Chardonnay: Originally from France’s Burgundy region, where it produces such contrasting wines as the minrally Chablis and the multi-faceted, mouth-filling Montrachet. Chardonnay has conquered the world because of its adaptability to climate, soil and methods of winemaking. All over the world, it produces at the very least, pleasant wines and some of the greatest and most sought-after wines in the world and is better suited to maturation in oak than any other white grape. In the late nineties, Chardonnay began to get a bad reputation, mostly because of over-oaked, excessively buttery and too sweet wines coming out of California and mass-produced factory-wines from Australia, prompting many people to proclaim they drink “ABC” – anything but Chardonnay, a sure sign they don’t know much about wine.
Chenin Blanc: A French varietal from Anjou and the Loire has two distinct characteristics: a high natural acidity and susceptibility to botrytis. Chenin can produce a whole spectrum of different wines, from sparkling, through bone-dry to very sweet, age worthy wines. Even in hot climates and with high yields, its high acidity delivers balanced , but neural varietals, which are commonly used in blends for everyday, mass-market wines.
Gewürztraminer: It has grayish-pink grapes that produce wine with a golden gleam and an unmistakable bouquet of roses and lychee. This low-yielding and demanding varietal is only really convincing when harvested very ripe. The best examples come from Alsace, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy, but it can also be found in the USA, New Zealand and other places.
Muscat : aka Moscato or Muskateller. Its small, aromatic grapes are the basis for Moscato d’Asti, previously known as Asti Spumante. Some of the most famous examples of Muscat include wines from the greek island of Samos and Muscat de Frontignan from France. It is also widely planted in Spain, Austria, Eastern Europe, the USA, South Africa and Australia, producing very sweet, oily, but nevertheless complex desert wines.
Pinot Blanc: aka Pinot Bianco and Weißburgunder, this distinct member of the Pinot family is descended from Pinot Noir. This demanding but robust variety needs well ripened grapes to develop its character, which is to be found in roundness and good body, rather than in the somewhat discreet aroma. It plays an important role in northern Italy and Styria in Austria, as well as eastern Europe. It is also getting more frequently planted in the new world, including here in the Northwest.
Pinot Gris: One of the two varietals that put Oregon on the international wine map. Also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and Grauburgunder in Germany. This grape is thought to have mutated from Pinot Noir and first came on the scene in the 14th century. It requires deep soil, is fruity and easy-drinking with pleasant acidity and frequently shows tropical fruit notes. In Alsace and Germany it is also often found in sweet Spätlese or Vendanges Tardives versions which are sweet and rich, with delicate spiciness. Also often made into icewine here in Oregon.
Riesling: One of the 'noble grapes', Riesling's original home is in Germany's Rheingau region, where as a superior , fairly late ripening grape, it produces excellent with mineral and fruit dimensions. The most important region for Riesling today however is Germany's Mosel region. It retains its acidity as it matures, making it ideal for sweet 'Spätlese' and 'Auslese'. It loses its raciness however if planted in too warm a climate, which explains some of the very mediocre new world Rieslings.
Sauvignon Blanc: Often blended with Semillon Blanc to create some of the world's finest desert wines in Sauternes, as well as dry Graves and Entre-deux-Mers dry whites. Sauvignon Blanc is also responsible for Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre in the Loire region. It has aromas of blackcurrants and gooseberries together with a fresh acidity and inimitable mineral overtones. Also planted with great success in California and especially in New Zealand.
Semillon: Semillon has an affinity for botrytis (noble rot) and is responsible for the great sweet wines of Bordeaux. It can age very well, developing aromas of honey, candied fruits and chocolates, while often retaining a fresh citrus note. While Semillon's 'headquarters' are in France, it is also known to develop a real distinctive character in Australia's Hunter Valley.
Barbera: Usually produces an intense red wine with deep color, low tannins and high acid. Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards and allow production of long-aging, robust red wines with intense fruit and enhanced tannic content. The light, young versions offer a very intense aroma of fresh red and black berries. The better Barberas are often aged in oak and make complex, age-worthy wines. The most important growing region is Piedmont (Italy) with the most famous examples being Barbera d'Asti, Barbera de Monferrato (sparkling) and Barbera d'Alba.
Cabernet Franc: The 'little', hardier brother of Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape also comes from France's Bordeaux region. It can withstand much cooler temperatures and is sometimes planted as an 'insurance policy' against Cab Sauv losses. This varietal is often very dry and austere, with a unique and complex bouquet. Often used in blends with other grapes, there are some very fine examples of pure Cabernet Franc from France's Saumur region as well as Washington state.
Cabernet Sauvignon: As the basis for the cru classés in Boreaux's Médoc region, this variety has risen to become the most popular red wine grape. Good Cabernets are dark red, smell of cedar and blackcurrants, have considerable body and structure and age extremely well. Outside of France, Cabernet has found a home in many warmer climates, including USA, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Italy (where it makes up some of the Super-Tuscans) and Spain. in the USA, some of the best growing regions are California's Napa Valley and Washington's Walla Walla region, where many highly sought-after cult wines come from.
Dolcetto: A well known grape variety widely grown in Italy's Piedmont region. While the name translates to 'little sweet one', it is nearly always dry wine. Dolcetto is usually made into fast maturing, fruity and robust dark red wine with faintly bitter flavor. It tends to have a dark, rich color with a fruity nose - usually blackberry and blueberry.
