The grape is truly the undisputed backbone of wine. Despite providing a quite distinctive set of primary aromas, most of the grapes behave quite differently depending on the specific terroir they grow in, resulting in different wines.
In general terms, there are 18 Noble Grapes defining the complete range of flavours. Red noble grapes are Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Syrah (or Shiraz), Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Grenache. White noble grapes are Chardonnay, Sémillon, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Moscato and Gewürztraminer.
A wine can be made using juice fermented from only one grape variety or by blending different grapes. In some cases, legislation or appellation rules mandate the requirements to name a wine based on the grape variety or the minimum amount of juice made from a unique grape.
Below you can find a quick overview of the most significant grape varieties featured in the catalogue of The Beauty & The Taste.
Pinot Noir is the most prestigious grape variety in Burgundy, with producers pricing their bottles at over £15,000. It’s a difficult grape to grow, as it doesn’t tolerate excessively hot weather: outside Burgundy’s borders, good wines made from Pinot Noir are to be found in the coolest areas of California and Australia as well as in New Zealand. Some adventurous winemakers have been trying to grow this finicky grape in Piedmont lately. Pinot Noir aromas feature bittersweet red forest fruit and cherry, with notes of truffle and game with age.
Alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is one of the three major grapes used in Champagne: those wines are usually called Blanc de Noirs, White from Blacks.
Syrah has been grown in the Northern Rhône since Roman times to produce muscular wines highlighted by violet notes. It is also the main grape in Australia, where it was actually rebranded Shiraz and used to make deep, spicy wines with good ageing potential.
Merlot is very popular in Bordeaux, with its finest examples in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. It can grow both on clay and gravelly soils and it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines made from Merlot grapes include notes of plum and are usually soft and approachable. Outside France, Merlot is grown in California, Chile and Argentina. Merlot is also the experimental child of the famous Tuscan estate Tenuta San Guido, as seen with their second wine Guidalberto.
Arguably the most famous red grape variety in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is not particularly alcoholic and is very popular in Bordeaux. Its thick-skinned grapes perform best in relatively warm climates. Cabernet Sauvignon often displays notes of cedar, herb and blackcurrant and is especially suited for ageing. The finest examples of wines made from this grape variety are to be found in Bordeaux. But Cab also hails from Napa Valley, Margaret River in Australia and Tuscany – where the top Super Tuscans’ producers also use it as a blender besides vinifying it alone.
Sometimes defined as “the feminine version of Cabernet Sauvignon”, Cabernet Franc is the major red grape variety in Loire and a very common one in Bordeaux, as well. The wines made from this grape are generally light and soft and the variety is also used as a blending agent. Outside France, Cabernet Franc is increasingly gaining popularity in New Zealand, while following in the footsteps of the Cabernet Sauvignon trend in other regions, where it’s grown as an extension to plantations of the latter.
Nebbiolo is possibly the finest grape variety in Italy. It is grown almost exclusively in the northwestern region of Piedmont to produce masterpiece wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco. It is naturally high in tannins and acidity, showing great ageing potential. It is often compared to Pinot Noir in terms of growing conditions. As per its aromas, Nebbiolo is intensely aromatic and displays tones of roses, woodsmoke and violets, with not uncommon hints of truffle.
Sangiovese is the most famous grape variety in Tuscany and the basis of the blends for Chianti Classico and more importantly for Brunello di Montalcino as well as one of the blending agents in some of the finest Super Tuscans. Literally meaning “blood of Jupiter”, Sangiovese features juicy cherry aromas, with notes of herbs and spice.
Malbec was very popular in southwestern France before the severe winter of 1959 killed many of the vines. The vineyards were replanted with more tentalising substitutes and Malbec is now the flagship grape variety in Argentina. It presents note of black fruit, coffee and chocolate. The finest examples of Malbec have excellent age potential. Commercial success of this grape variety has been encouraged by the relative affordability of the wines made from it.
Among the other grape varieties offered on this website: Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Pinot Meunier (France), Tempranillo and Graciano (Spain) are well worth mentioning, while Pinotage, Petit Syrah and Zinfandel are showcased in the New World selection.
Chardonnay is arguably the most popular white grape variety in the world and one of the most famous overall. The wines derived from it are known to be very easily enjoyable, featuring low acidity and relatively high alcohol content. Winemakers tend to like the flexibility of this grape for its adaptability when used to produce dry as well as sparkling and (to a lesser extent) successful sweet wines. It is typically associated with white Burgundy wines, displaying crispy apple notes. In warmer regions such as California and South Africa, this grape variety shows hints of tropical instead. It has an affinity for oak, either new or used, French or American.
Along with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and often blended with them, Chardonnay is also one of the primary grape varieties of Champagne. When not blended, Champagnes from Chardonnay only are called Blanc de Blancs, White from Whites.
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape offering the wines made from it a distinctive crisp, dry and aromatic character. It might display notes of gooseberries, nettles and blackcurrant leaves, and may taste quite similar wherever it’s planted. This variety is very common in the French Loire Valley and is not uncommon in Bordeaux either, despite being often blended with Sémillon, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Sémillon is sometimes considered an underrated grape variety compared to the more famous Sauvignon Blanc, often grown alongside its more notable partner. Its finest examples are widely known to be from Bordeaux, with the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac and the dry ones from Pessac-Leognan. The wines are very rich, deep and dense. Australia is probably to be considered Sémillon’s stronghold beyond European borders, yet some interesting examples of this grape variety can be located in South Africa, too.
Amongst other minor grape varieties featured in the wines offered on our website, a mention is particularly deserved by French Viognier, Verdejo (Spain) and Fiano, a very typical variety from the Southern wine region of Sicily (Italy).