Good wine is not made without good grapes. The grapes that we are used to eating might seem ideal for making wine. It is not, however! Edible grapes have a very fine skin and small berries, as well as a light flavour. For wine making, the seeds and skin are not a concern since they are eliminated. However, winegrowers favour a grape with a stronger, more expressive character, which in the end has nothing to do with the table grapes we are used to eating.
The most widespread vine species in wineries all over the world is called Vitis Vinifera. It is this species which is at the origin of the most known and appreciated grape varieties such as cabernet, merlot, sauvignon or pinot. Like many other fruits, there are hundreds of different varieties belonging to the Vitis Vinifera species. These varieties (or varietals) have different characteristics, such as colour, size, taste... Thus, when we talk about grape variety, we are talking about the variety of the grape.
Although there are hundreds of grape varieties, only 50 of them represent 99% of the world's wine production because they are widely recognized and offer consistent quality. Like Granny Smith or Golden for apples, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, for example, are considered superior varieties (varietals) because their taste is appreciable. Each grape variety differs morphologically (bunch size, leaf shape, colour and size of the grape and its flesh...) but also from a taste point of view: the grape can be more or less acidic, more or less sweet and can above all present many different aromas. The location, type of soil and climate also play a major role in the expression of aromas.
To obtain identical grape varieties, winegrowers use plants created by vegetative propagation mainly by grafting, so that each plant retains similar characteristics. Nowadays, vine plants are made up of two parts: the graft, the upper part of the vine stock that bears the grape variety, is the top shoot portion, used to produce the leaves and the grapes. The rootstock, of American origin, the lower part of the plant, serves only as a support and protects the plants from attacks by phylloxera, a small insect of American origin which ravaged the vines in Europe in the 19th century by attacking the roots.
One of the most important characteristics of a grape variety is the body that it will give to the wine, the sensation that the wine will leave in the mouth. Its strength will give the wine a light or on the contrary full-bodied aspect. This is partly due to the alcohol content of the wine.
Body: Light, Medium, Full-bodied
White Wine Grape Varieties: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier.
Notable Appellations: Alsace Riesling, Anjou blanc, Sancerre, Alsace Pinot Gris, Bourgogne blanc, Condrieu
Red Wine Grape Varieties: pinot noir, gamay, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah.
Notable appellations: Red Burgundy, Beaujolais, Saint-Emillion, Bourgueil, Médoc, Saint-Joseph
For the novice as well as for the wine expert, taking an interest in the different grape varieties is important. New World wines are labelled by grape variety and not by appellation and even in Europe today grape varieties are listed on labels. Although there can be a very big difference in taste on wines using the same grape variety, depending on the terroir where they were produced, the grape variety will always remain an important criterion to better understand the huge wine market. It should also be remembered that many wines are in fact a blend of several grape varieties to marry tastes.
To really understand the role of the grape variety in the wine but also (and above all) the impact of the terroir on the grape varieties, nothing beats a tasting in the company of a passionate winemaker. Find a winery where you can taste and live a Wine Experience in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire Valley right now on Lesgrappes.com, we have selected for you passionate winegrowers who open their doors to you.