Grape Varieties

Grape Varieties

To help demystify the wine label, we have included a brief description of the most commonly occurring grape varietals around. Armed with this knowledge, you can then make a more informed decision when it comes to food and wine pairing (see ‘Wine and Food’ on our site).

Call into the shop or telephone with any questions, there are many books as well as years of experience to hand!


Old World - Where grapes were historically cultivated (vitification) and wine produced (vinification); is mainly European as it broadly represents what the 'Romans did for us' (154 BC!): Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Spain, Portugal and even the UK!

New World – Where vinification and vitification techniques were ‘exported’, i.e. the rest of the world: America (North and South); Australasia, S. Africa. Find out more on: New world vs. Old world.

Red Wine

Barbera – Found mainly in Italy (Piedmont), but gaining popularity in California and Australia. Produces a fruity (red fruits), dark and tannic (full of tannins - compounds with bite!) wine.

Blaufränkisch – Similar to Gamay, produced in Austria and other European countries. A soft and easy drinking red (raspberry).

Brunello – Sangiovese sourced from S. Tuscany.

Cabernet Franc – Grown widely throughout France, but the lesser of the two ‘Cabs’ in Bordeaux and more popular in the Loire. Has spicy and peppery tones with violet aromas. Soft berry flavours – black, blue and raspberry.

Cabernet Sauvignon – The classic red grape. Spicy and tannic with the classic blackcurrant aroma. Requires ageing and blending, often with Merlot in Europe or Syrah (Shiraz) in Australia.

Carignan – Widely planted in France and Spain. Produces dark soft (black fruit), approachable wines.

Carménère – Formerly of Bordeaux. Now found in S. America and is done very well in Chile. Similar to Merlot. Young examples from Chile often have cherry, spice on the palate with a smoky nose.

Cinsault – (or Cinsaut) Bulk wine producer from S. France. Slightly herby on the nose and sour cherry on the palate. When crossed with Pinot Noir, is the ‘parent’ of S. Africa’s ‘Pinotage’.

Dolcetto – Soft and dry red from Piedmont (red fruits).

Gamay – The red grape of Beaujolais. Light and fragrant almost perfumed wines (cherry, raspberry – purple colour).

Grenache – (or Garnacha/Alicante/Cannonau) Widely planted in France and Spain. Produces strong, fruity wines with a little spice and pale colour. Blackberry and figs.

Malbec – (or Côt) An also-ran in Bordeaux, but is the ‘black wine of Cahors’. Popular in Argentina and Chile. Fairly tannic often dark yet concentrated red fruit flavours.

Merlot – The soft, plummy mainstay of Bordeaux esp. St. Emillion. Often blended with Cabernet. Can produce quite concentrated yet approachable wines from S. America.

Montepulciano – Both a grape variety and a pretty town in Tuscany. It is the grape in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and not the variety in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (mainly Sangiovese)! A low acid red, with hints of plums and good value.

Nebbiolo – The grape behind those Italian greats: Barolo and Barbaresco. Intense, perfumed and very fruity. The wines require some age, when they reveal cherry, tobacco and prunes on the nose and palate.

Pinot Noir – A black grape with white juice. From the Côte d’Or (Burgundy) PN produces wines with fantastic bouquet and ‘summer pudding’ soft red fruits. Also found in California’s Napa valley. Spätburgunder is the German ‘version’ – ‘late Burgundy’.

Pinotage – Pinot Noir crossed with Cinsault in S. Africa (some in New Zealand). Very fruity with a nose similar to Pinot. Lively tannins with a stewed red fruit flavour. Can be quite jammy.

Sangiovese – ‘Blood of Jove (king of the Gods) and the main grape behind Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Soft, lighter bodied and red fruity – with a nutty undertone.

Syrah – Or Shiraz in the New World. The great grape from the N. Rhône. Gives full bodied, fruity wines with a purple tint and blackberry flavours. Widely planted in Australia.

Tempranillo – A slightly pale purple grape that is Spain’s red Rioja. The nose has vanilla, tobacco and leather. Often quite ‘oaked’.

Touriga Nacional – Major component of Portugal’s famous fortified wine – Port. Full bodied, tannic and black fruit tones.

Zinfandel – Probably started in S. Europe (Puglia's 'Primitivo' is genetically identical), but now is California’s (esp. Lodi) flagship. Blackberry and lush stewed plums. Also produces ‘blush’ rosés (‘White’ zinfandel).

White wine

Chardonnay – A commune in Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy E. France is also the most widely planted white grape world-wide. In its native Burgundy it produces big, tropical fruit flavoured wines with a buttery texture. In Chablis it produces dry, mineral wines with apple over tones; it is a major component of many Champagne wines.

Chenin Blanc – Is the grape of sweet wines from the Loire and is also grown widely in S. Africa. Produces easy drinking wines with tropical fruit flavours.

Gewürtztraminer – or Gewurtztraminer in Alsace and the New World. Has a pungent nose of spice – petals, citrus fruits and lychees.

Müller-Thurgau – Allegedly Riesling crossed with Silvaner. Produces soft, aromatic and approachable wines with a hint of spice.

Pedro-Ximénez – ‘PX’. Produces strong, concentrated sugars in the grapes making this a top choice for Sherry in Jerez, Spain. Table grape on the nose and palate.

Pinot Gris – This Alsatian classic grape produces heavy, full bodied wines with spice and tropical fruits.

Riesling – Widely planted all over. In Europe it produces wines with a good amount of acidity, mineral with peachy and even petrolly overtones. In the new world, the wines are often a drier style.

Sauvignon Blanc – Distinctively grassy and aromatic wines with a hint of gooseberries from this classic grape. The area of Sancerre on the Loire defined the style in the 1930’s. Now a favorite from the Marlborough region in the South island of New Zealand.

Sémillon – Used to make both sweet (Sauternes) and dry wines in Bordeaux. The wine has good body, low acidity and stone fruit flavours.

Scheurebe – Riesling crossed with Silvaner. A spicy, classic German variety with a hint of blackcurrant and grapefruit.

Viognier – A Rhône variety that is being planted all over. A big and aromatic white wine with low acidity making it very food friendly. Peaches and other stone fruits on the nose and palate.