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Understanding Varietals
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Understanding Varietals

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Riesling is clearly one of world's great vines, arguably producing one of the best white wines. Grows throughout the world. Germany, Alsace, N.E. Italy. In Australia it makes the most popular white wine and is called the Rhine Riesling. California and America pays homage to the great vineyard of Schloss Johannisberg by calling their variety Johannisberg Riesling. Loves to rot and makes lovely rich sweet Botrytis Cinerea wines.

Gewurztraminer is the easiest to recognize and the most difficult to spell. Less noble than its cousin the Riesling. Makes spicy wines that chefs like to include to match with spicy foods. Most noble when made in Alsace. Grown in New York and California.

Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc produces a wine for our times -- white, dry, refreshingly zestful, aggressively recognizable. It makes the noble dry wines of Bordeaux where it is blended with Semillon. On the Loire River it is fashioned to a 100% varietal wines. Also made in N.E. Italy. The second white variety in California and sometimes called Fume Blanc.

Grown extensively throughout the world. Yet produces great wines only south of Bordeaux, in the communes of Sauternes or Barsac, where it is allowed to rot under the power of Botrytis Cinerea. A wine that sometimes produces no more than one glass per wine.

The grower loves to grow it, the winemaker loves to fashion it, and we love to drink it. The great white grape variety of Central France, makes Champagne, Chablis, White Burgundy and the Maconnais wines. Also the most popular white wine in California. The second most popular in Australia. Grown in New York State and elsewhere throughout the Americas. Experimenting with Chardonnay in Spain and Italy. International favorite.

Pinot Grigio (Gris)
Pinot Noir is a vine that is prone to mutate. One of its important changes was into Pinot Grigio. In Northeastern Italy makes fresh almost spritzy wines. Very fashionable in Italy yet almost ignored in the New World. Called Tokay in Alsace and Rulander in Germany. Drink when at its youngest.

Most widely planted white variety in Italy. World's most prolific. Grown in France as the Ugni Blanc where it is also the most planted white variety. In most cases a very ordinary wine is produced unless yields are severely limited. Often distilled to make brandy, i.e., Cognac being the most famous.

White grape variety grown in Piedmont, northern Italy and used in the production of Gavi.

Early ripening white hybrid varietal(cross between Riesling & Silvaner) developed in Germany and is its most widely planted grape. Also grown in Austria and New Zealand.

Often spelled Silvaner in Germany. It produces a lighter, shorter lived wine than the noble Riesling. Also grown in Alsace, California and Switzerland.

Mostly found in Hungary, (although small quantities are found throughout Eastern Europe), Furmint is the main grape in Tokaji one of the world's great dessert wines. Furmint is also vinified as a dry, crisp and clean white wine.

Most famous for Condrieu, a distinctive white wine of the Rhone Valley. Viognier became very fashionable in the 1990s and is now produced extensively in the United States and Europe. The grape produces wines with floral, apricot and peach overtones

Seyval Blanc
The best known white wine produced from the French- American hybrid group of grapes. These are a cross between the hearty eastern American grape family and more sophisticated tasting European varietals. Seyval is mainly found in the eastern United States (especially New York) where it produces a sound wines with good citrus flavors and solid acidity.

The most famous grape of the species Vitis Rotundifolia indigenous to the southeastern United States. These grapes are even "foxier" that the Vitis labrusca and are an acquired taste.

Chenin Blanc
White wine grape, responsible for many of the wines of the Loire Valley, including Vouvray & Savennieres. Can be made dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Grown extensively in California. Known as Steen in South Africa.

Muscat, which is grown around the globe, is one of the oldest grapes used in producing wine. The wines are quite aromatic and range from bone dry to lusciously sweet. There are a few red wines produced from this grape, but the large majority are white.

Pinot Noir
This is an exasperating variety for growers, winemakers and wine drinkers alike, tantalizing at times with a teasing glimpse of richness on occasions. For the drinker willing to persevere. Dominant and noble grape variety of Central France. Makes Champagne and the great red Burgundy wines. Light of color and best drunk with a good amount of age. Also planted in Germany as Spatburgunder and Italy as Pinot Nero but usually simple and light here. California grows it, Oregon has staked its reputation on Pinot Noir. Time will tell.

Vinified to produce light, fruity, uncomplicated wines for early consumption. A red wine for white wine lovers. Serve chilled. Made by Carbonique Maceration which yields dark color and high alcohol without the tannin. Note: Do not confuse with another grape variety Gamay Beaujolais/they are not the same! Made well only in the south sub-division of Burgundy called Beaujolais. Single varietal wines.

Syrah (Shiraz)
In France (Northern Rhone wines), where Syrah represents less than 2% of all red wine plantings this variety and its wines are cherished. In Australia where it is known as Shiraz, it represent 40% of all red vine plantings and the variety is largely ignored. Makes Australia's greatest wine Grange.
Note: Petit Sirah is not the same variety, but is actually the Durif variety, making less noble Californian wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Aristocratic concentration of black currents and cedarwood is enough to signal connoisseurs and blind tasters the world over that this is where they want to be. Most known and appreciated world wide. Most noble planted and most desired world wide. Tannic, tough, often enhanced by blending. These wines need longer aging.

One of the vine world's great underdogs. Dominant grape variety on Bordeaux right bank. Blended with Cabernet to soften the wines from Bordeaux left bank. Made as a varietal wine in California and New York. On the rise and maybe replacing Shiraz in Australia? Made as light everyday quaffing wine in Northeastern Italy.

Grown in various forms throughout Central Italy. Known as Brunello around the city of Siena in Tuscany. Used as most important part of the blend for Chianti and Vino Nobile wines. Not much seen outside of Central Italy. Being investigated by two or three wineries in California as a potential varietal wine.

Italians have kept this treasure to themselves. Strictly grown in Northern Italy. Makes a rough as road tar wine at youth but with lost of age becomes delicately wonderful. Shamefully underrated except by the Piemontese. 100% varietal and best known in the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco.

California's very own "European" varietal. A mystery around its origins cloaks this vine. Unfortunately Californians treat this wine as jug material or worse yet, make it into a characterless rose which they call blush! Real Zin, low-yielding, stylishly fashioned, concentrated and well aged can provide a unique and delicious wine. Potential for quality is high but as yet not fashionable. Makes all degrees of wines in California from blush through Beaujolais style Carbonique Macerated through serious red through Port style like wines.

Red wine grape grown in Piedmont, northern Italy and in California. Vies with Sangiovese for the most widely planted red grape in Italy.

Red grape variety grown in Piedmont, northern Italy. It produces a fragrant and fruity style wine.

Red grape variety grown in Piedmont, northern Italy. It produces a fragrant and fruity style wine.

Red grape variety grown in Piedmont, northern Italy. It produces a fragrant and fruity style wine.

Most famous red South African grape varietal. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut(known as Hermitage inh South Africa).

Important from an historical point of view, as this was the first grape planted in the western United States. Imported from Spain to the new world, it formed the basis for the California wine industry.

The most important grape of the family of grapes known as Vitis Labrusca, which is indigenous to the Eastern United States. Grapes from this family are said to have a "foxy" taste and are primarily used in the production of grape juice and sacramental wine.