December 11, 2013
Wine Grapes: Origins & Hallmarks ~ Pt. 2- Red Wine Grapes
For Part 2 of this mini-series, we’ll check out the major reds and what they bring to the table. Besides the abundance of flavors and aromas you can find in red wine, well-made reds also maintain extraordinary color and showcase incredible structure. The classic red wine grapes are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah but here we’ll also include some of the popular international red varieties like: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Zinfandel. Hopefully after this two part series, you’ll head home with a better understanding of what’s in your bottle before you get a chance to access and enjoy it!
Cabernet Sauvignon can easily be classed as the world’s most popular red wine grape. Believe it or not, this magnificent grape is the love child of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, maybe the names were a giveaway but the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology only just determined under a decade ago in ’96. With aromas of black cherries, mint, and cedar Cabernet Sauvignon also showcases incredible flavors like cassis, blackberries, spice, and a rich earthiness that has made it extremely popular from places like Bordeaux, Tuscany, Australia, California, and Washington State.
The second most widely known red wine grape is Merlot. It is one of the primary grapes used to make fine wines in Bordeaux and you can also find notable Merlot from California and parts of Washington State. Merlot typically produces medium bodied wine with a velvety smooth texture- couple that with its incredibly gorgeous garnet color and you’ve got yourself a winner. Some hallmarks of Merlot include flavors and aromas of cherry, plum, strawberry, tobacco, currant, and dark chocolate.
Pinot Noir is just as exceptional a red wine grape as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, and I would even go so far as recommend it as a go-to starter red wine grape for the beginning consumer due to its wonderfully complex flavors and aromas and drinkability. It is grown all over the world from Burgundy and Champagne-- that’s right, Pinot Noir is also used to make Champagne -- to Australia, New Zealand, California, and Oregon. Pinot Noir does an incredible job of expressing aromas of cherries, strawberries, and vanilla alongside flavors of black currant, raspberries, game, truffles, and a touch of earthiness. Easy to drink, soft and sensual light to medium body, Pinot Noirs all over the world are hard to say no to.
Syrah is a dark skinned grape grown all over the world, embodying a deep ruby and purple colors. With a fuller body and high tannins, Syrah demonstrates an incredible profile from areas like the Rhone and California as well as places in Australia and South Africa, where it is instead known as “Shiraz.” If you decide to take a Syrah home with you, you can expect aromas and flavors of: eucalyptus, blackberries, black cherries, cloves, plum, smoke, black pepper, leather, dark chocolate and even anise.
For one of our lesser known grape varietals, I’d bet good money you’d recognize it more if I state that Italian Barolos and Barbarescos are all made from Nebbiolo. Old World wine regions (Europe) like to classify wines by region or style, whereas the New World (everywhere else) will identify the grape on the label. Nevertheless, it’s rather uncommon to find Nebbiolo anywhere but from the Piedmont region of Italy. This Italian varietal maintains distinctive flavors and aromas of: roses, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, tobacco, and prunes.
While you can find plots of Sangiovese worldwide, it is most notable in Tuscany. Sangiovese is a unique grape with thin skin but exceptionally high tannins on the palate. With aromas of cherries, sage, rosemary, and thyme combined with flavors of strawberries, raspberries, and spice. Sangiovese is so special that at least fourteen clones of it exist-- Brunello is a great example.
We’ve hit all sorts of countries and continents and were bound to run into Spain. Tempranillo is a major hit in Rioja and more and more plantings are taking place throughout the world. Tempranillo has an eloquent ruby red color with a smooth texture yielding flavors and aromas of: berries, plums, vanilla, tobacco, leather and herbs.
Malbec is an emerging wine grape and although it’s been around quite a while in Cahors and Bordeaux as a blending grape, it has garnered so much popularity in locations like Argentina, Chile, and Washington State that there’s actually a recognized “World Malbec Day” celebrated on April 17. Much like Tempranillo you can find aromas and flavors of berries, plums, and vanilla, but Malbec is also known for smelling of violets and having a kick of spice and earthiness to it.
Last but not least we have Zinfandel. If you ever see Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski or Italian Primitivo, I want you to go ahead and think, ‘hey I know that- it’s Zinfandel!’ Yes, Zinfandel is grown in all parts of the world and is a surprisingly widely grown America grape as you can find it in places from California and Washington to Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, as well as right here in Massachusetts (just to name a few). This unique grape will guarantee you smell and taste cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and spice.
I hope this post (and my previous post on white wine grapes) will help give you a good understanding of what is in your glass. Now, take out your Coravin and access and explore all that you can -- it is the best way to decide what you like!