Grape Varieties

Grape Varieties

A continually evolving set of short informative articles related to Wine Grape Varieties.

Carmenere

Chile’s own signature grape, this red varietal disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century and reappeared among Chile’s Merlot vines a hundred years later. The deepest, darkest, purplest of all red grapes needs a long growing season to reach its fullest potential. Rich in berry fruits and spice (blackberries and black pepper), with smooth, well-rounded tannins, making this a very pleasing and easy to drink varietal. Enjoy it with flavoursome red meats and game, or strong flavoured pasta dishes and light curries.
Chile’s own signature grape, this red varietal disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century and reappeared among Chile’s Merlot vines a hundred years later. The deepest, darkest, purplest of all red grapes needs a long growing season to reach its fullest potential. Rich in berry fruits and spice (blackberries and black pepper), with smooth, well-rounded tannins, making this a very pleasing and easy to drink varietal. Enjoy it with flavoursome red meats and game, or strong flavoured pasta dishes and light curries.

Nero d'Avola

As the name suggests, a black grape variety which is one of Italy’s indigenous varieties.It originates from Sicily and the best areas are around Noto and Pachino. The wines are typified by sweet tannins, plummy fruit with a peppery finish. They are sometimes likened to New World shiraz wines, but are normally less powerful.

As the name suggests, a black grape variety which is one of Italy’s indigenous varieties.It originates from Sicily and the best areas are around Noto and Pachino.

 

The wines are typified by sweet tannins, plummy fruit with a peppery finish. They are sometimes likened to New World shiraz wines, but are normally less powerful.

 

The vines enjoy hot arid climates and thus do well on the hilly slopes of Sicily. In the past Nero d'Avola, like other Sicilian reds, was often syrupy, with an alcohol content reaching eighteen percent --too strong as table wines.

New viticulture techniques and night harvesting --placing the grapes in  cooled vats to prevent premature fermentation, are used by some wine-makers to retain flavour without producing an overpowering wine. The result is often compared to syrah (Shiraz).

Some Nero d’Avola can be a little on the ordinary side, but well made wines – of which there are more and more as techniques improve in the area - are very good ‘everyday’ drinking wines. The majority are medium-bodied, but with lighter, ripe tannins and good fruit on the palate, they can be very enjoyable.


Cabernet Sauvignon

The most famous red wine grape in the world and one of the most widely planted. It is adaptable to a wide range of soils, although it performs particularly well on well-drained, low-fertile soils. It has small, dusty, black-blue berries with thick skins that produce deeply coloured, full-bodied wines with notable tannins. Its spiritual home is the Médoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux where it thrives on the well-drained gravel-rich soils producing tannic wines with piercing blackcurrant fruits that develop complex cedarwood and cigar box nuances when fully mature. The grape is widely planted in California where Cabernet Sauvignon based wines are distinguished by their rich mixture of cassis, mint, eucalyptus and vanilla oak. It is planted across Australia and with particular success in Coonawarra. It is also widely planted in many countries across the World, with varying success.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Notes

Despite its prominence in the industry, the grape is a relatively new variety, the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century in southwestern France. Its popularity is often attributed to its ease of cultivation—the grapes have thick skins and the vines are hardy and resistant to rot and frost—and to its consistent presentation of structure and flavours which express the typical character ("typicity") of the variety. Familiarity and ease of pronunciation have helped to sell Cabernet Sauvignon wines to consumers, even when from unfamiliar wine regions. Its widespread popularity has also contributed to criticism of the grape as a "colonizer" that takes over wine regions at the expense of native grape varieties.

 

 

The DNA evidence determined that Cabernet Sauvignon was the offspring of Cabernet franc and Sauvignon Blanc and was most likely a chance crossing that occurred in the 17th century. Prior to this discovery, this origin had been suspected from the similarity of the grapes' names and the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon shares similar aromas with both grapes—such as the black currant and pencil box aromas of Cabernet franc and the grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

While Cabernet Sauvignon can grow in a variety of climates, its suitability as a varietal wine or as a blend component is strongly influenced by the warmth of the climate. The vine is one of the last major grape varieties to bud and ripen (typically 1–2 weeks after Merlot and Cabernet franc) and the climate of the growing season affects how early the grapes will be harvested. Many wine regions in California give the vine an abundance of sunshine with few problems in ripening fully, which increases the likelihood of producing varietal Cabernet wines. In regions like Bordeaux, under the threat of inclement harvest season weather, Cabernet Sauvignon is often harvested a little earlier than ideal and is then blended with other grapes to fill in the gaps. In some regions, climate will be more important than soil. In regions that are too cool, there is a potential for more herbaceous and green pepper flavours from less than ideally ripened grapes. In regions where the grape is exposed to excess warmth and over-ripening, there is a propensity for the wine to develop flavours of cooked or stewed blackcurrants

