Very often in restaurants, one is handed a wine list of more than 10 pages, and one leafs through all these wines from around the wine not knowing which one to choose. Thankfully at least Red and White wines are listed separately! Suppose they were not?! I hope after this blog post you do ask for the wine grape of your choice and region..
It is said that only cheese has more varieties than grapes. There are more than 700 grape varieties that are used in wine making, and of course, you can’t be expected to know all of them. Don’t get bogged down by the numbers. This is a matter of taste alone: what suits your palate.
First, let’s bust a basic myth for you today: Red wine is made from red grapes and white wine is made from white grapes. While the first part of the sentence is true, the latter is not. White wine can be produced from red grapes too, but without using their skin. That’s right – it is the skin that gives the colour to the wine. We’ll get into that more when we talk about wine production process. So let’s start the easy way – I have listed a few popular red grape varieties with some characteristics to look for. Start by tasting a wine, and just be aware of the variety of grape you are tasting. Always keep a small diary with you when you taste a wine and write your thoughts as you taste along. Remember, wine is a personal choice so your thoughts don’t have to mirror someone else’s! Here’s a bright side, if you don’t like a variety, there are 699 more varieties to taste from!
So when you are dining out next time, open up this blog page and start with any grape variety listed. When tasting, think about the characteristics you notice and compare these with the ones I have listed. Use the notes at the bottom of the page to get started on the kind of aroma and tastes you experience. You may even notice some characteristics that aren’t mentioned here. That’s fine, just note them somewhere so that you know what to expect next time.
For now, let’s start with the most widely grown grape,
Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced as Car-burr-nay So-vee-Nyonh)
The Wine Regions in France, Bordeux is on the south west where Cabernet Sauvignon is mostly planted.
Bordeux is in the South West of France.
This popular grape features in most wine lists. It is the world’s most widely grown grape, and in fact is so popular, that it has its own holiday named after it – The Cabernet Sauvignon Day celebrated on August 30th ! Interestingly, this grape produces the world’s most expensive and the least expensive wine!
However, this grape variety is not a “pure” variety. Its origins are fairly recent in the 17th century, due to an accidental crossing between the varieties of ‘Cabernet Franc’ and ‘Sauvignon Blanc’.
The Bordeux region in France and the Napa Valley in California are perhaps the two regions where this grape reaches its maximum potential. The Bordeux region has the most plantings of this grape but due to its ability to grow in a vast array of soils and climates, it grows in many other of the world such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Spain, China, Italy, South Africa, Israel, Lebanon, New Zealand and Austria.
It has a thick skin, rich in tannin (the textural element in a wine that gives it a dry taste), which makes it easier for vineyard owners to grow this variety of grape.
Tannin is a naturally occurring compounds found in leaves, bark, stem,fruit skins,wood,plants.In wine, it gives a bitter and astringent taste .
One can taste tannin in the middle of your tongue and front part of the mouth.
What to look out for –
Colour: Will always have a deep dark red colour.
Tasting Notes: Look for characteristics like blueberries, blackberries, crème de cassis(a liqueur made from blackcurrants), chocolate when young to fragrances of leather, earth , wood and lead pencils when mature.
Tasting Tip : Try a young wine at first , 2014 onwards , from Bordeux Region or from California: For example, Robet Mondavi , Napa Valley .
Merlot (pronounced as Mehr-low)
Which in French means the little Blackbird. It is soft, ripe and elegant and is recommended to be the first red wine for a new wine drinker.
In the late 1700s, it was used as a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and it added a fruity flavour to the wine. From then on, it became known for its unique taste, and its fame spread.
Its taste depends upon the climate it grows in. For example, in the cool climates of France and Italy, it is more structured and has a higher presence of tannins(now you know what these are!) and earthy flavours like tobacco and tar; and in the warm climates of America, Australia and Argentina, it has less tannin.
In America, it is used to make wine using 100% Merlot grape. It’s thin skin make it low in tannin, which was loved by the Americans.
Colour : Getting into Deep Red
Tasting Notes: Black Cherry , Plum, Graphite , Cedar , Tobbaco, Vanilla, clove and Mocha
Tasting Tip: Try a Merlot from Napa Valley 2012 to start with !
