The name Pinot Noir comes from the French words for pine and black. This is in reference to its tightly clustered pine cone shaped bunches. With its ancestral home in the Burgundy region of France, this grape is now found in cooler wine regions all over the world. A difficult variety to grow and make wine out of, Pinot Noir presents a gripping challenge to winemakers everywhere. The great winemaker André Tchelistcheff once declared that "God made cabernet sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir."
The best Pinot Noir wines have an ephemeral, delicate quality and are highly reflective of their terroir. The grape is used in a range of styles including sparkling wines, dry red wines and even late harvest dessert wine. Thin skinned and low tannin levels mean that Pinot Noir wines tend have a lighter colour and mouthfeel compared to many other red wines. When young, the wines display aromas of cherries, raspberries and rose petals while gradually showing more wet earth, mushroom and smoke after ageing.
The name Merlot derives from merle, the French name for the Blackbird in reference to the grape’s blue-black skin colour. With its soft, fleshy taste, Merlot is often blended with high tannin grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Additionally, it can be found as a single varietal wine and made into a Rosé. Originating from the Bordeaux wine region and still widely planted there, Merlot plantings are now found all over the world. As the child of Cabernet Franc and the little-known Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, Merlot is a sibling of Carménère, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Soft and chocolate with a velvet finish, Merlot wines showcase jammy flavours of blueberries, stewed plums and mulberry preserve. Earthy and vegetative notes including fennel, fresh leather and porcini mushrooms can also be tasted. Depending on the winemaking style, the wine can range from fruit forward with little tannin all the way to musky peaty examples with high tannin levels reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Originating from the Bordeaux wine region of France, the grape is most well known for being one of the grapes often blended in the Bordeaux styled wines along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernet Franc lends finesse and a spicy pepper aroma to blends. In addition to in France, the grape is also grown in the Old World wine regions of Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia and Catalonia. In the New World, Cabernet Franc is also often made into a single varietal wine in Canada and the USA as well as into ice wine. Other countries with plantings include Australia, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand. The immense similarity of the grape to Cabernet Sauvignon was noted in the 18th and 19th centuries, until in 1997 DNA evidence finally showed that Cabernet Sauvignon was the child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Slightly lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon in body, Cabernet Franc displays aromas of bramble-y berry characters along with green leafy notes of green capsicum, violets and a flinty minerality. Cabernet Sauvignons coming from the New World are often more fruit focused due to later harvesting.
Grown in almost every country that produces wine, Cabernet Sauvignon might just be the most recognisable red wine grape worldwide. The product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc occurring in 17th century France, the varietal is a relatively new one despite its immense demand worldwide. This popularity can be attributed to several reasons- its ease of cultivation, consistent flavour profile between regions, and familiarity to consumers even when the wine comes from an unfamiliar wine region. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are often oaked to soften the grape’s high tannin concentration. Oak flavours of vanilla, baking and gun flint also complement the dark fruit flavours of blackcurrant and blueberry Attributes from both parents become apparent when drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon. Grassy, herbaceous aromas from Sauvignon Blanc and blackcurrant, cedar, graphite notes from Cabernet Franc.
As a single varietal wine or as part of the blend, Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its full body, high tannins, and tartness which all contribute to its ageing ability. The flavour profile differs depending on climate. Cool climate wines will have notes of blackcurrant, capsicum, cedar and eucalyptus. In wines coming from a moderate climate, olive and plum notes will be noticeable, while warm climate wines tend towards stewed and jammy strawberries and prunes.
Nebbiolo is thought to have gotten its name from the Italian word nebbia or the Piedmontese word nebia. This may be a reference to the intense fog which descends onto the valleys of the Langhe region where many Nebbiolo vineyards are planted, or the fog-like bloom that forms over the skins of the grape berries as they reach maturity. It is believed that Nebbiolo is native to the Piedmont region of Italy, with currently most of the plantings still found there, though it only forms 8% of the region’s total plantings. The two most famous Nebbiolo based wines are from the DOCG regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. Outside of Italy, producers in the USA, Mexico, Argentina and Australia currently have significant plantings. Smaller numbers of vines are also found in South Africa, Uruguay and Chile.
A bold and powerful red, despite it’s light colour and aroma, Nebbiolo is known for its high concentration of tannins, which coat the teeth and tongue. In its youth, Nebbiolo brings forth musky aromas of roses, red plums and cherry. Extensive ageing of the tannins is often needed for the wine to be drinkable. As it develops in bottle, aromas of wood smoke, star anise, liquorice and leather arise, adding to its complexity. Aged Nebbiolo will also develop its characteristic orange red hue.
The third most planted red variety in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano, Barbera is famous for its full body, deep colour, high levels of acidity but low tannin content. It is theorized to originate from the hills of Monferrato in Piedmont, Italy. Today it is found throughout the country, especially in the northwest and central. Outside of Italy in the Old World, only small numbers of plantings are found in the countries of Greece, Romania and Slovenia. Italian immigrants have brought the variety to much of South American, especially to the countries of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. In New World, plantings also exist in the countries of Australia, South Africa, and in the USA.
Expression of the grape varies, from fruit forward medium-bodied wines, to full-bodied bold examples needing cellaring. Notes of cherries, blackcurrants and thyme are found in the wines, with vanilla, smoke and clove coming from oak contact. The wines are often aged, which brings complexity and elements of nuttiness and savouriness.
