Wine grapes types

grapes

All what you need to know on wine grapes

Origin of wine grapes and its characteristics

The origin of all wine grapes is attributed to "Vitis Vinifera" that was grown in Asia Minor. Natural mutation, crossbreeding or human engineering led to the creation of several thousand grape varities such as Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot.
Grape varieties are often associated to the term "cépage", which is commonly used to indicate a variety of vine.

Each grape variety has distinct traits that result in a specific character of the wine - common traits are:

  • Fruit & aromas
  • Tannin
  • Sugar content (alcool)
  • Acidity 

 

Wine Grape varieties

In the early day of winemaking it was common to mix varieties - one to give color and tannins (e.g. Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon), a second for delicacy and bouquet (e.g. Merlot) and usually a third for ensuring consistency in production (e.g. Petit Verdot to control tannins and color). This technique is widely applied in Bordeaux - the so called "Bordeaux wine blend".

Today, single grape variety ("monocépages") can be found in wines such as Chablis (100% Chardonnay), Beaujolais (100 % Gamay), Sancerre (100% Sauvignon Blanc) to name a few. 

Grape varieties and their mixiture is striclty controlled in certain regions through the appelation and AOC/DOC certification system - e.g. a Brunello di Montalcino requires 100% of Sangiovese grapes while a Chianti classico DOCG only 80%. If the name of a grape variety is mentioned on the label (e.g. in France), then the wine need to be produced with 100% of that given variety. 

 


Principal grape varieties

RED WINES

Cabernet Sauvignon 

This grape variety was derived by crossbreeding a Sauvignon Blanc with a Cabernet Franc. It is a very resistant grape variety but requires a lot of sun (minimum 1'500 hours). It has an aroma of blackcurrant when young and develops later into wood aromas. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended and its purpose is to give structure to wines that are laid down.

Cabernet Franc

This grape variety is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but withouth its crossbreeding - its appearance is believed to date back to the 4th century in the Bordeaux region. It produces wines with fresh, fruity aromas and with flavors of ripe red or black fruits. In a blend, it is often used as the minor component.

Merlot

Merlot grape variety was first recorded in the 19th century in Bordeaux. The wine is generally supple and rounder than a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. It is fruity with aromas of blackcurrant and plums. The most iconic Merlot wine is of course Pétrus.

Pinot

With its origins in Burgundy this grape variety is genetically unstable and therefore delicate to grow. It is very sensitive to the terroir. Pinot grapes generate supple and fruity wines.

Syraz (Shiraz in Australia)

DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.If produced with low yields it generates high class wines. The result is a "vin noir", peppeery wine with violet aromas. It is often used as a single variety such in the iconic Australian Penfolds Grange.

 

WHITE WINES

Sauvignon Blanc

All Sauvignon Blanc have a fruity, floral or herbaceous note. But depening on the terroir (meaning the latitude, date of harvest, climate and winemaking technique) variations can result. Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France is usually dry, frank and fruity while a Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is more mineral, spicy and exotic.

Chardonnay

The origin of this grape is mix of Gouais Blanc (a mediocre grape from Jura) and Pinot Noir. It was exported all over the world and can easily adapt to different soils and climates. This grape variety produces wines with powerful aromas in the Burgundy region (e.g. brioche, butter, hazelnut, toast), versus more citrus fruits, pineapple and exotic fruits aromas in hotter regions. If aged in wood barrels, as done in Burgundy for great Chardonnays, the wine has a long ageing potential.

Sémillon

Sémillon gives fleshiness and body to sweet wines (e.g. Sauternes) or is used in blends for dry white wines of the noble Graves appelation in Bordeaux.

Gewurztraminer

Wines that are very fruity, with spicy notes and aroma of roses.

Rielsing

Wines with a good balance of acidity and sweetness. Can be dry, elegant, lemony if young or vigorous and complex if produced to lay down (e.g. Clos St. Hune, Maison Trimbach, Alsace).