Wine varietals and blends

Posted on: 5th February, 2014

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.

The term ‘varietal wine’ comes originally from California, and means that the wine is made principally, (75 per cent and upwards) from one grape variety. Wines composed of two grape varieties in equal measure, or from a number of different ones, are known as blended wines. You might assume that varietal wines are necessarily superior to blended wines, but that is not the case.

To illustrate the point, consider wines from the most famous region of the world, Bordeaux. The prized wines from here are from a scattering of villages on the left or right of the River Gironde. The famous Medoc peninsular on the left bank and its towns of Margaux, Pauillac, and St Estephe produce Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines which are blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and sometimes Petit Verdot to soften the wine.

On the right side of the river, wines from St Emilion and Pomerol are Merlot based. Finally in some growing areas, namely Graves and Pessac-Leognan around the city of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are blended in near equal measures with perhaps five per cent of Cabernet Franc added to the mix.

When asked about their favourite wine, many people will respond with Cabernet or Merlot, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, but you should consider that wine guides list over ten pages of different varieties so it can be fun to try something different every now and then. Wines from Portugal or Greece are generally comprised of Grapes we are much less familiar with such as Aghiorgitiko from Greece or Touriga Nacional from Portugal and are likely to give you a new taste sensation.

Here are some of the most famous and popular varieties.

Red:

Cabernet Sauvignon — Grown almost everywhere, most successfully in France, USA and Australia.

Merlot — Best examples from California, France, New Zealand. Widely planted, responsible for some of the best and worst of wines available. Anyone who has seen the excellent film ‘Sideways’ will remember merlot, as the variety to avoid at all cost!

Tempranillo — Spanish Rioja!

Pinot Noir — Responsible for the delicate, perfumed, and generally expensive wines of Burgundy. (The hero-grape of ‘Sideways!’)

Syrah or Shiraz — Backbone grape of Rhone wines.

Primitivo or Zinfandel — wines from Southern Italy and California respectively.

Sangiovese — Chianti.

Gamay — Beaujolais

Nebbiolo — Barolo, king of Italian wines. You can also find fine Nebbiolo not from Barolo and much less expensive.

Malbec — the star of Argentina.

White:

Chardonnay — Chablis from France, but grown almost everywhere now.

Sauvignon — New Zealand, France (Sancerre), and Chile.

Riesling — Germany, Australia, Austria, Alsace in France.

Gruner Veltliner — Austria

Albarino — Spain

Pinot Blanc — Italy, although fairly ubiquitous now. Lighter, less scented than Chardonnay.

Chenin Blanc — the Loire in France, California and South Africa.

Gewurztraminer —spicy white from Alsace and Germany.

Muscadet — Brittany in France.

Semillon — Sauternes and Bordeaux in France.

Refs: Oz Clarke, Pocket Wine (2014), Hugh Johnson, Pocket Wine (2014).

Wines of the month: Lar de Paula — Rioja Blanco 2010 Malvasia and Viura grapes. Delicious white Rioja. (€13.99) Borgo Magredo — Merlot, 2010 Red from the Veneto region of Italy. (€11.99) Both available from Curious Wines, Kinsale Roundabout, Cork.

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