There are hundreds of grape varieties that are used for making wine. These grape varieties can be divided into two types: blue grapes and white grapes.
Most commercially known wines are made from a few dozen different grape varieties. On this page you can find an overview of the most famous grape varieties.
Blue Grapes or Blue Grape Varieties
Red wines are made from blue grape varieties. It sounds a bit confusing, but the color of the grapes from which red wine is made is blue.
The best known blue grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. These typical French grape varieties are now grown all over the world and, depending on the climate, yield wonderful results.
This is the best known and most accepted grape variety, both in taste and for cultivation. Cabernet Sauvignon gives its typical aromas, power and colour. The wines made from the Cabernet Sauvignon can have strong tannins and good maturation possibilities.
Cabernet Sauvignon typically covers a wide range of flavors but a clear characteristic is the black fruit (blackseed, cassis). In addition wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon also offer the typical dark (toasted) tones (tobacco and chocolate) and spices. If cabernet sauvignon is not fully matured, it can have some vegetable elements, such as green peppers.
The wines are extremely suitable for mturation on wooden barrels, usually offering a hint of vanilla from the oak wood. In addition the Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape that blends very well with other grapes, oftenly creating beautiful combinations. This is also one of the key components in many of the classic blends. For example this is a key component for the left bank Bordeaux Blend. The typical elements of Cabernet Sauvignon (stiffness, strength) are supplemented by the specific flavour elements (often softness, roundness) of other grape varieties (e.g. Merlot and Syrah). In Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is almost always mixed with Merlot, in the southern hemisphere often with Syrah (also called Shiraz).
The grape varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon form a close couple where Merlot is the more approachable of the two. When Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are in one wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend), the Merlot grape often makes the wine more complex and softer. The Merlot grape can also produce beautiful wines in itself, some of the most famous wines are made from primarily Merlot, such as the Petrus and the Italian wine Masseto.
Flavour elements that dominate Merlot wines are black fruit (black-haired) and dried fruit (plum, fig). Furthermore, you can generally find hints of licorice, chocolate and earthy (forest smell) elements.
The Merlot grape gives both soft and powerful wines, which can also ripen very well. Where Cabernet Sauvignon stands for peasantness and strength, Merlot stands for softness, elegance and complexity.
The distant ancestor of Cabernet Sauvignon that is particularly popular in the Bordeaux, the Loire and since a couple of years also on the rise in Italy. In the Bordeaux it is often used in blends to make wines smooth and round. On the right bank of the Bordeaux, especially in the colder clay soils, it often forms the basis of the final taste of the wine. Chateau Cheval Blanc is a very good example of this. Also several 100% Cabernet Franc are made, the most famous examples are the Clos Rougeard from the Loire, and the Paleo Rosso from Le Macchiole.
Cabernet Franc is mainly characterized by hints of forest fruits (strawberry and blackcurrant), pepper and pencil shavings. Also, wines from Cabernet Franc can be very perfumed.
Because of the smaller sized fruit, in comparisson with the Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, the Cabernet Franc taks longer to reach full ripeness. This is one of the main reasons for its growing success in Italy, espcially in the Tuscan hills. The temperatures can get relatively high in this area, and the slower riping Cabernet Franc can easily withstand these hot weather and reach perfect ripeness when other grapes might be too ripe.
This is one of the most difficult grapes to cultivate, because of its demands for a certain (cool) climate, soil composition and growing conditions. But if all the conditions are met, the best red wines in the world can be made. The Pinot Noir grape, with its softness, subtlety and fruitiness, is nerly opposite to the rigidity and power of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. The colour of pinot noir wines is much lighter than that of wines made from most other blue grapes.
Typical of pinot noir wines is the sheer fruitiness, in which red fruit (raspberry, strawberry) predominates. In addition, floral elements (violet, rose) and in the older (matured) wines earthy and animal tones like leather and truffle can become present.
The best Pinot Noir wines are from Burgundy, and the better wines are matured in wood. In Burgundy, the climatic conditions and the soil (terroir) are optimal. But also from New Zealand and the United States (among others Oregon) Pinot Noir wines can be excellent. These areas have a climate similar to that of Burgundy. Wines of the Pinot Noir grape can ripen for a very long time, provided that the wines are made for longer maturation.
Syrah / Shiraz
The Syrah grape is also called Shiraz in Australia. This grape mainly is grown in warm and sunny regions. The Syrah grape gives very powerful, concentrated and fruity wines and is effortless to combine with most dishes. Partly because of its ability to easily combine with many dishes, this grape has become a quite popular grape throughout the world.
