In restaurants, at wine shops, during an evening out with friends, everywhere we hear about wine and French grape varieties. A grape variety is the type of grape used to make wine. But there are hundreds of them all over the country. Don't panic, we'll help you decipher the best grape varieties so you don't get lost in the shuffle!
Pinot noir, Merlot, Malbec or Grenache... What are their differences, how can you recognize them? It's easy: we take you on a tour of France's vineyards to discover 10 grape varieties you absolutely must know!
Before we present our TOP 10 must-know grape varieties, it might be a good idea to brush up on the basics, don't you think? What is a grape variety? A grape variety is a vine variety that produces a particular type of grape . Tannins, skin thickness and ripeness all vary according to the vine variety. So, when the winemaker chooses to grow a grape variety, he is ultimately choosing a grape typicity .
Wines can be made from a single grape variety. We'll call this a single-varietal cuvée, like the Chardonnay or Sauvignon you order on the terrace, for example.
But they can also blend several. In this case, the wine is called a blend.
In France, winegrowers tend to prefer blending, but in the New World they've created a trend towards single-varietal wines to make it easier for consumers to understand what they're drinking.
There are over 8,000 different grape varieties in the world. Imagine the possible combinations in the bottle! Some are specific to a particular geographical area, while others are grown in several countries around the world.
There are table grape varieties , the ones you might find at your local market-gardener, and vat grape varieties , the ones used to make the best cuvées. In fact, they're the ones we're most interested in!
To begin with, you can divide grapes into two categories: "white" grapes and "black" grapes.
White" grapes produce white juice. Black" grapes produce red juice... but not only! They can also produce white juice ! The color of the juice depends on its maceration with the grape skins, where the pigments are contained.
For the more discerning and observant, you can identify a vine's variety at a glance, by looking at its leaves, its size, the color of its bunches. If you can do that, hats off to you!
For connoisseurs, the difference is in taste. Each grape variety has its own aromatic components. For example, Sauvignon is known for its musky notes, Riesling for its grapefruit aromas and Cabernet Franc for its peppery, violet flavors.
Without wishing to sound chauvinistic, it's true that France knows how to make good wine! But this quality would be nothing without the terroirs and grape varieties that play a major role.
Even if they undeniably need the expert hand of our winemakers to express themselves in the best possible way, the grape varieties planted in French vineyards are nonetheless at the origin of the character of our flasks.
Merlot, Grenache noir, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir are the main grape varieties grown in France for red wines. For white wines, the main varieties are Ugni blanc, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay.
In all, there are more than 200 grape varieties authorized to produce wine in the French vineyards. However, the 8 grape varieties mentioned above account for over 65% of the total.
Given their diversity and number, it's almost impossible to know every single grape variety that exists. But don't worry, to make your life easier, we've listed our Top 10 grape varieties to know. We've selected the best grape varieties that, in our opinion, produce the best vintages.
The most widely planted red grape variety in the Rhône Valley and BurgundyPinot Noir is not always an easy grape to grow. But those who know how to handle it and whisper to its vines will be able to extract a more than marvellous nectar.
Pinot noir is the flagship grape variety in the Burgundy region. It produces the finest juices, essential to the production of the Grands Crus. It is also used in the composition of some of our wines from the Loire wineswines, those ofAlsace but also in the making of France's wine gold, Champagne . Pinot Noir has the ability to adapt to other terroirs, far beyond our French vineyards, such as those inGermany, Switzerland andItaly.
Originally from Burgundy, Pinot Noir is still a French grape variety of low yield but high quality. Along with Chardonnay, it is the king of Burgundy terroirs. It is found in the majority of Burgundy's appellations. It also makes up the majority of Champagnes and remains the only red grape variety authorized in Alsace.
It can be recognized by its small, tightly-packed bunches and its yellow or green leaves.
