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Wine Grape Types

Pinot Noir

The French red Burgundy wines are made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grapes, which are dark purple, almost black grape type. These grow in characteristically long, cone-shaped clusters, which have given the grapes their name, from the origin in French of the words "pine" and "black". The Burgundy wines are not as powerful as the Bordeaux family of wines, but many would say that the Burgundies have a lighter, finer, fruitier, more spiritual elegeance of their own.

Pinot Noir grapes are grown in the French Burgundy district, but are now planted in several countries in Europe (Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Switzerland, Spain, even England) and world-wide in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Chile and the USA. In France, Pinot Noir grapes are also blended with other grape types to make Champagne sparkling white wines. In countries other than France, the wine produced is a varietal termed Pinot Noir and hugely popular, perhaps because the wine is not as heavy as the full-bodied Bordeaux types.

Cluster of Pinot Noir black grapes on the vine in Stanlake Park vineyard

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is now in cultivation throughout the world, but its origins are in the Bordeaux region of South West France. In the Bordeaux wines, it is normally blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other grape varieties.

Wines containing 100% Cabernet Sauvignon are being produced in all the now prominent wine growing regions including California (Napa Valley), Australia and Chile.

In conditions of strong sunlight and warm climate, the grapes ripen fully and develop the characteristic blackcurrant flavour. However, when grown in cooler climates, where full ripening may be harder to achieve, the wines produced can have a green 'herbaceous' or 'green bell pepper' flavour.

Characteristically, wines produced from Cabernet Sauvignon have a more 'tannic' flavour, that can take many years of ageing fully to mature. This can be an advantage though, because these wines can keep improving far longer.


Merlot is a dark grape that ripens early and in terms of volume within France is now on a par with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot has a softer, 'fleshy', less tannic flavour and for these reasons is used to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon in the 'Bordeaux blend'. But Merlot is also used to produce 100% varietal wines, and majority blends, the most famous example of which is Château Petrus, Pomerol (95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, or very often pure Merlot).

Cluster of Merlot black grapes on the vine in Stanlake Park vineyard

Merlot grapes are larger, with thinner skins, and they produce medium bodied wines with hints of fruits such as berry, plum, black cherry, blackberry. In younger wines Merlot is easier to drink than equivalent aged Cabernet Sauvignon, because of the latter's more pronounced tannins.

Outside France, Merlot is planted widely round the world in both Europe (Italy, Spain) and the the 'new world' regions, Australia, California, Chile, New Zealand.

Bottle Casillero Del Diablo Chilean Merlot with glass of ruby purple coloured red wine

Syrah (Shiraz)

Syrah is a dark skinned grape grown now throughout the world and used to make powerful, full bodied red wines, both varietal and blended.

It probably originated in the northern Rhône as a cross between two other older varieties. Known as Syrah in France, it is also known by both alternative names in the other wine regions to which it has spread. Syrah first became famous through the Hermitage wines of northern Rhône.

The Syrah wines are powerfully flavoured, often dry, full bodied red wines, with a wide range of flavours, which depend on soil type, climate, temperature and ageing. Aromas can include dark berries, violets, a distinctive peppery tingle, with blackberry and pepper most typical. More aged Syrah wines develop flavours described as chocolate, coffee, leather and truffle.

Within French wines, Syrah grapes are used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.


Gewürztraminer is a wine grape variety with a characteristic pink skin, which makes white wine, with a high level of perfumed floral, slightly spicy fragrance, such as roses, and exotic fruit flavours of lychees or passion fruit. Its high level of natural sugars may also be responsible for a slight quantity of small bubbles attached to the inside surface of the glass ('spritz').

The Gewürztraminer grape grows well in cooler climates, and so is a popular variety in northern Europe, for example Alsace in northern France, but this grape is also grown around the world in Australia, Canada, Italy and the USA. A similar variety, which is probably Red Traminer is grown in Germany.

Cluster of Gewurtztraminer pink grapes on the vine

Chenin Blanc

In the French wine region of the Loire Valley, Coteaux du Layon is an Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) for sweet white wine, which is exclusively made from Chenin Blanc grape. This evening I opened a bottle I found in the wine cupboard, Domaine Bodineau, produced in the Savonnières commune, 2001 vintage, so 8 years old at drinking, and was delighted at the contents. Moderate acidity is balanced with fairly intense sweetness in this wine, which are typical of the Chenin Blanc. With a light amber colour and nose of lemons, the wine sampled is perfectly smooth. Distinct flavours on the palate of lemons with some apple are delightful and reminiscent of sauternes. Notice from the photo, the style of the Coteaux du Layon bottle, which has a long slender neck and an emblem embossed in the glass.

Bottle Coteaux du Layon Loire Valley sweet white with glass of lemon coloured wine

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