Wine is an alcoholic beverage made with the fermented juice of grapes. Therefore, grape varieties are a key factor to decide the quality of wine. There are many different styles of wine, and within each type, there are hundreds of wine varieties. Some of these wines are made with only one grape, while others have a mixture of several. If you want to understand more about the scrumptious red wines you’re drinking, you’ll want to look at what makes up the wine.
Below is a list of the most popular red wine grape varieties.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular and famous red wine grape varieties in the world. The historic home of Cabernet Sauvignon is the Bordeaux wine region of France. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are typically deep red in colour with moderate acidity. They often have notes of blackcurrant and spices and have moderate to good tannin structure.
2. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is part of the Pinot grape family that includes Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier. This grape variety is most closely associated with France’s Burgundy wine region. Due to differences in terroir, Pinot Noir wines created in two different villages in Burgundy may differ widely, adding to the complexity of the wine. Pinot Noir’s popularity has led to it being embraced by winemakers in northern Italy, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, California (especially Sonoma) and Oregon (especially the Willamette Valley).
The popularity of the Merlot red grape variety trails only that of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Bordeaux, in the southwest of France, is the home of the best Merlot wines in the world. Within Bordeaux, the wine regions of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol particularly stand out. Outside of France, other places to find examples of high-quality Merlot wines include Italy, Chile (especially the Colchagua Valley), California and Washington State.
4. Syrah/ Shiraz
Syrah (also known as “Shiraz”) is most closely associated with the Rhone Valley in southeastern France, but it is truly an international grape variety. In the New World, Syrah has become very popular in Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, California and Washington State. In France, the grape variety is known as Syrah; however, in New World wine markets such as Australia, it is usually known as Shiraz.
Malbec is generally considered to be the national grape variety of Argentina. The Malbec wines of Argentina tend to be softer and less tannic than those found in the southwest of France, where Malbec originated. Within Argentina, the primary wine growing regions for Malbec include Mendoza, La Rioja, San Juan and Catamarca. Based on the success of Malbec within Argentina, Chilean winemakers in the Central Valley are also working on creating high-quality Malbec wines.
Grenache (known as “Garnacha” in Spain) is one of the most popular red grape varieties in the world. The best Grenache wines can be found in France (especially the Rhône Valley) and Spain (especially Rioja and Aragon). Grenache grapes are used to produce wines that are berry-flavoured, spicy in subtle ways, and soft to drink. They also tend to have a relatively high alcohol content.
Sangiovese is the most popular red grape variety in Italy. It can be found everywhere in central Italy, but the acclaimed home of Sangiovese is Tuscany, where it has been used to create blends like Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, as well as the famed “Super Tuscans.” Sangiovese, while capable of ageing well, is best enjoyed as a young wine, when it has fresh, fruit-forward flavours. If aged in oak barrels, it can acquire a more complex, oaky character. While Sangiovese is not as aromatic as other red grape varietals like Pinot Noir and Syrah, it typically will produce a very rich flavour profile that includes cherries and strawberries.
Tempranillo, often referred to as “Spain’s noble grape,” is primarily grown on the Iberian Peninsula, especially within the Ribera del Duero and Rioja wine regions. The Tempranillo grape produces full-bodied, ruby red wines that can take on some very distinctive aromas and flavours, including plum, berries, tobacco and vanilla. When aged in oak barrels, these flavours become even more intense.
Montepulciano is a red grape variety found primarily in central and southern Italy, especially in the provinces of Abruzzo, Marche, Molise, Umbria, Puglia, and Latium. The Montepulciano grape is not found in northern Italy due to the fact that it is relatively late ripening and would not thrive in a colder climate. Montepulciano differs from the Tuscan wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from Sangiovese, and not Montepulciano.
Nebbiolo is a red grape variety that is a speciality of the Piedmont wine region of northwest Italy. The most famous Nebbiolo wines are Barolo and Barbaresco. When young, Nebbiolo wines are light-coloured and highly tannic. However, as they age, they acquire more complex and appealing aromas, such as those of violets, wild herbs, cherries, berries, and tobacco.
Gamay is best known for the light, fruit-driven red wines of Beaujolais. Within this French wine region, Gamay is used to make both the light Beaujolais Nouveau wines that appear every November, as well as the more complex Cru Beaujolais wines. In other French wine regions, such as the Loire Valley, Gamay is primarily used as a blending partner with Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc.
Carménère is a red grape variety that was originally planted in France’s legendary Bordeaux wine region. Carménère is one of Bordeaux’s six original grape varieties, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. However, Carménère is rarely found in France today; instead, Chile has emerged as the leading nation for the production of Carménère wines, with Central Valley winemakers at the forefront of making high-quality wines.
13. Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a red grape variety primarily used by French winemakers to give added structure to the classic Bordeaux blends. As a blending grape, Petit Verdot is simply unsurpassed. It can impart colour, tannins, and flavour to red blends. This has made it popular with the most famous winemakers in the world, including those from the Médoc area of Bordeaux.