In the Spotlight: Grape Varieties Tasting
If you’re new to wine, getting to know your grape varieties can appear daunting. You only need to glance over Italy’s way to see just how many there are (spoiler: there’s thousands). But don’t run away just yet.
You’ve already conquered the first step: you like wine, you enjoy trying new things. You wouldn’t be curious about grape varieties otherwise. And the truth is, the more you learn about wine, the wider and more interesting the world starts to be; learning becomes exciting, rather than daunting.
But you need a place to start, right? I’ve got your back. If you’re in the Western market, particularly here in the UK, there are a selection of grape varieties you’ll see more than any other wine varieties on the market.
Usually, these are:
- Rosé variety blend (usually from Provence, France), which is a combo of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah grapes.
- Sauvignon Blanc single varieties; Loire used to be the home of these, but I think we should be looking to New Zealand as the world’s best producers. White.
- Chardonnay single varieties; Burgundy – the classic “White Burgundy” – is the world leader in producing this type of wine; they do it very well, too. White.
- Pinot Noir single varieties; again, a big Burgundy king. Some of the most interesting red wines in the world come from the stubborn Pinot Noir grape. Red.
- Syrah/Shiraz varieties; same grape, different style and different name. New world wine-making adopts the chocolate-smoothness approach of Shiraz wine-making, while the Old World makes traditional, yet seductive, spicy Syrah styles. Red.
- “Claret blend” – straight Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon style, or with some Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot thrown in too; these wines are from the wine-making legends over in Bordeaux in south west France. Red.
Generally, trying some of these varieties will give you a really exciting intro to the world of wine and what it has to offer. While France is usually the first-step you might go to get the best reflection of these wines, trying other region’s styles will give you a very exciting insight into the way wines can differ from one another.
To give you an idea of where to start specifically, I’ve reviewed a series of these classic wine varieties that show off the styles really, really well.
Esprit de Buganay 2013 (Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault – Provence, France)
This is the classic blend from one of the best rosé producing wine regions in the world. A brilliantly crisp and refreshing summer wine is almost-always the result, and will open you up to a whole new journey into rosé wine that’s nothing like those sweet White Zins you drank at college.
Grenache gives it strawberry and red fruit notes, as well as a predominant share of the alcohol, while Cinsault provides acidity and freshness, with Syrah adding a green-like dryness – together it is something very special and certainly delicious. Esprit de Buganay is a great example.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Marlborough, New Zealand)
A few years ago, you would usually go to Loire in France and drink a bottle of their Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. While they’re still great regions for quality Sauvignon Blanc, you’d be missing a trick if you didn’t go to New Zealand. The crisp, high-acid and hugely refreshing Sauvignon Blanc thrives in NZ’s cool climate, with the massive wine-producing region of Marlborough making some of the best examples on the planet.
Oyster Bay is a great “typical style” of this region, and is usually very-reasonably priced.
Chatel-Buis Montagny 2011 (Chardonnay, Unoaked – Burgundy, France)
White Burgundy has ruled the white wine world for most of recent history, and it’s easy to see why. The single grape, Chardonnay, produces such an incredible range of different white wine styles that no Burgundy Chardonnay will ever be the same.
Unfortunately, the classic oak-aged Burgundies are only getting more expensive. But this does mean their unoaked rivals have come into their own in recent years. Chatel-Buis Montagny is a particularly good quality example of this done well.
Marillier Pere & Fils Bourgogne (Pinot Noir – Burgundy, France)
Pinot Noir is so exciting. Again, Burgundy is one of the leaders in producing great wines from this single grape. Although, New Zealand, Romania and Oregan (USA) are making some very, very good wines. England, as well, are making beautiful rosés from this grape that are well worth trying.
Marillier Pere & Fils’ Bourgogne entry level Pinot Noir shows off a delightful example of the old and new Pinot Noir notes in one bottle. It’s a great example of red wine that’s made so carefully and the result is just fab.
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Gravieres Crozes Hermitage (Syrah – Rhone, France)
If you’re going to try a Syrah or Shiraz, try Syrah first and get a taste for the classic. If you want to know what sort of fruit comes through from this grape, buy a young wine too – so a 2012-2014 from France would be an ideal choice. If you do buy a Shiraz, the Barossa region in Australia is producing some of the most stunning reds to enjoy now.
However, a good Syrah must be from the Rhone valley in France. Northern Rhone is where you get the 100% single varieties, so look out for “Hermitage” (although these are expensive), Crozes-Hermitage (better value) or, if you can afford one, a Cote-Rotie (which may have about 5-10% added Viognier). Jean-Luc Colombo Les Gravieres Crozes Hermitage 2013 is a good value, really tasty red – so start there.
Chateau Liversan Haut-Medoc 2011 (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc – Bordeaux, France)
Bordeaux wines are incredibly famous. There’s so much to choose from, and the biggest problem is buying a variet that’s ready to drink. At the end of the day, you can buy a great Bordeaux, drink it too young, and it’ll just appear dry, leathery and tannic. Wait for the tannins to integrate and the fruit to come through, though, and wow, you’ll get to drink some of the best wines in the world.
A good example is from Chateau Liversan. Mainly Merlot in its blend, you can happily drink it now with food or cellar for 2-3 years more and enjoy it alone.