There are over 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world that are used to make wines with. Many of these are unique original grape types and many others have been developed by using grafting and other methods to produce new hybrids.
Here is a brief definition of the most common grapes used in wine making.
This variety is deserving of a place in this major section due to the incredible quantity produced each year whether it be as Garnacha, Cannonau or Grenache. Its quality may be slightly less respected than its counterparts but as a wine made for blending it fits the bill!
This vine originated in Spain and has worldwide distribution, and its many characteristics travel with it. Firstly the vine is a hardy, robust, woody example and can survive in arid windy conditions giving it a definite edge over its rivals. Secondly the vine buds early but enjoys a longer than usual growing cycle to ripen, this then translates itself into high sugar levels which then allows the finished wine to give alcohol levels of 15-16 degrees!
I have actually tasted examples of this (and survived to tell the tale)
The grapes are generally a lighter blue or even pink in arid areas with a light dust, they reveal a fruity, sweetish juice and the skins are much thinner than is the norm. Production excels on very poor soils, dry rocky terrain or even sandy loams. It is susceptible to downy mildew, the grape berry moth and bunch rot. In certain areas it can be at the mercy of insect predation. As indicated before very high yields in very poor conditions.
The popularity of this vine is due to its ability to withstand extreme hot conditions, particularly in Africa. It can produce a range of styles ranging from a rose to a port and as an early ripener, fairly high acidic levels, low levels of tannins and high volume. It is also grown in Italy, Australia and Corsica.
With potentially high yields being obtained from adaptable soil conditions it is understandable that hot climates benefit from its robust nature, and in places such as Algeria and Lebanon this is the case and it is cultivated to produce wine suitable for blending with other grapes such as Carignan and Alicante. As a blending grape its particular quality is to improve the overall taste but in South Africa it is also used as a distilled product.
The grape colour is mixed blue and very dark green on the same cluster, its tough skins give good protection to potential rain damage but it is prone to powdery and downy mildew.
Grown in quantity in California and France this grape produces (surprisingly) more red wine than any other red wine variety in the world. It originates from the north east of Spain around the town of Carinena, but was known to French winegrowers as early as the 12th century in the south west of the country.
Plantings are currently found in France, USA, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South America, Israel, and Morroco, Tunisia and in minute quantities on some mediterranean islands. As a late budding vine it rarely falls foul of the spring frosts but has a tendancy to attract fungus diseases and powdery mildew, grape berry moth and grey rot.
It grows well on fine and poor soils alike, so a very adaptable vine for most terrains. The yields are high and the grapes are of good colour and high tannin content and can achieve very high alcohol content as high as 15 degrees! It is possible to taste a true Carignan but you really have to search for it and in my opinion the search would be worth it.
Another workhorse which has been widely planted across the globe and imparticular in the USA where in California it accounts for 18% of red wine production. It has plantings in South America, Central Europe and of course in it country of origin; Italy.
Unlike other workhorses this grape has the thoroughbred touch, and by that I mean it has the capacity not just to be a blending grape but also to deliver a premiership drink of wine with abundant fruit, deep purple colour, high acidity, very dry finish (almost bone dry) and a pleasing satisfying look to it, that when taken with the appropriate food and company, I think is unbeatable!
It can grow in most conditions but excels in poor to very poor calcareous soils and in clayey sandy loams. Has to watch the leafroll virus and can attract rot and various other diseases.
High in yields but medium quality when produced in high quantity, however on the older vines smaller quantities reveal a very high quality especially where the grape clusters are smaller than is the norm, you should look for good examples because they are out there.
It is strange to note with this variety that it’s importance in the world of wine making appears to be unimportant with today’s wine consumer, perhaps because of the way in which it is presented to them, or not as is the case.
This is a unique grape which combines incredible high quality with almost total obscurity, comes from the north west of Italy and produces some great wines. It history dates back to the Romans and they almost certainly knew of this vine and its potential to produce excellent wine, however today it is grown in Italy, Switzerland and small plantings in California USA and Uruguay.
