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Wine Varietals

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Wine Varietals

To a novice, understanding the unique characteristics of a wine can be a daunting task. Pronouncing the names is sometimes tough enough, but making the task even more difficult is how different countries use different names for the same type of wine (i.e. Shiraz in Australia vs. Syrah in Europe and the U.S.). Also, some countries use the name of the wine region it was produced, as in Bordeaux, France, for the varietal name. Finally, some names are marketing driven and don’t represent anything, neither the grape nor the region in which it was produced, such as Meritage in California.

I have listed below the more popular wine varietals you will encounter as you expand your enjoyment of wine. I have included the more notable fragrances and flavors these wines could exhibit, but don’t be disappointed if the wine you taste does not match this list exactly – it’s only a guide. I have also included a “wine glass” icon to let you know if the wine is a red, white or rosé.

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Wine Name Description Cellar? (years)
Abocado Red wine glass Spanish semi-dry wine. Should have flavors of black berries, earth and leather. 3 to 5
Albariño White wine glass Native of northern Spain and Potugal, this varietal wine has a pleasant citrus, spicy fruit aroma. It is often blended with other white grapes and sometimes aged in oak for fuller body. 1 to 3
Alluvium White wine glass California name for a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier grapes. Has flavors of apples, peaches, grapefruit, flowers and honey. Slightly sweet. 1 to 3
Amarone Red wine glass Blueberry, plum and raisin, dried flowers, herbs and a touch of bacon. Powerful and luscious it needs lots of time to soften the tannins. 5 to 20
Asti Spumanti White wine glass Italy's greatest sparkling wine with fresh, grapey appeal, tiny bubbles, and a light, rich fruitiness with hints of peaches. 1 to 3
Barbera Red wine glass The best Barberas offer cherry, spice and vanilla flavors. They are well-balanced, with medium body, soft tannins, and balanced acid. Traditionally a blending grape, it is being taken seriously as a single varietal in Italy, California, Australia, and more recently Argentina. 1 to 5
Barbaresco Red wine glass The kid brother to Barolo, it has cherry, with some chocolate, anise, earth, and spice notes. Supposed to made from a single grape variety, the nebbiolo grape, it is sometimes blended to soften the body. 5 to 15
Barolo Red wine glass Made from the Nebbiolo grape, this Italian red has a tar and roses scent. Look for flavors of black fruit, dried herb, cherry jam, and possibly licorice and smoke. It is powerfully full-bodied, extremely long-lived and among the greatest reds in the world. 5 to 20
Beaujolais Red wine glass Both a wine and a French region producing wines with concentrated fruit, kirsch aromas and flavors.Light and easy to drink, Beaujolais Nouveau is made in November each year and should be drunk within weeks. No
Blush Pink wine glass Usually refers to white Zinfandel, but can be a variety of other red grapes producing very fruity Rosé type wines with notes of strawberry, rhubarb, bubble gum - even Playdough No
Bordeaux Red wine glass These French blended wines have so many delightful flavors they are tough to classify. Look for a deep color with elegant notes of ripe black fruit, cassis, chocolate, smoke, and creamy vanilla oak. Usually need several years to soften. 5 to 20
Brunello Red wine glass Spicy and mildly astringent, this is a strong deeply colored red which is fermented long and slowly. It is aged in Tuscan barrels for at least four years. Flavors of cranberry, cherries and oak. 5 to 15
Burgundy, red Red wine glass Made from the Pinot Noir grape, Burgundies traditionally exhibit a cedary aroma, with black plum, cherry, earth, cocoa, rhubarb, pepper, black licorice, leather, and grippy tannins. Aging partially in new oak barrels adds additional depth and dimension. 3 to 30
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Carmenère Red wine glass From Chile, it has a bouquet of dark plum and toasty oak, with slight earthy, barnyardy note, and touch of carmel. It should be inky-black, with hints of vanilla, earthiness and spice. 3 to 10
Cabernet Franc Red wine glass As a single grape wine, has berry, licorice, mint and cranberry flavors, with slight floral nose. May exhibit hints of raspberry and black cherry, edged with spice and pepper. 3 to 5