 

In addition to ripeness levels, the harvest yields can also have a strong influence in the resulting quality and flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The vine itself is prone to vigorous yields, particularly when planted on the vigorous SO4 rootstock. Excessive yields can result in less concentrated and flavorful wine with flavors more on the green or herbaceous side. In the 1970s, a particular clone of Cabernet Sauvignon that was engineered to be virus free was noted for its very high yields-causing many quality conscious producers to replant their vineyards in the late 20th century with different clonal varieties. To reduce yields, producers can plant the vines on less vigorous rootstock and also practice green harvesting with aggressive pruning of grape clusters soon after veraison.

In general, Cabernet Sauvignon has good resistance to most grape diseases, powdery mildew being the most noted exception.

 

Winemaking

During the maceration period, color, flavor and tannins are extracted from the skins. The addition of stems and seeds will increase the tannic content of the wine.

In many aspects, Cabernet Sauvignon can reflect the desires and personality of the winemaker while still presenting familiar flavors that express the typical character of the variety. The most pronounced effects are from the use of oak during production. Typically the first winemaking decision is whether or not to produce a varietal or blended wine. The "Bordeaux blend" of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet franc, with potentially some Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carménère, is the classic example of blended Cabernet Sauvignon. But Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended with a variety of grapes such as Shiraz, Tempranillo and Sangiovese. The decision to blend is then followed by the decision of when to do the blending—before, during or after fermentation. Due to the different fermentation styles of the grapes, many producers will ferment and age each grape variety separately and blend the wine shortly before bottling.

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape itself is very small, with a thick skin, creating a high 1:12 ratio of seed (pip) to fruit (pulp). From these elements the high proportions of phenols and tannins can have a stark influence on the structure and flavor of the wine—especially if the must is subjected to long periods of maceration (skin contact) before fermentation. In Bordeaux, the maceration period was traditionally three weeks, which gave the winemaking staff enough time to close down the estate after harvest to take a hunting holiday. The results of these long maceration periods are very tannic and flavorful wines that require years of aging. Wine producers that wish to make a wine more approachable within a couple of years will drastically reduce the maceration time to as a little as a few days. Following maceration, the Cabernet must can be fermented at high temperatures up to 30 °C. The temperature of fermentation will play a role in the result, with deeper colors and more flavor components being extracted at higher temperatures while more fruit flavors are maintained at lower temperature. In Australia there has been experimentation with carbonic maceration to make softer, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon wines

The tannic nature of Cabernet Sauvignon is an important winemaking consideration. As the must is exposed to prolonged periods of maceration, more tannins are extracted from the skin and will be present in the resulting wine. If winemakers choose not to shorten the period of maceration, in favor of maximizing color and flavor concentrations, there are some methods that they can use to soften tannin levels. A common method is oak aging, which exposes the wine to gradual levels of oxidation that can mellow the harsh grape tannins as well as introduce softer "wood tannins". The choice of fining agents can also reduce tannins with gelatin and egg whites being positively-charged proteins that are naturally attracted to the negatively-charged tannin molecules. These fining agents will bond with some of the tannins and be removed from the wine during filtration. One additional method is micro-oxygenation which mimics some of the gradual aeration that occurs with barrel aging, with the limited exposure to oxygen aiding in the polymerization of the tannins into larger molecules, which are perceived on the palate as being softer.

Affinity for Oak

One of the most noted traits of Cabernet Sauvignon is its affinity for oak, either during fermentation or, more commonly, in barrel ageing. In addition to having a softening effect on the grape's naturally high tannins, the unique wood flavors of vanilla and spice complement the natural grape flavors of black currant and tobacco. The particular success of Cabernet-based Bordeaux blends in the 225 liter (59 gallon) barrique were a significant influence in making that barrel size one of the most popular worldwide. In winemaking, the decision for the degree of oak influence (as well as which type of oak) will have a strong impact on the resulting wine. American oak, particularly from new barrels, imparts stronger oak flavors that are less subtle than those imparted by French oak. Even within the American oak family, the location of the oak source also plays a role with oak from the state of Oregon having more pronounced influence on Cabernet Sauvignon than oak from Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Winemakers often use a variety of oak barrels from different locations and of different ages and blend the wine as if they are blending different grape varieties.

Winemakers can also control the influence of oak by using alternatives to the standard barrique barrels. Larger barrels have a smaller wood-to-wine ratio and therefore less pronounced oak flavors. Winemakers in Italy and Portugal sometimes use barrels made from other wood types such as chestnut. Another method that winemakers consider is tea bagging with oak chips or adding oak planks to the wines while fermenting or aging it in stainless steel tanks. While these methods are less costly than oak barrels, they create more pronounced oak flavors, which tend not to mellow or integrate with the rest of the wine's components; nor do they provide the gradual oxidation benefit of barrel aging.


