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Smooth Wines

Smooth red wines are silky with a velvet-like texture. They can be medium or full bodied and hold the center ground between the light and juicy Fruity style, and the rich and intense Powerful style. They generally have well integrated tannins and their acidity can cover the full range from low to high. 

When it comes to flavor these wines excel, as they are capable of displaying a vast range of profiles encompassing all the red and black fruits, as well as figs, mushrooms, truffles, herbs, spice, chocolate and fruitcake. With age they can develop great complexity and elegance and acquire additional fragrances of cedar wood, coffee, leather, licorice, black pepper and tobacco. Many of the finest red wines in the world are made in this style.

Taste: Rich and refined with aromas of red and black fruits, herbs and spice, followed by rich fruit flavors of plum, red cherry and blackberry, along with spicy pepper and oaky notes.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Drink within a few years of release. The biggest wines can age for up to ten years.

Aka: Also known as St. George.

Description
Agiorgitiko (ah-yor-YEE-tee-ko) is a high quality Greek grape variety. It is one of the country’s oldest and most important red grape varieties and considered by many to be Greece’s finest. Its name comes from the town of Agios Georgios (now called Nemea) and it is also known by its English translation of St. George.

It is traditionally grown in the Peloponnese region and produces its finest wines in the appellation of Nemea, where the wine making tradition goes back a long way – Agamemnon is believed to have drunk the wines of Nemea. It can be used to make wine in different styles, but it produces its most characteristic wines in the Smooth style from vineyards at elevations between 1,500 to 2,100 feet (450 to 650 metres) in the hills around Nemea.

These wines are rich and refined with ripe fruit flavors and well integrated tannins, giving them a relatively soft texture. Acidity is naturally low, but can be improved when grown in cooler conditions at higher altitude. These wines are often compared to Merlot because of their ripe fruit and texture, but they are firmer in structure.  Aromas of red and black fruits, herbs and spice are followed by rich fruit flavors of plum, red cherry and blackberry, along with spicy pepper and oaky notes.

The Nemea appellation requires that all wines labeled “Nemea” are 100% Agiorgitiko. These classic Nemea wines are generally matured in oak for up to a year. Agiorgitiko also blends very well with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds to its structure. These blends may contain from 10% – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and are non-appellation wines because they do not conform to AOC regulations. When Agiorgitiko is released early, without oak aging, it can be very fruity and is much lighter in style. Classic Nemea wines are best consumed within a few years of release.

Taste: Aromas of black fruits and ripe plum, with coffee, tobacco, vanilla and earthy as well as smoky notes, followed by flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and plum, along with dark chocolate and a smooth spicy finish.

Body: Light to medium, but can be full

Tannin: Low

Acidity: High

Age: Most should be drunk young, but some are at their best after about 5 years and top wines can improve for up to 10 years or more. Many wines benefit from decanting for an hour before serving.

Other: Baco Noir is a hybrid grape variety, a cross between a European Vitis vinifera vine and an unknown American Vitis riparia vine. Note: not all wines are made dry – some basic wines are sweet.

Description
Baco Noir (BA-koh NWAHR) is a grape variety that divides opinion, even amongst wine writers. It is considered either a very good grape that’s seriously underrated, or poor and incapable of making fine wine. It is certainly largely overlooked and has been the victim of prejudice due to its pedigree, as Baco Noir is a hybrid (a grape created by the cross-pollination of two different species of vine).

Its story begins at the end of the nineteenth century when the tiny root-feeding louse called Phylloxera, which originated in North America, devastated the vineyards of Europe between the 1860s and 1890s. The European vine species Vitis vinifera has no defence against this pest, which destroyed up to 90% of vineyards across the continent in a thirty-year period. Desperate to find a solution researchers eventually focused on native American vines as they have successfully evolved natural defences against Phylloxera. Finally, two solutions emerged: graft European vine cuttings onto American vine rootstocks or develop hybrid vines by crossing European with American vines.

Towards the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries great efforts were made to create new hybrid vines and François Baco, a native of southwest France, was particularly successful in this respect. In 1902 he created Baco Noir by crossing the Vitis vinifera vine Folle Blanche (a French white grape variety) with an American Vitis riparia vine of unknown origin. It was commercially released in 1910 and was widely planted in many parts of France, including Burgundy. In the mid-twentieth century hybrid grape varieties fell out of favor in France and were excluded from the appellation system, which only permitted European Vitis vinifera vines. Consequently, almost all Baco Noir vines were uprooted in France and replaced by European varieties.