Pinot Noir is the very expression of terroir. At first glance, it reveals a beautiful ruby-red color, with violet reflections that can take on a brick hue with age.
It is distinguished by cherry aromas . With age, it evolves towards notes of prune, game, leather and undergrowth. Slightly spicier notes of cinnamon , pepper and even roasted coffee can also be found.
Its wines are generally elegant and supple, with a final touch of acidity. Pinot Noir is also used to make rosé wines.
If the vines planted with Pinot Noir are well cared for, it will produce top-quality red wines with many different aspects. It is renowned for its power, finesse, intensity and aromatic complexity.
This French grape variety has excellent ageing potential. We recommend keeping it for 5 to 10 years. Its fruity notes are perfect with red or white meats. Pinot Noir's freshness also goes perfectly with spicier dishes and will balance your plate.
Red wines from Domaine d'Arlay are the perfect expression of this black grape variety. Located in the Burgundy vineyards, the domaine offers a remarkable 100% Pinot Noir wine, with aromas of ripe red fruit and undergrowth. It is round, elegant and has real ageing potential.
When you think of Merlot, you think of Bordeaux ! Indeed, this is its terroir of origin, yet this robust grape variety has travelled a long way before finding itself planted in south-western France and in the beautiful vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon.
It is found in over 60% of Bordeaux's vineyards, flourishing particularly on the right bank, in the terroirs of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol , for example. It makes up 95% of the prestigious Château Petrus vineyard.
Merlot is classified as an "international" grape variety . Indeed, Merlot has outgrown the soil of its native South-West. Today, it can be found in Italy, Australia, California and South America.
It's a quantitative variety that ripens early.
If you have a discerning eye, you'll notice that the bunches are moderately large with well-rounded berries. The juice is an intense dark color.
Merlot is an ideal grape forblending. It rounds out the sometimes rough edges of certain grape varieties in their youth. In Bordeaux, it is the companion of Cabernet (Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon), an early-maturing variety that develops easily and enables the "rapid" opening of our Grand Crus and Crus Bourgeois.
Merlot is less tannic and offers a less developed aromatic bouquet than its Cabernet Sauvignon companion. When they meet, Merlot brings roundness , while Cabernet Sauvignon adds a slight acidity.
It produces structured, fragrant wines with notes of red fruit: strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, sometimes just picked, and other times with more "jammy" aromas. With ageing, this red grape variety can reveal notes of prune, violet and leather.
Plunge into the heart of Bordeaux wines with Tentation Merlot, from Château Caminade Haut Guérin . This 100% Merlot has an interesting complexity, with a roasted nose and a supple , elegant attack on the palate . The finish is brilliant, with roundness and supple tannins.
Malbec is a black grape variety. It has left its native France to spread to the terroirs of Argentina and Chile. It thrives in limestone, clay-limestone and clay-gravel soils.
A fairly resistant, early-ripening variety, its medium-sized, thin-skinned berries produce dark juices suitable for ageing.
Powerful and fruity, it is predisposed to notes of plum, tobacco and licorice. Malbec is also rich in tannins. Prefer it a little more mature, to avoid its overly herbaceous and vegetal notes.
Native to the Southwest of France, it produces rich, powerful, spicy red wines. Its freshness on the palate means that it doesn't disgust on tasting. More surprisingly, it can also be found in Loire wines, notably in the Anjou appellations.
Malbec Chibaou : nugget alert! This 100% Malbec is surprisingly complex and elegant. Its ruby-red color reveals a fresh, spicy nose with hints of red berries. The palate is supple, minty and fresh.
We could have told you about many other grape varieties, but we love the Jura and its wines, so we decided to tell you about this black Jura grape variety... Trousseau. It represents around 5% of the Jura vineyards. It's a very local grape variety, found around the village of Montigny-lès-Arsures.
Rather rare , it is a late variety and not very productive. In the vineyards, it can be distinguished from Poulsard and other traditional grape varieties by its upturned bunches. That's how it got its name!
