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Ever wonder how to understand each grape varietal...

Sasha Kill

Ever wonder how to understand each grape varietal. 

The following descriptions of each will provide a very simple overview of what you can expect to find in wines containing the particular grapes. 

BARBERA

Flavors: Red fruit, currants, blackberry
Features: Naturally high in acid; smoky/toasty notes through barrel aging
Regions of Note: Italy (Piedmont, Lombardy, Sardinia), also grown in Slovenia & California

CABERNET FRANC

Flavors: Raspberry, cherry, plum, strawberry, violet, bell pepper
Features: Low overall acidity; earlier ripening grape; lighter in tannins
Regions of Note: France (especially Loire Valley & St Emilion), Northeastern Italy (Friuli), Washington State and California

CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Flavors: Black currant, blackberry, black cherry, bell pepper, green olive, green peppercorn
Features: Medium- to full-bodied; dependable grape for aging; grape has thick and tough skin; typically tannic.
Regions of Note: Planted globally; best in Bordeaux (Medoc), California (Napa, Sonoma & Paso Robles) and Washington State (Walla Walla)

CHARDONNAY

Flavors: Note: Chardonnay is so varied that flavors here are described by region California - vanilla, butter, butterscotch, green apple; New Zealand - tropical fruit, gooseberry, passion fruit, lemon, pineapple; Chablis region of France - crisp & flinty; Mersault region of France - lush, ripe, fleshy
Features: Full-bodied, smooth texture, made richer/creamier through oak barrel fermenting
Regions of Note: Planted globally; best results in Australia, California, France, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand

CHENIN BLANC

Flavors: Melon, honeydew, honeysuckle, quince, grass
Features: High acid content provides balance for sweetness and aging potential; ranges from sparkling wine to moelleux (meaning 'with marrow') which is rich and sweet; most versatile of all grape varieties; nearly a third of wines in South America are Chenin Blanc; mostly used as a blending grape
Regions of Note: Native region is France (Loire Valley); also grown in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, California, Washington State

GEWÜRZTRAMINER

Flavors: Peach, mango, lychee, rose petal, honeysuckle
Features: Fragile grape; thick, tough skins; low acidity; heavy, oily texture
Regions of Note: France (Alsace), Germany, Washington State, California

MALBEC

Flavors: Plum, blackberry, cassis
Features: Dense, rustic, structured wines; major red varietal in Argentina; most of the Malbec vines were transplanted from Europe due to the outbreak of phylloxera;
Regions of Note: Argentina, France (Cahors & Bordeaux), Oregon, Washington State, California

MERLOT

Flavors: Currant, black cherry, plum, violets, clove, bell pepper, green olive
Features: Ripens fairly early; lower in tannins and higher in sugar than Cabernet Sauvignon; medium- to full-bodies; round, rich & fruity; most widely planted grape in Bordeaux; best quality Merlots grown in rock and clay based soils providing earthiness to the wine
Regions of Note: grown worldwide; famous in Bordeaux (St. Emilion & Pomerol), California

NEBBIOLO

Flavors: Blackberry, cherry, licorice, smoke, tar, anise, truffle
Features: Medium-bodied; late-ripening, smooth, structured wines; needs maturation; grape is very sensitive to soil; Nebbiolo grapes have a special foggy look when they are ripe
Regions of Note: Italy (Piedmont), Argentina, California, Washington State, Australia

PINOT BLANC

Flavors: Apple, almond, citrus, lime
Features: Pinot Blanc is a clone of Pinot Gris; high acidity, low in aromatic intensity; light- to medium-bodied
Regions of Note: France (Alsace), Italy (called Pinot Bianco), Germany & Austria (called Weissburgunder), Argentina, California

PINOT GRIS

Flavors: Lemon, apple, pear, citrus, lime
Features: Depending upon ripeness, Pinot Gris can be tangy and light or quite rich and full-bodied
Regions of Note: France (Alsance), Italy (Alto Adige & Friuli called Pinot Grigio), Oregon, Germany (called Grauburgunder)

PINOT NOIR

Flavors: Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, violet, rose petal, black olive, rosemary, cinnamon
Features: Low in acidity and tannins; high in alcohol; light to medium-full body
Regions of Note: France (Burgundy), Oregon, California, Germany (called Spätburgunder)

RIESLING

Flavors: Apple, peach, apricot, rose petal, violet, minerals, flint
Features: Range is immense; steely, dry (Kabinett) to intensely sweet (Trockenbeerenauslese); cultivated in Germany since 1400; Riesling wines are well-suited to the coldest wine growing climates; low alcohol; powerful aroma
Regions of Note: Germany, France (Alsace), Oregon, California, Washington State, Australia, New Zealand

SANGIOVESE

Flavors: Strawberry, blueberry, plum, cherry, violet, cinnamon, clove, thyme
Features: Late ripening grape; has a thin skin; high natural acidity; light to medium body
Regions of Note: #1 varietal in Italy (Tuscany/Chianti), California, Washington State

SAUVIGNON BLANC

Flavors: Ranging from herbaceous (grass, lemongrass, gooseberries); vegetal (bell pepper, green olive, asparagus); fruity (grapefruit, lime, citrus, lemon, melon)
Features: Wide range of dry-style (Loire Valley) to very sweet dessert-style (Sauternes) wines
Regions of Note: France, California, Washington State, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina

SÉMILLION

Flavors: Fig, lemon, pear, grass, bell pepper; Botrytis-form: apricot, peach, quince, honey, pineapple
Features: Mostly used as a blending grape; thin skin; juicy pulp; subject to botrytis or "noble rot"; can age for decades
Regions of Note: Chile, France (mainly Bordeaux in Graves & Sauternes)

SYRAH / SHIRAZ

Flavors: Black currant, blackberry, black pepper, licorice, clove, thyme, sandalwood, cedars
Features: Dark berry with a thick skin; needs a lot of heat; Syrah forms intense, rich, spicy wines
Regions of Note: Syrah in France (primarily Cõtes du Rhõne, Cõte Rotie & Hermitage), California, Washington State; Shiraz in Australia and South Africa

TEMPRANILLO

Flavors: Cherry, plum, blackberry
Features: Usually aged in American oak barrels resulting in an earthy, sweet, vanilla flavor
Regions of Note: Spain (especially Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedes), Argentina, Oregon

VIOGNIER

Flavors: Orange blossom, apricot, mango, pineapple, tangerine, kiwi, anise, mint
Features: Much more distinctive fruit character than Chardonnay; full-bodied, often used as a blending grape; notoriously temperamental and can be difficult to unify
Regions of Note: France (Loire Valley, Northern Rhõne (Condrieu), Languedoc), California, Washington State

ZINFANDEL

Flavors: Raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, black cherry, licorice, cinnamon, black pepper
Features: Full-bodied; highly concentrated, age worthy wines; Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crljenak, coming to the U.S. in 1820; best when drunk within 3 to 5 years
Regions of Note: California, Washington State