Around the same time Baco Noir was introduced to the United States, arriving there in 1951, and to Canada a few years later in 1955. Its hardiness and cold tolerance made it very suitable in the cooler regions of eastern United States and Canada, many of which were just beginning to realize their potential to produce quality wine. In the intervening years Baco Noir plantings have declined as hybrid vines fell from favor and by the 1960s they were being replaced by the more acceptable and fashionable Vitis vinifera varieties. Nonetheless, it is still an important hybrid in cooler North American wine regions and has a small, if devoted, fan base.

Baco Noir is a very vigorous and productive vine that needs to be well cropped and managed in the vineyard to reduce yields. Its hardiness and ability to withstand cold conditions make it very suitable in the cooler winegrowing regions of North America, particularly around the Great Lakes. The berries are small with black skin (the wines are very dark in color) and are naturally low in tannin. Acidity is very high, almost on a par with Riesling. The wines take well to oak and generally require it to support their tannic structure. While many undergo carbonic maceration like Beaujolais, they generally need time in the cellar to soften their acidic profile. The body is usually light to medium, but can be full.

Fortunately, Baco Noir wines do not display the undesirable “Foxy” characteristics (a pronounced musky quality) generally associated with other Vitis riparia varieties and most North American vine species. However, the biggest challenge the variety faces are yields, which are often much too high to produce quality wine. The best producers understand this and are prepared to reduce yields in order to increase quality and consequently their wines are the equals of any made from European grape varieties. High yields and poorly made examples can be rustically acidic or excessively sweetened and do the variety no credit.

While most Baco Noir is used in blends there are quite a number of varietal wines made. The best of these varietal wines are exceptionally good, generally Smooth in style, and make an intriguing, and unique, addition to any wine enthusiasts repertoire. Expect aromas of black fruits and ripe plum, with coffee, tobacco, vanilla and earthy as well as smoky notes, followed by flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherries and plum, along with dark chocolate and a smooth spicy finish. The top examples display great depth and complexity, and have been compared to Beaujolais Cru (Gamay grape) and Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Baco Noir is often made in the Fruity style, as its low tannin, high acidity and fruit forward flavors would suggest, but with low yields, greater extraction and oak aging they develop a Smooth style profile and can display considerable complexity. Most Baco Noirs should be drunk soon after release, but some improve considerably after about five years. The best wines can improve for up to ten years or more. It is generally a good idea to decant younger wines for an hour before serving.

Although hybrid varieties are out of fashion, and unlikely to make a come back, Baco Noir does represent a different and unique aspect of our collective viticultural heritage. This difference is important, as you won’t find this precise flavor profile in any other grape variety. In the meantime, if you haven’t tasted Baco Noir give it a try. It will certainly be a very informative wine experience.

Taste: Aromas of black fruits and ripe plum, with coffee, tobacco, vanilla and earthy as well as smoky notes, followed by flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and plum, along with dark chocolate and a smooth spicy finish.

Body: Light to medium, but can be full

Tannin: Low

Acidity: High

Age: Most should be drunk young, but some are at their best after about 5 years and top wines can improve for up to 10 years or more. Many wines benefit from decanting for an hour before serving.

Other: Baco Noir is a hybrid grape variety, a cross between a European Vitis vinifera vine and an unknown American Vitis riparia vine. Note: not all wines are made dry – some basic wines are sweet.

Description
Baco Noir (BA-koh NWAHR) is a grape variety that divides opinion, even amongst wine writers. It is considered either a very good grape that’s seriously underrated, or poor and incapable of making fine wine. It is certainly largely overlooked and has been the victim of prejudice due to its pedigree, as Baco Noir is a hybrid (a grape created by the cross-pollination of two different species of vine).

Its story begins at the end of the nineteenth century when the tiny root-feeding louse called Phylloxera, which originated in North America, devastated the vineyards of Europe between the 1860s and 1890s. The European vine species Vitis vinifera has no defence against this pest, which destroyed up to 90% of vineyards across the continent in a thirty-year period. Desperate to find a solution researchers eventually focused on native American vines as they have successfully evolved natural defences against Phylloxera. Finally, two solutions emerged: graft European vine cuttings onto American vine rootstocks or develop hybrid vines by crossing European with American vines.

