There are many things that make great wine, but above everything else, the differences between wines are specifically based on the type of grape used. There are many different varieties of grapes, and they all have very different characteristics which when turned into wine, have very different flavors and colors. Differentiating between the different types of grapes used most commonly in winemaking will help you to understand what to expect when tasting wine. Knowing about what goes into the wine you are drinking will also help you to appreciate it far more.
Grapes and Winemakers
Many winemakers use a variety of grapes to achieve the desired outcome, while others use just one grape variety from a single vine that has been passed down for generations. Whether you are new to wine tasting or an old hand, there are many things to know about the grapes that are used to help you to enjoy wine even more than you already do. For thousands of years, grapes have been picked from vines across the world, each variety offering something slightly different to the next. So, how did different grapes come about? From what we can tell through history, the first grape vines were discovered around 6000BC, and since then the sharing of vines across the European areas has created different varieties, where the grapes have adapted to the different climates of the world. Over the last 8000 years, grapes have evolved greatly, however when it comes to winemaking, only a small portion of grape varieties are used.
Of the geographical classification of the vines that originated in the Mediterranean basin some 8000 years ago, there are three main groups. These three geographical classes are:
Pontica – originated in Georgia, Romania, Greece, Hungary and Asia Minor.
Orientalis – originated in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Occidentalis – originated in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Italy.
Of these classifications of grapes, the most common you see today are the Occidentalis varieties, which include Pinot, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling and more. The modern-day varieties we see in the most popular wine varieties are the result of 8 millennia of culture, human migration, early farming, crossbreeding between indigenous and traveling varieties and a whole lot of hands-on research and development.
Here are some of the most common varieties you would see today and a few of their characteristics.
Cabernet Sauvignon is directly linked with Bordeaux in Southwestern France, and Its characteristics are late, optimal maturity, hardy tannins, very aromatic and colorful with distinct hints of black fruit, mint, blackcurrant or licorice.
Chardonnay does not have a truly distinctive flavor or aroma but does feature a broad and structured palate.
Grenache creates round, full-bodied, sweet, heart-warming wines.
Merlot features aromas of strawberries, plum, redcurrant, truffle, and violet and the name comes from the grapes color similarities to the blue-black plumage of the blackbird otherwise known as the merle.
Pinot Noir mutates very easily making it a difficult grape to grow. Pinot Noir is the primary varietal used in Champagne and sparkling wines.