A late ripening grape, it is suited to higher altitude conditions and is therefore quite a tough berry. The must that is produced and the resulting wine is exceptionally high in tannin, very high in acid and unbelievably dry it also can be high in alcohol volume (as high as 14.5 degrees) so the winemakers art of ‘taming’ this product to reveal a drink with appeal and quality comes to the fore! As with wines of this nature a considerable aging process is employed to maximise the finished products taste.
The vine can grow in varied soils but really excels in poorer calcareous conditions, it gives a moderate yield but reasonable quality and is fairly resistant to major parasites. Mixed blue and some dark green colours make up the grape cluster which is of average size.
This grape variety is grown all over Italy and its origin is in Tuscany and as far back as the 16th century. It is a popular grape and is a major constituent part in Chianti, however its application as a blending wine is varied as it produces wines of near undrinkable ‘thin’ wash to highly concentrated vibrant versions which can be laid down and returned to, many years later! So a complex grape but as the taste varies enormously its acidity is high, its alcohol is generally low and the without even a hint of sweetness the tannin count is high and very noticeable.
It should be noted that with the evolution of this vine came two sub varieties, namely; The Sangiovese Grosso and the Sangiovese Piccolo.
They emerged in the late 19th century, and as the popularity of the grape grew the plantings followed with the Grosso being more widely planted and more productive, it ripens earlier and with a bigger bunch/cluster of thicker skinned grapes. Generally speaking these sub varieties or clones are a process of experimentation of the original to see primarily where improvements to growth and productivity and ease of harvesting can be achieved in relation to the changing soils, altitude or general terrain.
The vines require well-drained calcareous, even clayey soils and return moderate yields.
One of the most important grapes grown in Spain, as this variety is the mainstay of that famous wine; Rioja.
To begin though, it is thought it was brought over the Pyrenees, by monks or pilgrims into Northern Spain and as a result eventually became the grape of Rioja. The unmistakable similarity between good quality, mature Rioja and Burgundian style wines is there for you to compare, for me it has such a closeness to Pinot Noir its uncanny. So the connection with France I think is a strong one ,but not altogether conclusive as in recent years tasters and winemakers alike have concluded that the vine that we know today did in fact originate in Northern Spain and possibly took its name from the Spanish ‘temprana’ which means early. So the decision is yours, it makes no difference to the Rioja we know and love today.
Tempranillo is noted for its thick skinned grapes and deep coloured wines and a moderate alcoholic strength. It is also noted for its ability to age without losing its colour and when blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano it becomes a variety of note for blend balance in the finished product. On its own Tempranillo would keep its colour but would lose its fruit and therefore its ageing ability ceases to be a factor. It is currently planted in Spain, Portugal, and South America (Argentina/Chile) and in California USA but only in small amounts.
This is a moderate to high yielding grape, grows well in calcareous, deep soils with sand and clay. It is susceptible to powdery and downy mildew.
This for many years was referred to the grape from nowhere, as its origin could not be accurately traced, but recently those clever ampelographers have deduced that with high degree of probability that it came from Northern Italy having originally considered Hungary as the most likely birthplace.
Well, now we have that sorted lets talk about the grape known as ‘The Zin’. A general description can be that it produces a wide range of different styles of wine and is a ‘jack of all trades’ especially in the different growing areas of the world. It produces red, rose, and white and in varying strengths, and surprisingly on this point the bone dry example if you ever get the chance to sample is quite extraordinary! However the grape almost performs to order when it comes to high sugar content, excellent still but bright young reds, with lots of fruit on the nose and in the taste (Brambly/Berry) and after time spice.
The Zin is grown extensively in the USA and in particular, California, but it is also grown in Europe principally in Italy but other countries do grow it such as South Africa.
A very productive grape in terms of yield, is prone to bunch rot has an average cluster and shows a light powder dust on the grapes with mid-blue colour