Pinot Noir

A finicky and fastidious varietal, Pinot Noir is sensitive to small changes in the season, the terroir and in how it is managed. Pinot noir is a very ancient variety that may be only one or two generations removed from the wild grape vine. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France.

Pinot Noir is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine.

Pinot noir's home is France's Burgundy region, particularly in Côte-d'Or. It is also planted in Austria, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Chile, north parts of Croatia, the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Kosova, the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Greece, Romania, New Zealand, South Africa, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, United States, Uruguay, Ukraine and Slovakia.

The leaves of Pinot noir are generally smaller than those of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah and the vine is typically less vigorous than either of these varieties.

In the vineyard Pinot noir is sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels (it must be low yielding for production of quality wines), soil types and pruning techniques. In the winery it is sensitive to fermentation methods, yeast strains and is highly reflective of its terroir with different regions producing sometimes very different wines. Its thin skin makes it susceptible to bunch rot and similar fungal diseases of the bunch. The vines themselves are susceptible to powdery mildew, and in Burgundy (and elsewhere) infection by leaf roll and fanleaf viruses causes significant vine health problems. These complications have given the grape a reputation for being difficult to grow:

“God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir”

It is much less tolerant of hard, windy, hot and dry, harsh vineyard conditions than the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, or Grenache.

Pinot noir wines are among the most popular in the world. Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot noir as "the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic. Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon calls pinot "sex in a glass".

 
Taste & Style

In the broadest terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black and / or red cherry, raspberry and to a lesser extent currant and many other fine small red and black berry fruits. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its savoury fleshiness and 'farmyard' aromas (these latter not unassociated with mercaptans and other reductive characters), but changing fashions, modern winemaking techniques, and new easier-to-grow clones have favoured a lighter, more fruit-prominent, cleaner style. The wine's colour when young is often compared to that of garnet, frequently being much lighter than that of other red wines. This is entirely natural and not a winemaking fault as Pinot noir has a lower skin anthocyanin (colouring matter) content than most other classical red / black varieties. However, an emerging, increasingly evident, style from California and New Zealand highlights a more powerful, fruit forward and darker wine that can tend toward Syrah (or even new world Malbec) in depth, extract, and alcoholic content.


Rondo

One of the 'new' red grape varieties grown for English wines with some considerable success.
Rondo
Hybrid. Saperavi Servernyi x St Laurent Originally just named Gm 6494/5 this hybrid vine has very different parentage from Regent but some similar characteristics. It has adapted to UK conditions very well and plantings have been increasing since was first planted in 1983. Rondo produces wines with very good colour and style and overtones of classic red varieties. It blends well with other varieties (such as Dornfelder and Pinot Noir) and can be likened to a cross between Tempranillo and Syrah. 


Teroldego Rotaliano

Here’s a grape variety that few people have ever come across. It is grown in the Trentino region of the Alto Adige in Northern Italy. It has full DOC status since 1971 and there are about 300 producers, although the planted vines cover less than 400 hectares ( about 1000 acres).

Teroldego Rotaliano

 

Here’s a grape variety that few people have ever come across. It is grown in the Trentino region of the Alto Adige in Northern Italy. It has full DOC status since 1971 and there are about 300 producers, although the planted vines cover less than 400 hectares ( about 1000 acres).

 

The wines from this variety have been produced since ancient (probably Roman) times on the Campo Rotaliano, an alluvial plain between the rivers Adige and Noce.

 In terms of style it is ripe and fruity, charming but with a structure which allows it to be taken seriously. Less acid than a Chianti Classico, it has greater tannin than a Beaujolais Cru, such as Chiroubles, and has some of the character of both these wines.

 

The colour is a dense ruby/purple. The nose has hints of black cherry, plum and blackberry, together with almonds and tar. The palate is full-bodied, rich and well structured , with balanced light tannins and acidity.

 All in all, a wine worth looking out for. Very versatile food wine.


Viognier

Sometimes you just need to find a good alternative to Chardonnay. A grape variety that has defined character, is aromatic and has enough body to make it interesting - and versatile. Viognier fits the bill.

Viognier

Sometimes you just need to find a good alternative to Chardonnay. A grape variety that has defined character, is aromatic and has enough body to make it interesting - and versatile. Viognier fits the bill.

Originating from the Northern Rhone valley in France, where it makes a wonderful and expensive wine called Condrieu, it is now grown world-wide and is increasing in popularity.

It is now starting to be be blended with several other grape varieties and these can make very interesting wines - aromatic and structured, yet with good fruit and acidity.