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Varieties please

By Wine Bluffer

In wine expert – Jancis Robinson’s – exhaustive tome on grape varieties, Wine Grapes, she describes the 1,368 varieties of grape in cultivation today. It’s a workout just holding that book, which perhaps proves that learning about wine can be good for you?

In navigating the world of wine, it is useful to know a bit about the most common grape varietals (varieties) that make up the wines that we drink, either as as 100% of the bottle’s content or as blends. It gives you a starting point on what a wine might taste like, and this is important if you are among the adventurous.

Many people get locked-in to certain wine names, countries, wine types or even a distributor’s list. This is because, just like books, amateurs like us often judge a wine by its label. While it’s a truism that this is an unreliable method, you can get clues from a label.

For instance, when choosing a book, you may prefer a particular author, someone you have read before and liked. In the case of wine this could translate to many of the bits of information on the label that signpost you to what’s in the bottle. It could be the maker, it could be the region, it could even be the distributor, who like everyone else in the wine trade has a reputation to maintain. All this information and the design of the label influences our sensibilities. Looking for the grape variety maybe secondary when choosing but is helpful reinforcement.

Amazingly, the names of wine varieties only appeared on bottle labels in the second half of the last century. A variety’s name might replace the location where the grapes were grown. For example, Chardonnay, instead of Chablis. As Jancis tells us, the idea behind this enabled producers outside of strictly controlled and demarcated areas to communicate what their wine might taste like. Instead of learning a wine atlas a drinker could now be guided by the variety. This was also a boon for producers outside the ‘Old World’ of Europe in marketing their wares.

Nowadays it is common for people to ask for a glass by the variety, when in a bar or a pub for instance. But when you find something on a list that you really like, try to remember what your experience was in combination with the variety or blend. This will help you choose from an unfamiliar list without fluster.

Most common varieties of red wines

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
  • Merlot
  • Shiraz
  • Nebbiolo
  • Tempranillo

 

Most common varieties of white wine

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Grenache
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