Different types of grapes produce wines that vary in flavor, body, aroma, color, tannin, and even alcohol content. If you're a wine drinker, knowing something about the grapes from which it is made enhances your experience of every sip.
It is interesting to note, that unlike other countries, France does not usually classify it's wines by the types of grapes, but rather by the region in which the grapes were grown. More on that soon, but for today it's all about the grapes. Here are some of the most common types of grapes used to make wine, most of which you have probably heard of.
Because it is a very adaptable, you'll find Chardonnay cultivated around the world in varying climates. It makes a rich, fruity wine, infamous for its oak flavors. Sometimes this is because it is aged in oak barrels, but sometimes the oak flavor comes from adding oak chips and even oak essences to the wine as it ages. In France, you can find wine made from Chardonnay grapes that does not have this oak flavor, notably Chablis. Chardonnay is one of the principal grapes used to make Champagne.
In France this grape is grown in the Loire Valley and is used to produce Vouvray and other well known wines. High in acidity, Chenin Blanc produces a viscous wine that gives an impression of thickness in your mouth
These grapes produce a flavorful wine with an intense color. Gewurtztraminer was introduced in France in the late 1800's from Germany and the Alsace region is noted for its use of this grape. Despite it's strong fruity notes and high alcohol content, this is a dry or off-dry white wine.
In Europe, the Muscat grape is used to make quite a variety of different wines, including Asti, a sparkling Italian wine, some dry white wines from Alsace, and with the addition of alcohol, sweet dessert wines from the south of France.
This grape is known as a Tokay in Alsace, the only French wine region that grows this varietal, where it is customarily used to make a dry, spicy white wine, although it can also be used to create sweet wines.
A robust grape grown the world over that produces a wine rich in tannin. The characteristics of the wine can vary considerably depending on when the grapes are picked (some climates don't permit it to reach full maturity). Despite the notoriety if its name, buying a Cabernet Sauvignon doesn't guarantee you a good wine. These grapes are used to make a large range of wines, varying in price and quality. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is often associated with other grapes such as Merlot.
In France, this grape is grown in Beaujolais. Gamay grapes produces light red wines, low in tannins.
These types of grapes produce a deep colored, full bodied wine that is low in tannin and often has the flavor of prunes or sometimes chocolate. It is cultivated in the Bordeaux region, along with Cabernet Sauvignon.
As this is a more difficult grape to grow, you will have a harder time finding wines made from this grape. In France, Pinot Noir is grown in the Bourgogne region and produces a paler, lighter wine than the popular Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. It is not so high in tannins, although it is sometimes aged in oak barrels to encourage this quality. The flavors and aromas vary considerably depending on the growing and processing of these grapes.
This is an Italian grape used to make Chianti and other fruity wines, varying in body and tannin content.
A grape grown in the Rhone Valley in France, Syrah produces a full bodied, dark colored wine rich in tannins. In Australia this grape is known as a Shiraz and is used to elaborate lighter, fruity wines.
Despite the fact that it used to make White Zinfandel, this is a red grape. It is one of the oldest grapes grown in California and its origins are a bit mysterious. A red Zinfandel is a rich and colorful wine, high in alcohol content, but alas it is not cultivated in France.
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