A Comprehensive Glossary of the Most Popular Grapes

Wine has been around for centuries, and grape cultivation is thought to date back to 6000 BC. Different grape varieties have come and gone, but the genetic makeup of our grapes is still very similar. Some ancient grapes are still enjoyed today, while others are a bit harder to find. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable grape varieties and the history behind them.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular grape varieties in the world. It became popular in the 18th century and is a descendant of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s thought that when Sauvignon Blanc grapes made their way to Bordeaux from the Loire, they spontaneously bred with the Cabernet Franc variety. No one knew that a white grape could create such a full-bodied red-wine grape until researchers at UC Davis researched the ancestry of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1996.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with high tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are typically dark in color and have flavors of blackberry, cassis, and cigar box.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular grape variety from the Loire Valley in France. It has been grown in the Loire for at least 500 years, and more recently, it has grown worldwide. Through DNA testing, it’s thought to be related to Savagnin Blanc grapes, a different varietal grape still grown and made into the unique Vin Jaune from the Jura region of France.

Sauvignon Blanc wines are typically light in color and have flavors of grapefruit, gooseberry, and passionfruit. Sauvignon Blanc wines are often described as crisp and refreshing.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a red grape variety that originates, likely, from Burgundy, France. The Pinot Noir grape is one of the oldest grapes still produced today, with origins that trace back at least 2000 years. It’s also the parent of many popular varieties today. Syrah and Pinot Meniuer are likely children of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously difficult to grow and produce wines that are often light in color with flavors of cherry, raspberry, and mushroom.

Pinot Noir wines are typically grown in cool climates and can be enjoyed young or after a few years of aging. Pinot Noir wines are often described as delicate and complex.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio

Pinot Gris is a white grape variety that originates, likely, from the Alsace region of France. It is a clone of the Pinot Noir grape and not technically its own wine grape but a variety of Pinot Noir. Pinot Grigio is the Pinot Gris grape grown in Italy. Pinot Gris is most often grown in cool climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of peach, apricot, and honey.

Both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris wines are clones of Pinot Noir and not technically their own wine variety. They are typically enjoyed young and are best served slightly chilled. Pinot Grigio wines are often described as crisp and refreshing, while Pinot Gris wines are often described as rich and aromatic.

Riesling

Riesling is a white grape variety from the Rhine region of Germany. It is one of the oldest grape varieties still produced today, with origins dating back to the 15th century. Its parentage is unknown, but the Gouais Blanc was likely an ancestor. Riesling is most often grown in cool climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of peach, apricot, and honey.

Riesling wines are typically enjoyed young and are best served slightly chilled. Riesling wines are often described as crisp and refreshing.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a white grape variety that originates from the Burgundy region of France. It is a descendant of the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grape. In Burgundy and Champagne, this grape dates back to the Middle Ages, but it was virtually unknown anywhere else before the 1950s. Chardonnay is now the most planted grape in the world.

Chardonnay wines are typically medium to full-bodied with flavors of apple, pear, and citrus. Chardonnay wines are often described as buttery and oaky.

Chardonnay wines are typically enjoyed young but can also benefit from aging. Chardonnay wines are best served slightly chilled.

Merlot

Merlot is a red grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France. It is a descendant of the grape variety Magdeleine Noire des Charentes and Cabernet Franc. Merlot is most often grown in warm climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of cherry, raspberry, and chocolate. Its flavor profile is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon without tobacco notes and fewer tannins.

Merlot wines are typically enjoyed young but can also benefit from aging. Merlot wines are best served at room temperature.

Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a red grape variety that originates from the Croatia region but is largely grown in California since the 1830s when it was brought over from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a descendant of the grape variety. It also has the same DNA as the Italian Primitivo and Crljenak Kaštelanski and is the same variety as Tribidirag. Tribidirag was first mentioned in the 15th century. Zinfandel is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper.

Zinfandel wines are typically enjoyed young but can also benefit from aging. Zinfandel wines are best served at room temperature.

Tempranillo

Tempranillo is a black grape variety from the Rioja and Navarra region of Spain. It is a descendant of the grape variety Albillo Mayo. Best known in the Spanish wine, Rioja, Tempranillo is grown throughout the world. Depending on where it is grown, its flavor can vary widely. Tempranillo is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of cherry, raspberry, and chocolate.

Grenache

Grenache is both a red and white grape variety with unknown origins. Originally, it was thought to be from Aragon in Spain, but some genetic typing says it came from Italy before it made its way to Spain.