Cabernet Sauvignon Red wine glass Wide variation of flavors, but look for black cherry, currants, bell peppers, cedar, and possibly anise. May also find aromas of cassis, cigar box, leather, meat, or mint. 3 to 15
Carignan Red wine glass Known in southern France, Spain and now California, it's usually blended to produce Fitou, Minervois and Corbieres wines. In California it ends up in "jug" wines, but more recently blended into pleasant, southern Rhone style wines. 3 to 5
Chablis White wine glass French Chardonnay grapes make this stylish, intense wine with slightly smoky quality and notes of stone, mineral, and crisp fruit. Don't mistake with its California cousin which is very light and lacking depth and possibly not from the chardonnay grape. 3 to 5
Chardonnay White wine glass Base flavors are green apple, peach and melon before being influenced by oak, giving it a buttery toast flavor. Also look for butterscotch and caramel and occasional citrus flavors. 3 to 5
Châteauneuf-de- Pape Red wine glass Extremely concentrated. Made from a variety of grapes, but usually includes Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. Look for a very deep-colored, almost black wine with flavors of licorice, roasted meat, black cherry and blackberry fruit. Also a truffle-like, earthy note, pepper, spice and slight perfumed quality. 5 to 20
Chenin Blanc White wine glass California selections are, at their best, fruity with tropical fruit, citrus, peach, ginger, oak and toffee. In the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc ages slowly, turning from the freshest vibrant fruit to complex, toasty, nutty, mineral, and honeyed flavored. 1 to 3
Chianti Red wine glass Black cherry, chocolate, espresso, cedar, sandalwood, black tea, toasty oak, dark plum, and possibly slight licorice or even soy notes. Consists of at least 70% sangiovese grapes to be legal. 3 to 10
Cinsault Red wine glass A grape which by itself, makes a soft, fruity, but not particularly distinguished wine produced in France. When crossed with Pinot Noir, it is a hybrid producing Pinotage. 3 to 5
Claret Red wine glass More of a descriptive term than a wine, it is an "imitation" of the Bordeaux style of wine with ripe black fruit, cherry, possible leather, smoke and oak. 5 to 10
Colombard White wine glass A sometimes thin and acidic wine without distinct flavors. Ideally used for the distillation of Armagnac and Cognac. 1 to 3
Côte-Rôtie Red wine glass Floral-herb aromas with smoky, green tobacco, white pepper and cranberry. May have tart red-berry flavors with mineral notes. 5 to 15
Côtes-du- Rhône Red wine glass Not really a wine varietal, but rather a region offering wines of distinct character. Look for a full bouquet with dark cherry, coffee and black pepper notes. May have bramble and earthy nose. 3 to 15
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Fumé Blanc White wine glass California name for dry Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of citrus, melon, grass, peaches, apricots, tropical fruit and possibly butter, vanilla and honey. May be blended with Semillon. 1 to 3
Gamay Red wine glass The famous grape of Beaujolais, it is designed to be drunk young and has flavors of strawberry, cherry, banana and chocolate. No
Gewürztraminer White wine glass Serve chilled, this wine exhibits lychee nut, grapefruit and pear flavors. Possibly floral, tangerine, pineapple, orange, and spice. Late harvest Gewürztraminers are usually sweet (20%+ residual sugar) with tremendous fruit concentration and like drinking your dessert. 1 to 10
Gigondas Red wine glass This French wine is usually thick and deeply saturated purple color with sweet ripe, jammy currant and cherry flavors with exotic spices and medium tannins. 3 to 10
Grenache Red wine glass Usually blended, but as a single grape wine has flavors of black pepper, plum and toffee. Primary grape of the southern Rhone. 1 to 3
Hermitage Red wine glass This northern Rhone wine using almost exclusively the syrah grape, is smoky, spicy and intense with some flavors of blackberry, cedar and perfume. 5 to 20
Johannisberg Riesling White wine glass Slightly sweet with fruity, floral aromas and flavors and a slight tingly texture. Look for flavors of spice, apples, apricots or peaches and honey. 1 to 5
Lambrusco Red wine glass A traditionally sweetish, bubbly wine made from the grape of the same name. It is very different in its native Italy where it is low in tannin, but dry, high in acidity and full of strawberry flavors. Great with salami and prosciutto. No
