French Varietals

A pink coloured mutation of the genetically unstable Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris has been known in the Burgundy region since the Middle Ages, before spreading across Europe. Today, it is cultivated in both the Old and New World wine regions. Well known for producing New Zealand’s light, fruit forward white wines, it is also increasingly being used to make Rosé and skin contact wines.

With approachable fresh aromas of white peach, melons and citrus zest and a medium light body, it makes for an easy drinking white wine. With increased ripening on the vine, the grape can also develop riper tropical mango and kumquat aromas, as well as some botrytis-influenced flavours. Skin contact creates an orange or blush Pinot Gris wine with increased structure, flavour and colour. 

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Getting its name from the French words of sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”), this green skinned grape variety originates from the Bordeaux region of France. While widely cultivated in its homeland in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, it is now widely planted worldwide. Depending on the climate and soil, the flavour of the wine ranges from extremely herbaceous and grassy, to bright, zesty and tropical. Winemaking styles also vary significantly, with oak aged examples such as those from Pessac- Léognan and Graves, to the early drinking stainless steel fermented examples from New Zealand producers.   

The bread and butter of the New Zealand wine industry, our Sauvignon Blancs are well-known internationally for their zesty, refreshing fruit-forward vibrancy. In Marlborough's three subregions of the Wairau River Valley, the Southern Valleys and Awatere Valley form the bulk of New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc production with 22,369 hectares under vine. Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are famous for their exuberant gooseberry and passionfruit aromas and often made as an un-oaked light white wine, though styles involving oak influence, oxidation and lees ageing are becoming prominent. 

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Native to the Bordeaux region of France, the thin skinned, and botrytis susceptible Sémillon is widely planted in the sweet wine regions of Sauternes and Barsac. While it once dominated over 90% of South Africa’s vineyards, and was the most planted variety in the world, this is no longer the case. Countries with still significant plantings are France, Australia, South Africa and Chile. With its heavy body, low acidity and oily texture, dry and sweet wines made from Sémillon are age-worthy and older vintages highly sought for.  

As a dry wine, Sémillon is often forms part of a blend with grapes such as Sauvignon blanc, Muscadelle and Chardonnay but could also be made as a varietal wine. With aromas of lemon, kaffir limes and green apple, wines made of Sémillon often also have a mineral undertone with a waxy mouth-feel on the tongue. 

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Originating from the south of France, this full-bodied white wine grape is now grown all over the world, from the Old World wine regions of France and Italy, to the New World wine regions of Argentina and South Africa. A difficult grape to grow, Viognier is prone to powdery mildew and low, unpredictable yields. Additionally, it should only be picked in that perfect period when fully ripe. When picked too early or grown in climates too cool, the grape never fully develops its famous aromas. When picked too late, or grown in climates too hot, the grape produces an overtly oily wine lacking in perfume.

Fruit forward and floral, the Viognier gives soft, lush aromatics of apricots, peaches, pears and honeysuckle with an underlying vein of minerality. The resultant wine ranges in body from light and slightly carbonated, to buttery and bold. The characteristic oiliness is always tasted on the tongue, along with a slight bitterness, reminiscent of eating fresh rose petals.

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With the wine’s taste highly dependent on winemaking practice, this relatively neutral white wine grape is often referred to as ‘the winemaker’s grape’. The characteristic flavours associated with a Chardonnay wine are often derived from terroir and from techniques such as oak use, malolactic fermentation and lees ageing. The flavour spectrum therefore ranges from lean and crisp, to citrus and tropical fruit, to oaky and buttery. The variety comes from Burgundy in eastern France, but is now found in every wine producing country. Due to its ease of cultivation and familiarity to consumers, Chardonnay is popular as an initial grape to grow for establishing winegrowers and wine regions.

In addition to single varietal wines, Chardonnay is also an important constituent of many sparkling wines such as Champagne and Franciacorta. The flavours of Chardonnay include lime, green apple and peaches in cold climate wine regions, and pineapple, mangos and lemon curd in warmer regions. Oak use brings vanilla and butterscotch notes, while lees ageing brings hints of brioche, nuttiness and smoke. Malolactic fermentation softens acidity and gives the wine richness and buttery, popcorn aromas. 

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Most likely originating in France’s Northern Rhône region, today the grape is still widely planted there and often blended with Roussanne. The grape is used in both white and red wine blends, as well as made into sparkling wines. While mostly made into a dry wine, in Valais, Switzerland, some producers have fermented it into a dessert-styled straw wine. Other places Marsanne is grown include Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand.

Marsanne produces richly coloured wines that deepen in colour and complexity with age. Flavours include savoury roasted nuts, along with sweet oranges, quince, white peach and honeydew. A decadent beeswax note lingers on the back of the tongue. 