A red wine grape originating from the Lagarina valley of Trentino-Alto Adige in northeastern Italy, Lagrein produces a strong red wine high in acidity and tannin. Cultivation of the grape has expanded to Australia and the USA. It is mainly produced as a varietal wine, but may sometimes be used as a blending component with native varieties like Sciava, or with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Occassionally, a rosé of this variety can be found.
Known for its dense coloration, Lagrein wines are full bodied with flavours of pomegranate, raspberry and wild cherry, with an earthy base. Aromas of truffles, peat and smoke can also be experienced on the nose.
A powerful red grape variety originating from the Abruzzo region in central Italy. Not to confuse with the Tuscan town of the same name 'Vino Nobile di Montepulciano' whose grape variety is Sangiovese. The thick-skinned variety is Italy’s second most widely planted indigenous grape variety. Nearly all the Montepulciano vineyards worldwide are based in Italy, with small numbers of plantings in Australia, California and New Zealand.
With full ripeness, Montepulciano can produce densely coloured wines high in alcohol levels. Velvety chocolate and mocha notes along with black Doris plums, stewed cherries and dried cranberries can be found in the glass.
This red wine grape variety derives its name from the Latin words sanguis Jovis or “the blood of Jupiter”. Originating in central Italy, it is now the most widely planted variety in the country, and the majority grape in the famous wines of Chianti in Tuscany. Often used in traditional blends or single varietal wines, it can also be made into a modern “Super Tuscan” wine that does not adhere to traditional DOC or DOCG regulations. Other countries where the grape can be found include France, Greece, Israel, and Switzerland in the old world. In the new world, the USA, Canada, Argentina, Chile and Australia hold smaller numbers of plantings.
In its youth, Sangiovese exhibits fruit forward flavours of stewed strawberries and spice. With oak ageing, it readily takes on aromas of tar, mocha, dried oregano and Tahitian vanilla. While being light in colour, the wines have a high tannin content, and a long ageing potential.
From Georgia, Spain and Austria
Famous for being the main grape used in Rioja, Tempranillo is often referred to as Spain’s noble grape. Widely grown in all the wine regions around the globe, it is the fourth most planted wine grape varietal worldwide. Its name is a reference to the Spanish word temprano “early” as it ripening a few weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes. With its relatively neutral profile, Tempranillo is commonly blended with other varieties such as Grenache and Carignan to build complexity. If made into a varietal wine, it is often extensively aged in oak for extended periods to take on those oak derived aromas. A dry red wine is frequently produced, but in Portugal where the grape is called Tinto Roriz and Aragonez, it is blended with other varieties to produce a port wine. Today, the majority of vineyards are found in Spain which grows 87% of the world’s Tempranillo vines. Further plantings are also found in Portugal, Australia, the USA, Argentina and France.
With its high tannin levels and relatively light colour, Tempranillo wines have flavours of strawberries, plums and figs. Oak ageing contributes aromas of cedar, dill and vanilla and increased potential to age.
A parent of Zweigelt, the red wine St Laurent is widely believed to have originated in Austria. It is named after St. Lawrence’s Day on August 10th, the day when grapes begin their colour change in Europe. Central Europe is currently the home of St Laurent where it is the most planted red grape variety in the Czech Republic wine regions, and the third most planted red grape variety in Austria. In the new world, there are small numbers of plantings in countries like Canada and New Zealand.
A dry red wine with low tannins and a medium-high acidity is produced, along with red fruit flavours of raspberry, blackberry and plums. Oaky aromas of mocha, vanilla and cedar wood follow together with baking spices and smoke. St Laurent wines often have good ageability.
A crossing of St Laurent and Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt was created in 1922 by Dr. Friedrich Zweigelt and is today the most widely planted red variety in Austria. Today, plantings are primarily found in the Burgenland region in in the east of the country, especially around Lake Neusiedlersee. Although obscure beyond Austria, scarce plantings exist in Canada, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Fruity and tart, with good acidity, Zweigelt brings with it flavours of sour cherries, raspberries, white pepper and hints of cinnamon and allspice. Juicy and easy-drinking, the wines are often a bright purple-tinged red colour.
One of the few teinturier wine grapes, Saperavi has both dark skin and flesh while most red wine grapes have dark skins but clear flesh. Fittingly, the name of this Georgian grape literally means “paint, dye, give colour”.
Originating from the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, it is now planted throughout the country and is reputed to be the most important grape for the Georgian commercial winemaking industry. A varietal semi-sweet or dry red wine is made from it, though occasionally it is made into a rosé or blended with the main white variety Rkatsiteli to make the semi-sweet Alazani wine. The grape has also spread to Russia and to other countries of Eastern Europe including Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. Small plantings are also found in the USA and Australia.
Bold red wines suitable for extended ageing, with incredible depth of colour is produced. Fragrant aromas of cranberries, plums and goji berries is supplemented with earthy flavours of mushroom, beetroot and wet mulch. Liquorice, fresh leather and dried tobacco can also be found on the nose.
This late ripening red wine grape is likely to have been around since the Middle Ages and is a parent of Gamay and Zweigelt. It is believed the grape’s origin is from the area between Dalmatia through Austria and Hungary. In modern times, Blaufränkisch is the most important red grape varietal after Zweigelt in Austria, representing 6% of all vineyard area in the country. It is also widely grown in many Old World countries, especially in Eastern Europe where it is often termed “the Pinot noir of the East” due to its spread and reputation. Countries with significant plantings include Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. In the new world, plantings can be found in Australia, Canada and USA.
Inky wines rich in tannin, with an obvious spicy character is produced. Pronounced black fruit notes of blackberry, figs, cherries and damson plums can be found in the glass. Overt aromas of black pepper, allspice, ginger and cinnamon are also present.