Lemberger Red wine glass Soft, rustic, juicy and grapey, it is most popularly used in wines from the Pacific Northwest. Serve slightly chilled during a summer picnic. 3 to 5
Macon-Villages White wine glass Mistaken as a wine varietal, it is actually a wine region producing white Burgundy (Chardonnay) wines with subtle nuts and butter hints, possible tropical fruit flavors along with lime and banana. Good finish and very dry. 1 to 5
Malbec Red wine glass Usually a blended grape used in Bordeaux. Single varietals are now popular in Argentina and California. It can impart flavors of mint and chocolate, as well as cherry, pepper and spice. 3 to 5
Malvasia White wine glass Typically a blending grape in white Spanish Rioja, it provides structure, richness, acidity and fragrance. It can impart a fine spicy-flowery character. 1 to 3
Marsanne White wine glass Peach cobbler aromas, with honeyed, fruity mouth. Possible citrus peel, mango and chalk notes. Most are best with five years in a bottle. 3 to 7
Meritage, red Red wine glass California's version of Bordeaux-style wine. Blackberry, bell pepper, dill, mint, and oregano. Some smoky, creamy, vanilla notes. 5 to 15
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Merlot Red wine glass Sandalwood, coffee, mint, chocolate, pepper, and vanilla, but also notes of black currant, cherry and possibly plum. 3 to 5
Montepulciano Red wine glass A medium-weight, basic red wine with ripe cherry and dark plum, with light tobacco and cedar accents. 3 to 8
Montiano Red wine glass Italian trade name being used for Merlot. Look for aromas of chocolate, espresso, blackberries, cherries and possibly currants. Will usually have some new oak flavors and smoke. 3 to 15
Moscato White wine glass Typical dessert wine. Fruity and easy to drink, this wine offers scents of peach blossoms, honeysuckle, vanilla, apricot, roasted almonds, and sweet butter. 3 to 8
Mourvedre Red wine glass Primarily blended French and Spanish grape producing dark, structured, robust and gamey wine with slight spice and perfume. Known as Monastrell in Spain and Mataro in Australia. 3 to 8
Muscadet White wine glass Clean, fresh aromatics with a dry, lemony, possibly flowery finish. May have some pineapple and mineral notes. Could be slightly sparkling with medium body and tangy mouthfeel. Average Muscadets are sweet, light, fruity and without depth. No
Muscat Blanc White wine glass Dry or sweet with a variety of flavors because a family of "Muscat" grapes are used. Look for strong aromas; roses, oranges, spice and possibly petroleum jelly. No
Nebbiolo Red wine glass Not really a wine, but a blended grape used in the powerful Italian Barolo wine and it's little brother Barbaresco. Huge and tannic, they can take decades to mature, but well worth it. See above. 3 to 15
Palomino White wine glass The classic Spanish grape varietal in sherry, it is rarely used in table wine but gives a soft, toffee fragrance with low acidity. No
Petit Verdot Red wine glass Traditionally a blended grape, it is used in red Bordeaux wine to provide acidity, tannins and fragrance. 3 to 5
Petite Syrah Red wine glass Dark in color and full of dark stone fruits. Earthy with mint and chocolate notes. These can be quite tannic and require 5 years aging before drinkable. Not the same grape as Syrah. 3 to 10
Pinot Grigio White wine glass Nose of apple, hay, straw and lemon and possibly pear. Look for a good mouth-feel, medium body and crisp herbal finish. 1 to 3
Pinot Gris White wine glass Perfumed aromas of honeysuckle, pineapple and guava. Possibly pear, peach, smoke, and citrus, and mineral notes. Some vintages may have flavors of nuts and smoke, which make it closer to the tastes of a French Chablis. Also known as Pinot blanc and Rulander. 1 to 3
Pinot Noir Red wine glass Red fruit softened with chocolate, clove and cinnamon. Black cherry, slight licorice, vanilla and butter. 3 to 10
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Port Red wine glass Also Porto. A fortified wine allowing 48 grape varieties permitted in its production, which explains the wide variation in taste. Look for a raisiny, ripe chocolate flavor, with hints of spice. Forever
Primitivo Red wine glass Zinfandel in Italy, but doesn't taste the same. Medium bodied, with dark cherry, leather, coffee and cocoa flavors. Possible spice, tar and black pepper notes. Bad ones have hot, raisiny flavor. 3 to 5
