Get to grips with grapes

Get to grips with grapes

Get to grips with grapes

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  • Author: MyVillage

Get to grips with grapes


Figuring out what a New World wine is made of is much easier if you know your grape varietals. Each grape variety, of which there are hundreds, has unique characteristic that will lend flavours and aromas to a final wine.

Although the wineries will stamp their distinct flavour on their wines, you can get to know what to expect by understanding the stuff they are made of. Knowing what a grape can achieve is the essence of fine wine appreciation.

Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel are all red grapes, but as wines their personalities are markedly different. Even when grown in different appellations and bottled using different techniques, a wine always displays certain qualities inherent in the grape’s personality.

In New World wines, including those from the US, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, most are labelled by their varietal names. However, the process of wine appreciation is confused somewhat by the fact that many fine wineries of Europe label their bottles by geographic appellation instead of by grape varietal.

To get to grips with the predominant flavours of European appellations is relatively easy though. Wine growing regions throughout Europe tend to use established varietals for which they are famous. Chardonnay and pinot noir, for instance, are the major grapes of Burgundy. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot are the red grapes of Bordeaux. Rhone reds are usually shiraz. Barolo and Barbaresco wines are both made of nebbiolo. In Tuscany, sangiovese provides the backbone of Chianti. A different variety of sangiovese is used for Brunello di Montalcino.

For New World wines, here is a rundown of what you can expect from the dominant red and white grape varietals.

For reds, muscat should always be spicy with nice floral notes. Cabernet sauvignon has a deep flavour with rich fruits of currant, plum, black cherry and spices. Merlot has currant and cherry flavours, similar to cabernet, or chocolate, herbal and cherry flavours. Zinfandel is zesty, with pepper and wild berry flavours. Sangiovese is full-bodied with spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavours. Shiraz is rich with notes of pepper, black cherry, tar, roasted nut and leather. Nebbiolo has notes of rose petals, cherry and tar.

For whites, chardonnay offers rich and ripe fruit flavours of apple, melon, fig, pear, peach and citrus fruits, along with smooth tones of honey and butter. Sauvignon blanc is a musky wine with herbal notes. Chenin blanc is a fruity grape with gentle notes of peach, melon, citrus and spice. Pinot grigio has a soft dry flavour with gentle perfume. Riesling is acidic with floral, citrus and peach flavours.

Picture caption: Vine example – these are Bordeaux merlot grapes.

MyVillage, 14th February


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