Pinot Noir (pronounced as Pee-noh Nwahr)
Born in Burgundy in France, this grape is a crowd pleaser! Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties, so if you want to taste a bit of antiquity, go for a Pinot Noir. These wines are not as bold, rich and full bodied as Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, but this grape makes some of the most expensive wines in the world. Maybe because it is hard to grow, a great bottle made from this grape is a rare find. It is one of the grapes that one will find in Champagnes too!
Colour : Light Red
Tasting Notes: Cranberry , Cherry , Raspberry, Vanilla, Clove , Mushrooms, Caramel, Wet leaves, Tobacco
Always select the right glass for a Pinot Noir ; A broad base and a narrow mouth to sniff all the aromas!
Tasting Tip: Try a Pinot Noir from Sonoma , California and Malbourough m New Zealand
Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, authors of the book Wine Grapes claim that other varieties like Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc are simply color mutations of Pinot Noir. The DNA of each grape was analyzed to find out they are identical. So, if you like Pinot Noir, start drinking all the Pinots!’
A good Pinot Noir is one of the safest red wines, along with Merlot, to serve to a big group of people.
Grown in: France, United States, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa.
Syrah (pronounced as See-rah or Shih- Rahz)
The word Syrah may originate from “Syracruse”, a powerful city in Sicily during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC.
So is this the same as Shiraz wine? Yes it is. Syrah was born in a town called Hermitage, this is the northern Rhône wine region of France south of Lyon. As it spread to Australia it became known as ‘Shiraz’. It is now probably the most popular red wine in Australia.
If you do get a chance to taste a Syrah from the Hermitage area, don’t give it up! This is a heavy bodied dark wine, starts with a luscious fruity taste and tapers off with spicy undertones.
Colour: Very Dark, one of the darkest wines..if you put your glass against light you might not see the light..
Tasting Notes: Blackberry , blueberry, Olive , Pepper ,Cloves,Chocolate , Allspice, Rosemary , Cured meats, Tobacco and Herbs
Tasting Tip: Try a Syrah from the Rhone Valley in France or a Shiraz from Australia.
Grown in: France, Australia,New Zealand , South Africa, Spain, United States, Argentina, Italy and Chile.
Zinfandel (pronounced as zin -fun -dell) – Red and White
Usually grown in North America and Italy, this produces a light bodied red wine with moderate tannin levels and high acidity levels, that make it taste bold. Sometimes, this may be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Known as Primitivo is Puglia , Italy
Largely grown in the Sonoma Valley , Carlifornia
This is an exotic black grape variety of European origin cultivated predominantly in California. In the 20th Century. it occupied much the same place as Shiraz in Australia and had suffered the same lack of respect simply because it was the most planted grape variety often planted unsuitably in hot sites.But it had potential if yields are restricted and weather cool enough.
Zinfandel has been required to transform itself into virtually every style and colour of fine that exists.
Also cultivated in India !
Colour: Dark Red
Tasting Notes: Black berry , Black cherry , blue berry , Black currant
Aroma: Star Anise, Black Cardamom, black pepper, smoke
Try a Zinfandel from Sonoma and Napa Valley in California.
It also has a cousin called the White Zinfandel, which is very light, low in calories and alchohol and is pink in colour making it a perfect wine for a beginner. The White Zin, as it is popularly called, attributes its pale colour to the amount of time its skin has come into contact with the wine in the wine making process.
So c’mon, don’t be a wine snob and drink up that glass of White Zin!
General Tips on making notes in your diary – try to include the following:
- Grape variety – found on the label or wine list
- Year it was produced -found on the label or wine list(Hold on to that wine list a little longer !)
- Name of the vineyard/region found on the label or wine list
- After a swirl in the glass, be aware of the aroma
- The taste – try to write the fruit flavour first, and then the spice (if any)
- Body – this is the overall texture, for example: whether full or light on your palate.
- Tannin – this has more to do with texture: Do you feel tiny prickles? Do your lips stick to your teeth? Does it make your mouth feel dry?
- Acidity levels – The tartness of the wine.
Don’t worry if you did not feel any aroma or any taste as written above, this is about your palate, You may notice some other characteristics, do write them down ,and you can always try it again. And of course, remember to mention whether you enjoyed it or not!
The red wine grapes above are some of the most widely savoured and I will continue this series.
Ask for recommendations from the server or from the shop assistant if you are buying a bottle, like what is their best selling wine..etc
Enjoy your wine experience from reading the wine list , holding the bottle to tasting the first sip of the wine you have chosen
Story contributed by Sunaina Dhir Shivpuri