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Most likely also originating in France’s Northern Rhône region, together with its common blending partner Marsanne, in recent decades plantings of Roussanne have decreased in favour of the high producing and easy cultivating Marsanne. With its poor drought and wind resistance, vulnerability to mildew, irregular ripening and yields, Roussanne is often a difficult variety to grow successfully.

Like Marsanne, the grape is used in both white and red wine blends, as well as made into sparkling wines. Outside of France, the grape is grown in Italy, Australia, California and the USA.  

Full bodied Roussanne has intense aromatics of jasmine tea, apricot and lemon when young, which gradually develops into malt and nuttiness as it ages. Oak ageing is sometimes used by winemakers to create a richer style of wine. In blends, Roussanne adds aromatics, acidity and age-worthiness to the blend. 

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other varietals

From Italy, Austria, Portugal and Germany

This white wine variety originates from the region of Piedmont in the North West of Italy. Today, it is most commonly found in the hillsides of Roero, where it forms part of Roero and Langhe’s white wines.  In the Piemontese language, Arneis translates to ‘little rascal’ owing to its difficulties as a variety to grow.

For centuries, Arneis was grown as a field blend with Nebbiolo in the Barolo region as it was believed the sweet fragrant Arneis berries would entice birds and keep them away from the more precious Nebbiolo. In winemaking, it also softened Nebbiolo’s harsh tannins leading locals to often refer to it as ‘Nebbiolo bianco, Barolo bianco or “white Barolo”. With the increase of pure Nebbiolo wines, the variety seemed fated to go extinct. Thankfully in the 1980s, the resurging interest in native Italian white wine varieties lead to an increase in plantings and export so the variety was saved.

Now mostly made into a single varietal dry white wine, Arneis wines are aromatic and fresh in flavours of peach, lemon and golden apples. Nuances of honey and almonds underlie the fruit followed by flinty nuances of chalk and sea salt. More rarely, some winemakers have produced a late harvest passito Arneis.     

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While its origins remain heavily debated, this light bodied white wine is mostly grown on the island of Sardinia, Italy. The grape is also grown in France in the regions of Patrimonio, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. Small plantings are found in the United States, Argentina, Australia and Lebanon.

Light bodied and aromatic, the wine gives vibrant crisp flavours of kaffir lime, green apples and white peach, with a touch of bitterness at the edge. 

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This white wine grape is believed to date back to Roman times, likely being indigenous to Austria. Its name translates to the “Green Wine of Veltlin”, with Veltlin being an area in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, bordering on Switzerland. However, historians have not yet found a link between the grape and the Italian commune. Today it is grown mainly in Austria, with some plantings in the nearby Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  In recent years, small plantings of this grape have arisen in the New World, primarily in the countries of USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Grüner Veltliner often makes a dry white wine, with distinctive undertone of green peppercorn, dill and fennel. Paired with fresh vibrant fruit notes of pear, citrus and peach, this makes Grüner Veltliner a versatile food wine, offering both body and complexity. With the use of oak during winemaking, a rich creamy texture is attained. 

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This pink or red coloured grape variety is often used to make white wines of varying levels of sweetness. Best grown in cooler regions, this aromatic grape’s homeland lies in the foothills of the Alps in the German-speaking province of South Tyrol in northern Italy. Today, plantings have expanded all over the world to other cool climate regions. Most notable of these regions include Alsace in France, Moldova, and Mendoza in Argentina.

Instantly recognizable from its intense perfume of lychees and Turkish  roses, Gewürztraminer wines also bring forth note of bitter oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. Spicy ginger, cinnamon and cloves also make the wine the perfect match for South East Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Styles range from bone dry, to noble rot-affected dessert wines. It is also increasingly, a popular grape to make skin contact/orange wine from.  

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Riesling, the great ancient grape of Germany could claim to be the finest white grape variety in the world for the longevity of its wines and their ability to transmit the characteristics of a vineyard without losing Riesling's own inimitable style. This noble variety has several written references dating back to the 15th century and DNA profiling revealed a parent–offspring relationship with one of the most ancient and prolific wine grape of Western Europe, Gouais Blanc. Riesling is usually included in the "top three" white wine varieties together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A favourite among Sommeliers and Winemakers who know that, thanks to their magical combination of acidity and extract, these wines can develop for decades in bottle, regardless of alcoholic strength and residual sugar. The variety will always be distinguished for its ability to produce great sweet wines - from Eiswein (ice wine) or the botrytized Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese and their counterparts outside Germany. The light-skinned, aromatic grape variety is highly "terroir-expressive".

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