Trousseau can be used for almost anything! It can be found in a wide range of wines, from reds to whites, straw wines to rosés... you name it!
Its juices are an intense ruby color. Tannic, colorful and long-lasting, the red berries of Trousseau give spicy, peppery and green bell pepper aromas. It also reveals notes of red fruit, such as cherry.
Oh Gamay, my beautiful red Gamay with white juice. We love it in LoireIt's loved in every vineyard in France and around the world.
Gamay occupies over 34,000 hectares in France, particularly in the Beaujolais region. Soils of granite, schist and volcanic rock have become its preferred soil. In fact, 60% of the Gamay produced in France comes from this region.
Gamay is a super grape, full of complexity , but it remains fragile and requires attention.
It produces structured or fruity red wines, with a beautiful intense red color. It also produces round , delicious rosés .
On the nose, its fruity intensity captivates. On the palate, its aromas of red and black fruits are seductive. Some Gamay wines can also reveal undergrowth or even animal aromas. The nose can evolve towards spicier, jammy notes.
On the palate, the tannins are low, giving way to light, fresh , fruity aromas.
This French grape variety produces fruity aromas of raspberry, wild strawberry, blackberry and black cherry. But that's not all! It is also known for its peppery and floral notes, such as peony.
It can be used to make lightly-colored, low-tannin wines with a slightly acidic, fresh structure. However, it does not lend itself to long ageing. It is also used to make rosé wines. A perfect aperitif companion!
We recommend that you enjoy your Gamay wines in their youth.
Originally from Burgundy, Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted, appreciated and drunk grape varieties in the world ! And that's just the beginning!
This is hardly surprising when you consider that Chardonnay is like the Arturo Brachetti of winemaking grapes. It transforms itself according to soils, barrels and climates, to produce wines that are always surprising.
In France, it's found in Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Jura and Languedoc-Roussillon. Around the world, it can be found in Germany, the United States, Canada, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Multifaceted, it produces wines that are straightforward, round, acidic or not. It can be made into dry, sparkling or even sweet wines.
We find mineral, fruity and evencitrus notes in northern terroirs, floral aromas in limestone soils, and white and exotic fruit aromas in warm vineyards.
These aromas are varied, complex and straightforward, ranging from dried fruit to hazelnut, roasted almond and exotic fruit. Buttery, ferny, lime blossom, pear, walnut and acacia flower flavors are also present.
We recommend the 100% Chardonnay cuvée from Domaine Sibille !
Pair it with salmon en papillote, sautéed shrimp, Bresse poultry or veal. It also works well with a farandole of soft or creamy cheeses. Drink between 9 and 11°.
Before it conquered the world, Sauvignon blanc had found the right terroirs in France : Val de Loire, Sud-Ouest, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence. It can be found in the Graves in Bordeaux, in the Pouilly-fumé and Sancerre terroirs in the Loire Valley, in Saint Bris in Burgundy, in the Languedoc and in the Massif Central.
It is also planted in vineyards elsewhere in the world, including California, Mexico, Chile and Italy, to name but a few.
Not as fierce a variety as you might think, it does not adapt to all soils. It thrives in limestone soils and more northerly climates, but also requires plenty of sunshine for its berries to ripen.
However, it is a highly versatile grape variety. It can be found in highly aromatic dry white wines, lively and well-balanced in their youth, but also in slightly more unctuous wines, always balancing aroma and nervousness. Combined with Botrytis (noble rot) or in late harvesting, it is a perfect complement tosweet white wines.
How to recognize it Sauvignon Blanc has floral notes of boxwood, narcissus and jasmine , as well as delicate citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit.
Its color is lemon to golden with green highlights. It is often used to make dry, mineral white wines, as well as sweet, fragrant ones. Its ageing potential ranges from 2 to 5 years.