Gamay: Gamay is a purple-colored grape variety used to make red wines, most notably grown in Beaujolais.Gamay-based wines are typically light bodied and fruity, often exhibiting tropical flavors and aromas - reminiscent of bananas, meant to be drunk young, although certain crus (Moulin A Vent for one) produce richer wines with slightly more body and aging potential.
Grenache: Grenache, also known as Garnatxa negre, Grenache noir, Garnacha, or Cannonau, is a red grape variety grown primarily for winemaking. It grows well in hot, dry regions and is grown in southern France, Spain, South America, Australia, and California's Central Valley. In France Grenache is the dominant variety in most Southern Rhône blends, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (in average more than 80% of the blend). It is also frequently used to make lighter, rosé wines in France and Spain.
Lemberger: German grape, also know as Blaufränkisch (and almost 40 other names). It makes light, dry red wines that are typically low in tannin and can exhibit a pronounced spicy character. Lemberger, by the name of Kekfrankos, is also one of the major ingredients of Hungarian 'Bull's Blood' or Egri Bikaver.
Merlot: This highly productive varietal is both used in pure varietal form, as well as in blends with more tannic grapes. The best results are achived in France's Bordeaux region, where it is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Cabernet Franc. Merlot is fruity, velvety and matures faster than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is being planted at a significant rate around the world. Its softness and fruitiness make it vey popular with people new to wine.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: A type of wine grape as well as a type of red wine made from these same grapes in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. Up to 10% Sangiovese is permitted to be added to the blend. It is typically a fruity, dry wine with soft tannins, and as such is often consumed young. If aged by the winery for more than two years, the wine may be labelled "Riserva."
Mouvèdre: Mourvèdre is known by various names: in Spain as Monastrell (or occasionally Morastell or Morrastel), in the Americas and Australia as Mataro (or occasionally Esparte), and in France sometimes as Balzac. Its taste varies greatly according to area, but often has a wild, gamey or earthy flavour, with soft fruit flavours of blackberry. Probably Mourvèdre's finest region is Bandol on the Mediterranean coast of Provence where it dominates the region, producing wines reminiscent of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is particularly successful in the Jumilla region of Spain where it is used as a varietal, or in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo or Merlot.
Nebbiolo: Takes its name from the fog that often blankets the hills in Italy's Laghe area where this grape thrives. The grape is used to make wines such as Barolo, and Barbaresco. These deeply coloured wines can be massively tannic in youth with intriguing scents of tar and roses. As they age, the wines take on a characteristic brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass and mature to reveal complex aromas and flavours (fruits, flowers and a bit of spices) quite unique and thrilling. These wines often take years to become approachable as they require ageing to tame the tannins from the grapes. As part of a global trend begun in the 1990s, younger producers have sought to make their wines more approachable in their youth.
Pinot Noir: Responsible for the famous red wines of Burgundy's Côte d'Or (France) more recently Oregon's Willamette Valley's Pinot Noirs, many of which have achieved cult status with collectors and wine lovers. It is one of the most challenging grape varietals to grow (which explains why Pinot Noir is never cheap) since it requires a low yield and the utmost care in vinification to produce wines of convincing quality. Pinot Noir can show beautiful red and black berry fruit, have aromas of mushroom and 'barnyard' and a gorgeous, light texture that envelops the palate like silk. Young, simple Pinots are lighter, easy-drinking fruit-forward wines whereas the best examples mature into sublime, complex master-pieces, often with price-tags to match. As a whole, Oregon Pinots tend towards the more intense and fruit-forward side, while burgundian Pinots tend to be more subtle and earthy, however there are certainly exceptions in both regions.
Sangiovese: Sangiovese is a red wine grape variety originating in Italy. It is most famous as the main component of the Chianti blend in Tuscany, but winemakers outside Italy are starting to experiment with it. Young sangiovese has fresh fruity flavours of strawberry and a little spiciness, but it readily takes on oaky, even tarry, flavours when aged in barrels.
Syrah: This superb varietal from the northern Rhône has found success throughout the world. It delivers full-bodied, hefty wines that have excellent tannins and complex aromas including violets, black cherries, wild herbs, liquorice, humus and various spices. It also grows well in Australia and South Africa where it is usually called Shiraz. In our part of the world, excellent Syrahs are grown and made in Washington State and Southern Oregon's Rogue and Umpqua Valleys.
Tempranillo: This grape is native to Spain where it is widely grown. Tempranillo is often referred to as Spain's noble grape and is the main grape in Rioja wines. Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but are considered at their best when aged, especially in oak barrels. They are lightly coloured and age well in both American and French oak. Tempranillo's aromas and flavors usually combine the elements of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb.
Zinfandel: Zinfandel, also known as Primitivo in Itlay, is a red-skinned wine grape. Commonly referred to as Zin, it is used to produce a popular California wine, known for its intense fruitiness, lush texture, and high alcohol content. Typically, Zinfandel tastes of white pepper with bramble and fresh or fermented red berries. The producers of Zinfandel made a shift from the 1990s into the new millennium with the production style for their dry reds. Although high in alcohol, the wines have thrown off their hot abrasive flavors and the wines have evolved with gentle tannins, and are stated to be rich and tasty from ripe fruit flavors brought out by newer fermentation techniques. This new style of Zinfandel created age worthy Zinfandels of remarkable complexity and finesse, although always with great vigor and power.