The grape is grown worldwide but is best known in wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhone, Gigondas, Campo de Borja, and Priorat. It is a descendant of the grape variety Cannonau. Grenache is most often grown in warm climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and spice.

Airen

Airen is a white grape variety from Spain’s Córdoba region. It has a long history dating back to the 1600s, with many authors referring to its many synonyms. It is a descendant of the grape variety Hében. It’s now mostly grown in the La Mancha region of Spain. Airen is most often grown in warm climates and produces light-bodied wines with flavors of citrus, green apple, and grapefruit.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer is a white or pink grape variety that originates from Tramin, Italy. A variety of the Traminer grapes, it has origins of over 1000 years. It’s unclear when Gewurtz- was added to the name. Literally meaning “spice,” “gewrutz” is likely referring to the intense aromas of Gewurztraminer wine. It’s now grown all around the world but is best known in the Alscase region of France. Gewurztraminer is most often grown in cool climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of lychee, grapefruit, and spice.

Malbec

Malbec is a red grape variety that originates from the Cahors region of France. It is a descendant of the grape variety Magdeleine Noire des Charentes (the parent of Merlot) and Prunelard. Although it’s still grown in Bordeaux, it’s taken off in Argentina, and most single-grape Malbecs are from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Malbec is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper.

Durif/Petit Sirah

Durif is a dark-skinned grape variety that originates from Montpellier, France. A French botanist named Durif crossed Syrah grapes with Peloursin. The grape is now mainly grown in California and is commonly called Petit Sirah. Although Petit Sirah’s flavors are anything but small, the wine has less tannins than its parent, Syrah. Petit Sirah is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper. Petit Sirah/Durif wines are best served at room temperature.

Syrah

Syrah is a dark grape variety with unknown origins – it is likely from the Rhône region of France. It is a descendant of the grape variety Dureza (a descendant of Pinot Noir) and Mondeuse Blanch. Syrah is the same grape as the Australian moniker Shiraz.

The flavors of Syrah depend on where the grapes are grown. In many French and American regions, the grape produces a medium-bodied, highly tannic wine. In Australia, Greece, and other hot climates, the wine is full-bodied and mediumly tannic. Syrah is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is a red grape variety with centuries-old origins. Genetically, it seems the wine is from southwest France and the Basque region of Spain, eventually becoming a staple in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. One of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is similar but less intense than its offspring. Recent genetic testing also shows that Cabernet Franc is the parent of Merlot.

Cabernet Franc is most often grown in cool climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and tobacco.

Shiraz

Shiraz is a dark grape variety with French origins. This grape is popular in Australia and worldwide, where it’s most commonly known as Syrah. Shiraz-labeled wine is most commonly from Australia, the US, or South Africa. It’s believed that the name came from a corruption of the many nicknames French winemakers had for Syrah. Shiraz is most often grown in warm climates and produces full-bodied wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper.

Trebbiano Toscano/Ugni Blanc

Trebbiano Toscano is a white grape variety that originates from the Tuscany region of Italy. There are many grape varieties under the umbrella of Trebbiano, but not all are genetically related. Trebbiano Toscano is called Ugni Blanc in France and has over 100 other names depending on where it’s grown. This grape is mostly used in Cognac and balsamic vinegar production.

Trebbiano Toscano wines are typically enjoyed young and are best served slightly chilled. Trebbiano Toscano wines are often described as crisp and refreshing.

Gamay Noir

Gamay Noir is a dark grape variety that originates from Burgundy and dates all the way to the 14th century. Gamay Noir is used in the production of Beaujolais, and outside of this region, it is relatively rare.  It is a descendant of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Gamay Noir is most often grown in cool climates and produces light-bodied wines with flavors of cherry, strawberry, and grapefruit.

Gamay Noir wines are best served slightly chilled. Gamay Noir wines are often described as light and fruity.

Viognier

Viognier is an ancient white grape variety from the Northern Rhône region of France. It might have been brought to this region by the Romans almost 2000 years ago. It is related to the grape Mondeuse Blanche. Viognier grapes are mainly produced in California and the Rhone – although they’re not as popular as they once were. It is grown worldwide in warm climates and produces medium-bodied wines with flavors of tangerine, peach, apricot, and honeysuckle. Viognier wines are often described as aromatic and floral.

Want to read more? Try these books!

Most Popular Grapes, A Comprehensive Glossary of the Most Popular GrapesMost Popular Grapes, A Comprehensive Glossary of the Most Popular Grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Wein.plus https://glossary.wein.plus/
Wine Speed from Kren Macneil https://winespeed.com/grapes/

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