Rhône Red wine glass Not a grape or wine, but a style using a syrah-based wine. Southern Rhône wines have a predominance of Grenache which adds nice fruit, pepper and toffee. 5 to 15
Riesling White wine glass Usually sweet or semi-sweet ("halb-trocken" with German Rieslings) with a floral flavor as well as apricot, peach, apple, pear, and honey. Sweeter varieties may even exhibit toffee, vanilla, pecan pie, and crème brûlée. 1 to 10
Rioja Red wine glass Generic Spanish red wine with mostly Tempranillo grapes, sometimes blended with Mazuela. Has nose of cinnamon, cherry, clove and leather. Notes of tart-cherry, licorice, mineral and spice components. 5 to 10
Rousanne White wine glass Used in Hermitage wines, it provides spice, marmalade and cedar notes, and usually used as a blending grape. As a single varietal wine, it can be quite crisp, flavorful and a refreshing change from Chardonnay. 1 to 3
Sancerre White wine glass Loire Valley (France) Sauvignon Blanc has flavors of lime or lemon, and usually intense fruit. Mineral nose, possibly with tangerines, honey and soil notes. 1 to 3
Sangiovese Red wine glass Dusty cherry and cassis, with hints of tar, herb, chocolate, and leather. Nose is usually of espresso and black fruits. California versions usually have a bit more oak, with possible plum and vanilla notes. 3 to 10
Sauvignon Blanc White wine glass Green melon (California), crisp lemon-grass and thyme aromas. Grapefruit, pear and possibly passion fruit and fig. When aged in oak, it is known as Fume Blanc. 1 to 3
Sémillon White wine glass Can have flavors similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, with a grassy or herbaceous note. Often will find melon, herb with ripe fig flavors. 1 to 5
Seyval White wine glass A popular grape in Great Britain and Canada, it produces wines with flavors of apple and pear. 1 to 5
Shiraz Red wine glass Australian syrah with flavors of blackberry, vanilla and toasty oak. Sometimes licorice, cedar and mocha cream notes. Often described as meaty, leathery and juicy. Known as Syrah in other parts of the world. 3 to 10
Spanna Red wine glass Italian wine made from Nebbiolo grape. When made for early drinking it uses this name, whereas when made to age it becomes the massive Barolo wine. 1 to 3
Sylvaner White wine glass Originally from Austria, this grape produces wines that are dry, very light and used in Alsace for everyday table wine. May have some earthy characteristics. 1 to 3
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Tempranillo Red wine glass Full-flavored, the better ones have flavors of cherry, earth, leather, meat, oak, and spice. Also known as Tinto Fino, it is Spain's top red wine at all levels of the quality scale. 3 to 10
Tokay White wine glass Actually a deep golden color, this Hungarian sweet wine has flavors of dried apricots and smoke. Decades
Torrontes White wine glass Argentina wine with notes of litchi and nectarine. Light and lively, crisp and plenty of length. May have occassional slight effervessence. 1 to 5
Trebbiano White wine glass Very neutral central Italian wine with notes of deep green-apple bouquet. It is the primary grape in central Italy used in wines such as Orvieto, Soave, Verdicchio, and Lugana. Light in both body and fruit with a hint of sweetness. 1 to 5
Valpolicelli Red wine glass A fairly ordinary wine that is light in body but can have wonderfully cherryish and blackberry and possibly licorice notes. An easy drinking wine. 1 to 5
Verdelho White wine glass An Iberian grape used in Australia to produce a wine with notes of tangerine, hay, melon, citrus and herb. May have mineral, stony aroma with medium body and tangy, apricot or citrus finish. 1 to 3
Vinho Verde White wine glass Portugal's light and lively wine with bright floral aromas and lemon-lime and sour apple bouquet. Has a slightly fruity-sweet palate with up front apple and white peach. Mineral and lime finish. 3 to 5
Viognier White wine glass Fruity, spicy, exotic flavors with apple, apricot, peach, honey, and pear notes. Barrel fermentation adds a smooth, velvety and buttery mouthful. Dry but rich. 1 to 5
White Zinfandel Pink wine glass Generically known as "Blush" wine. This "pink" wine is freshly fruity, soft and slightly sweet, with aromas of red raspberries and peaches. No
Zinfandel Red wine glass Crisp berry with slight cocoa, tar, pepper and leather. Jammy black-cherry, bramble, pepper, herbs, and spice. May be blended with Petite Sirah. 3 to 10
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