On your plate, this grape goes perfectly with vegetables: peas, salad, asparagus, zucchini... Our Sauvignon Blanc loves green! Or, for an unmissable pairing, you can accompany a lovely seafood platter or fish, whether grilled or smoked. For those who'd like to open their bottle at cheese time, goat's cheese will be its best ally!
Sauvignon from Château Fontenay is the perfect expression of this grape variety! A must-try!
A cousin of Carignan, Grenache is one of the grape varieties imported to France during the Middle Ages in the Languedoc region. It is thought to have originated in Spain. Today, it stands out not only in the South of France, but throughout the world, since Grenache is the most widely cultivated grape variety worldwide.
It is mainly used to make red and rosé wines , for its power, color and generosity.
We often think of red Grenache, but it also comes in other colors: white Grenache and gray Grenache. Grenache blanc is often identified by its aromas of fennel, dill, melon and white nectarine.
Grenache likes gravelly soils. It is a productive, vigorous grape variety. Planted on almost 100,000 hectares in France, it is found mainly in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Rousillon.
This grape variety is not made for ageing wines, but it does have extraordinary potential for sugar uptake. As a result, it can be found in dry white wines as well as in great vins doux naturels. Warm, full-bodied and long on the palate, it can sometimes lack acidity.
Emblematic of the Loire Valley, Chenin is a wonderful grape variety for dry white wine lovers. Vines planted with Chenin produce beautiful mineral expressions of chalk and flint, reflecting the terroir in which they flourish.
The wine's attractive color is sometimes yellow, sometimes golden. On the nose, it reveals floral notes in its youth, then evolves towards aromas of white fruit or exotic fruit, such as pineapple or mango. On the palate, it's gentle, with aromas of pear, quince, acacia honey and caramel. Spicy notes give it a spicy finish. Its trump card? A fine acidity that ensures a long finish.
Its acidity enables Chenin to produce lively wines in general. Malleable, it can be vinified into dry, sparkling and sweet white wines. Domaine Terre de l'Elu'sBastingage cuvée is a perfect way to discover the minerality of this terroir.
Chenin is the third grape variety grown. Resident between Maine-et-Loire and Touraine, it loves the region's microclimates. Its berries are ideal for Botrytis Cinarea, or noble rot. This rot concentrates the sugars in the grapes, enabling Chenin to produce sweet, mellow or syrupy wines. It's to Chenin that we owe the reputation of the great mellow wines of the Loire Valley!
Chenin is an excellent wine for laying down, and can be enjoyed for between 5 and 10 years . Its ageing potential can be doubled if used to make a sweet wine.
Whether dry or sweet, Chenin can be adapted to all types of recipe. If you serve a dry Chenin, you can pair it with a vine quiche or a fine cheese platter. If you opt for a mellow Chenin, it will be ideal as an aperitif or with dessert. More surprisingly, it goes wonderfully with exotic cuisine.
Once again, we could have told you about many other better-known grape varieties, but we've chosen to tell you about a grape native to the Austrian Tyrol and very well-known in Franche-Comté: Savagnin. This grape variety is very rare in our French vineyards, with only 300 hectares planted, mainly in the Jura region.
It grows on marl, schist and limestone soils. It can be recognized by its dark foliage and small white bunches. It is prized for its juicy , sweet flesh, which gives it incomparable ageing potential. Some say Savagnin can be kept for over 100 years!
Wines made from Savagnin are renowned for their flinty , nutty flavors, as well as their great aromatic complexity.
Savagnin is a white grape variety with well-developed aromas of walnut, hazelnut, flowers, honey and green apple. It has a round, buttery mouthfeel.
It is used to make dry white wines, as well as vin jaunevin de paille , crémant du Jura and liqueurs such as Macvin. Characteristic, it is strong not only in its resistance to disease, but also in its complexity, power and ageing potential.
Old Savagnins deserve to be decanted. We recommend serving between 12° and 14°, with foie gras or seafood! Delicious!
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