Zealand.
Pinot Grigio wines are considered easy drinking wines due to their medium body and acidity. They have light, fruity flavors, including melon and banana.
Verdicchio is another white grape hailing from Italy. High in acid with highly citric flavors, it is commonly blended to create cheaper Italian wines. The name Verdicchio comes from the Italian word for green, as this wine grape has a slight green and yellow hue.
Chenin Blanc produces medium-bodied wines with medium sweetness. It is commonly grown in France but is also popular in South Africa, where it is often blended to form cheaper, mass-produced wines.
This white grape variety grows in Northern Rhône, France, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and California.
The Viognier grape produces wines that are highly floral in flavor, very acidic, and high in alcohol.
A Spanish white grape variety, Albarino is a grape that produces medium-bodied wines with sharp fruit flavors. The wine this wine grape produces can often be quite bitter. This is due to the Albarino grape having a lot of pips and the bitter flavor transferring to the wine.
Used to create dry and sweet wines, popular Semillon wines are produced in Bordeaux and Australia. Semillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc.
The Semillon grape is very susceptible to noble rot. This term refers to a natural process in which winemakers expose sweet wine grapes to a specific type of rot called Botrytis cinerea, and when done correctly, can result in some very interesting sweet wines.
Gewurztraminer is a highly aromatic grape that grows in France, Germany, and New Zealand.
Gewurztraminer wine is high in alcohol and low in acidity. The grape produces wines that are floral and smell strongly of lychee.
The Torrontes grape is an aromatic grape variety that hails from Argentina.
The grape produces wines that are medium-bodied with high levels of alcohol. Common tasting notes include peach and other stone fruits.
So Many Wine Grapes, So Little Time
As you can see, there are many grape varieties growing in the world. To be honest, we’ve only scratched the surface. However, we hope this short guide gives you an idea of some of the most popular grapes used in the wine industry today.
While you may not have heard of some of the grape varietals we’ve included in this list, having an idea about the sorts of wine each grape makes will hopefully inspire you to try something new today. You never know — you could discover a new favorite.