The wines are fruity. Depending on the ripeness of the wine and the grapes, you will either get a focus on red fruit (raspberry) or black fruit (blackberry, cherries). Characteristic is the spiciness (e.g. pepper and cloves) and dark chocolate, smoke, animal (leather) and even some chemical (rubber) elements. The Syrah grape can give wines a lot of complexity.
The grapes are used in many ways. In the Rhône this grape produces very famous and expensive wines (Côte Roti for examle). Syrah is also used in Chateauneuf du Pape, mixed with numerous other grape varieties. On the southern hemisphere, the wine is sometimes mixed with cabernet sauvignon, which results in some very impressive and complex wines.
Tempranillo is a common grape in Spain, in that way common, that Spain and Tempranillo are nearly unseperable. It forms the basis of almost all Rioja's and Ribero del Duero wines, the two areas in Spain where some of the best wines are produced. These wines are often matured on wood and can deliver very long shelf life and beautiful full bodied wines.
Wines from Tempranillo have a lot of fruit, both black, and red fruit (strawberries, cherries) and dried fruit (plums). The wines have low acidity, also contributing to the longivity. Characteristic are tabacco, wood (cedar) and spicy elements.
The Tempranillo grape is often mixed with a local grape variety, but combined with Cabernet Sauvignon or as a cepage is also a common way of using this variety. The vines of Tempranillo usually are planted all over the field rather than in straight lines. Also to get the best grapes the vines are thoroughly pruned, meaning the yield of Tempranillo is usually relatively low.
The Sangiovese grape is a typical Tuscan grape. Brunello and Chianti are world famous wines made from the Sangiovese grape. There are several strains of the Sangiovese, of which the Sangiovese Grosso is most commonly used for the production of the highest quality wines. Due to the large size of these grapes, the wines are relatively light, and when aged can be subtle and elegant like a Pinot Noir. Brunellos can ripe very well and are often only ready to drink after decades of ageing. Examples of legendary Brunello wines are Monfortino and the Riservas of Biondi Santi.
Black cherries, floral notes, spices, dark notes (tea, tobacco, liquorice). The taste differs with the use of the different strains of Sangiovese, when drinking the Sangiovese Grosso, you should not be surprised to find lighter hints of red fruit, and if drunk young it can have some vegetal hints of green pepper.
Though Sangiovese is planted throughout the world, it is only planted in very small - and often experimental plots. This grape is almost exclusively bound to Italy, and more precise to Tuscany.
The grape of the Piemonte, Northern Italy. Piemonte is characterized by the morning mist in the valleys, the 'Nebbia'. Possibly this is where the name Nebbiolo comes from. World famous are the Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from this grape. The color of the wine made from the Nebbiolo grape is lighter, just like the Pinot Noir. The harvest is late because the grape needs time to ripen properly. Nebbiolo wines are often very powerful and aged in wooden barrels.
Red fruit (raspberry, strawberry), floral notes, earthy notes, dark notes (leather, tar).
The Grenache grape is mainly used in France, especially in the south part of the Rhone region where it is the most planted red grape. In Spain, this grape is called Garnacha. This grape variety needs a lot of heat and sun. It contains a lot of sugars, which allows the Grenache wines to produce a lot of alcohol. The Grenache grape is often used in combination with other grape varieties and is a popular grape variety for making rosé.
The wines are characterized by red fruit, black fruit, spiciness (pepper, cinnamon), chocolate, licorice.
The Gamay grape stands for the Beaujolais. From simple Beaujolais primeur wines to beautiful cru-wines. The best Beaujolais Cru wines can ripen for a long time. In the rest of the world, the Gamay grape is used rarely.
In Gamay wines, red fruit (strawberry, raspberry) with some floral tones are dominant. Especially the freshness and fruitiness is characteristic of Gamay wines.
The more simple Gamay wines are often slightly chilled (14 to 16 degrees Celsius).
The most famous white grape varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These typical French grape varieties are now being cultivated worldwide and deliver wonderful results depending on the climate.
This grape is the most popular and internationally the most widely used grape for white wine. This is because the grape grows easily anywhere in the world and produces very attractive results. The chardonnay grape is also called a noble grape. Many of the finest white wines are made from chardonnay. It is not the most planted grape variety.
