Friday, July 19, 2013

Big Six Grape Varieties

We've been travelling the globe - so while we recover from jet lag, we are republishing one of our first posts. A look at the Big Six wine grapes.

Many factors influence the taste of wine: winemaker techniques such as aging in oak barrels as well as climate and soil. Nothing, however, is more important than the grape itself. Here is a brief description of the top six grapes, also known as the “noble grapes."

White Wine

Chardonnay: The top selling varietal wine in the world. Usually fermented or aged in oak barrels. For those who do not like the oaky taste, try unoaked Chardonnay aged in stainless steel vats. Has a fruity taste with a flavor of apples, peaches or tropical fruit. Oak can give a buttery taste. Most popular in California, the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France, Northeastern Italy and Australia. For an introduction to Chardonnay, try Chateau St Jean Chardonnay or one from Columbia Crest Grand Estates.

Riesling: Light bodied and loaded with tangy apple, floral, lime, melon or mineral flavors. These wines can range from very dry to sweet, so experiment to try one that suits your palate. Germany is the traditional source of great Riesling. Also popular in the Alsace region of France, Austria, the Niagara region of Ontario and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Good for every day drinking but classy enough for special events. For an introduction to Riesling, try a Clean Slate Riesling from Germany. To truly rock, try Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes).

Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc can have a vastly different flavor depending on where it is grown. Look for zesty flavors of grapefruit and citrus or herbal tones. This grapes popularity is on the rise and some outstanding values can be had for under $15. In some areas of California the wine is called Fumé Blanc. Most popular in New Zealand, California and the Bordeaux region of France. For an introduction to this grape, try Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc or Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc.

Red Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon: Cab is one of the most popular red grapes. It is used to produce more wine than any other red grape and is frequently blended with other grapes. Some of the most famous Cabernets come from Bordeaux in France, Sonoma and Napa in California as well as Washington State and Italy. There are some great values coming from Chile. Known for a dark berry flavor (black cherry, blackberry) as well as earthy tones such as cocoa, leather even tobacco. These flavors are often blended in complex layers. Usually aged in oak barrels. For an inexpensive introduction, try a Blackstone Cabernet or a Columbia Crest Vintner’s Reserve. For a mountaintop experience, try a 2003 Jordan Cabernet. Medium to full body.

Merlot: Medium body with soft texture. Notes of plum and berry fruit flavor. Prevalent in Washington State, California (Napa and Sonoma) and Chile. Most Merlots are modeled after wines from its home of Bordeaux. Most Merlot growers blend in Cabernet Sauvignon or other grapes. The price can range widely. For an introduction, try a Kenwood Merlot or one from Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates. For a great Merlot, try California's Duckhorn. Has a similar taste to Argentinean Malbec.

Pinot Noir: The Pinot Noir grape is difficult to grow, but when grown well, they make some of the world’s best wine. Popular in Burgundy (France), Australia, Oregon (Willamette Valley) and California. It makes a medium to light bodied wine with flavors of red berries (cherry, raspberries) also plum. For an introduction, try a Sterling Vintner’s Reserve or an A to Z Pinor Noir from Oregon. Ken Wright Cellars in Oregon produces top flight Pinot.

These are admittedly just thumbnail sketches, but hopefully a launching point for you if you haven’t yet sampled all of the Big Six.

Photo by ndrwfgg

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