The chardonnay grape gives wines with many fruit elements, where tropical fruit prevails (mango, passion fruit, pineapple). Butter and honey tones can also emerge. The wines can appear as very concentrated and full, which gives a feeling of quality.
Great chardonnay wines can be stored perfectly, making it also a wine that is often ripened in cellars. When matured on wood, it often develops butter and honey elements and will keep its quality for a long time (more than fifteen years). The wines can be quite alcoholic (over 14%).
This grape is less easy to grow than the chardonnay. Due to the rapid growth, pruning is good, otherwise the grape vines are overshadowed and the grapes are not ripe properly. With too much sun, the grape loses its acidity and thus its freshness.
Due to the acidity and aromas citrus fruit (grapefruit, lemon, green apple) and vegetable-like elements (asparage), as well as freshly cut grass, sauvignon blanc wines are refreshing. More mature sauvignon blanc sometimes develops a boxwood aroma, which is very characteristic. In warmer sauvignon blanc develops mainly tropical fruit elements.
The sauvignon blanc grape is also used for making sweet wines (including Sauternes).
The riesling likes a cool climate, is easy to cultivate and has a rich yield. The grape ripes slowly and relatively late. In addition to the chardonnay, the riesling is also called a noble grape: it can produce the very best and most expensive wines in the world. Riesling wines can be very simple fresh wines when harvested early. But also very concentrated and extremely complex when harvested later, resulting in sweet(er) wines with for example sweet eiswein harvest in winter.
Just like the sauvignon blanc wines, the riesling wines can be refreshing when having higher acidity: citrus flavours dominate. In the sweeter varieties, other fruit tones (pear, tropical fruit appear. The riper (older) riesling wines often develop a petroleum-like smell, which is very characteristic.
This grape is mainly found in the northern Rhône region. The viognier is not an easy-to-grow grape. The proceeds per hectare is low and the grapes are susceptible to rotting. The grape is not suitable for long maturation. The viognier grape is also used in blends of red wines, in order to red wine to give extra suppleness.
The wines are full and round, there is a lot of concentration. The wine can also develop a lot of alcohol and very own aromas of pear, peach, mango, apricot and jasmine/honeysuckle.
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio
This grape is a mutation from the red pinot noir and family of the pinot blanc. It grows in relatively cool regions.
The pinot gris wine has an average acidity. The most wines are quite modest in smell and taste. White fruit (peach, lemon), gravel/mineral accents and spiciness are characteristic flavor elements. Some producers make highly concentrated pinot gris wines (both dry and sweet), with more complex elements.
The grüner veltliner ripens slowly and, like the riesling harvested late. The areas where this grape variety are still limited, mainly in Austria, but its popularity is rapidly increasing. Grüner veltliner wines range from very dry wines (harvest in september) to sweet wines (harvest in December).
These wines have their own character; they can be very simple fresh and light spicy, but also very concentrated and full bodied. Aromas of pear, peach, citrus fruit and peppers are typical.
Just like the riesling, the chenin blanc is also a versatile grape which can produce dry to very sweet wines. The grape variety quickly gains popularity and is also often used in blends with other grape varieties.
When the grape is grown in cool climates it produces fresh wines with high acidity. The flavour elements that predominate are citrus fruit and floral notes. Sweet chenin blanc wines will have aromas of peach, honey and roasted Bread.
In South Africa, this grape is called "stone." The price-performance ratio of Chenin Blanc wines can be very good.
In Bordeaux all great wines are blends of grapes. In some very rare cases a wine is a cepage: some vintages of Petrus are 100% Merlot. The typical Bordeaux grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Blends are made from these grapes, sometimes even Carmenere is included.
Left bank blends are dominated by Cabernet sauvignon, right bank blends are dominated by Merlot.
White wines from Bordeaux are also blends in most cases, made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and occasionally from Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
Typical blue Rhone grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Mourverdre and Cinsault. Typical white Rhone grapes are Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. A lot of Rhone wines are blends, some red wines even contain white grapes. In Chateauneuf du Pape wines may consists of 18 different grape varieties.
Other Rhone grape varieties are Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Terret, Muscat, Clairette, Vaccarese, Bourboulenc.
A lot of wines from Alsace are single grape wines. But some of the most distinguished wines from the Alsace are blends of well known grapes like the pinot family (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris), muscat, riesling, gewurztraminer, auxerrois, sylvaner.
Port wine consists of a blend of several grape varieties. All grapes are grown in the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
Typical grape varieties are: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Barroca, Malvasia, Moscatel, Gouveio, Viosinho.