Towards the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries great efforts were made to create new hybrid vines and François Baco, a native of southwest France, was particularly successful in this respect. In 1902 he created Baco Noir by crossing the Vitis vinifera vine Folle Blanche (a French white grape variety) with an American Vitis riparia vine of unknown origin. It was commercially released in 1910 and was widely planted in many parts of France, including Burgundy. In the mid-twentieth century hybrid grape varieties fell out of favor in France and were excluded from the appellation system, which only permitted European Vitis vinifera vines. Consequently, almost all Baco Noir vines were uprooted in France and replaced by European varieties.

Around the same time Baco Noir was introduced to the United States, arriving there in 1951, and to Canada a few years later in 1955. Its hardiness and cold tolerance made it very suitable in the cooler regions of eastern United States and Canada, many of which were just beginning to realize their potential to produce quality wine. In the intervening years Baco Noir plantings have declined as hybrid vines fell from favor and by the 1960s they were being replaced by the more acceptable and fashionable Vitis vinifera varieties. Nonetheless, it is still an important hybrid in cooler North American wine regions and has a small, if devoted, fan base.

Baco Noir is a very vigorous and productive vine that needs to be well cropped and managed in the vineyard to reduce yields. Its hardiness and ability to withstand cold conditions make it very suitable in the cooler winegrowing regions of North America, particularly around the Great Lakes. The berries are small with black skin (the wines are very dark in color) and are naturally low in tannin. Acidity is very high, almost on a par with Riesling. The wines take well to oak and generally require it to support their tannic structure. While many undergo carbonic maceration like Beaujolais, they generally need time in the cellar to soften their acidic profile. The body is usually light to medium, but can be full.

Fortunately, Baco Noir wines do not display the undesirable “Foxy” characteristics (a pronounced musky quality) generally associated with other Vitis riparia varieties and most North American vine species. However, the biggest challenge the variety faces are yields, which are often much too high to produce quality wine. The best producers understand this and are prepared to reduce yields in order to increase quality and consequently their wines are the equals of any made from European grape varieties. High yields and poorly made examples can be rustically acidic or excessively sweetened and do the variety no credit.

While most Baco Noir is used in blends there are quite a number of varietal wines made. The best of these varietal wines are exceptionally good, generally Smooth in style, and make an intriguing, and unique, addition to any wine enthusiasts repertoire. Expect aromas of black fruits and ripe plum, with coffee, tobacco, vanilla and earthy as well as smoky notes, followed by flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherries and plum, along with dark chocolate and a smooth spicy finish. The top examples display great depth and complexity, and have been compared to Beaujolais Cru (Gamay grape) and Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Baco Noir is often made in the Fruity style, as its low tannin, high acidity and fruit forward flavors would suggest, but with low yields, greater extraction and oak aging they develop a Smooth style profile and can display considerable complexity. Most Baco Noirs should be drunk soon after release, but some improve considerably after about five years. The best wines can improve for up to ten years or more. It is generally a good idea to decant younger wines for an hour before serving.

Although hybrid varieties are out of fashion, and unlikely to make a come back, Baco Noir does represent a different and unique aspect of our collective viticultural heritage. This difference is important, as you won’t find this precise flavor profile in any other grape variety. In the meantime, if you haven’t tasted Baco Noir give it a try. It will certainly be a very informative wine experience.

Taste: Aromas of red and black fruits with notes of violet, herbs, vanilla and wood smoke, followed by flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, prunes, fig and cassis, together with hints of toast and spice. As they mature, they can display additional notes of licorice, chocolate, tobacco and exhibit an appealing earthy quality.

 Body: Medium to full

Tannin: High

Acidity: High

Age: Generally consume within 2 to 4 years of release, but the best wines can improve for 10 years or more.

Aka: Bovale, Nieddera, Requena, Tinto de Requena.

Other: Open an hour before serving.

Description
Bobal (bo-BAHL) is a Spanish grape that is increasingly attracting attention in the wine world. Most people have never heard of Bobal, and yet it is the second most planted red grape variety in Spain, second only to Tempranillo. So, how can this be? The answer is bulk wine production, as Bobal has traditionally been used to beef up the wines of other regions. It was not considered a high quality grape, simply because it was mass-produced without any attempt to develop its innate capabilities. However, a fall in bulk wines prices, combined with increased consumer demand for quality, raised critical questions about the future of Bobal.

This led to a fundamental reassessment of the grape and its potential. At the turn of this century a number of innovative winemakers began to take the grape seriously, with a focus on quality, and produced some stunning wines. Bobal has since gone through something of a renaissance and is now considered one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated, Spanish red grape varieties.

Bobal is native to the Utiel-Requena (oo-TYEHL reh-KEH-nah) DO in the province of Valencia, which accounts for the vast amount of vines grown. It can also be found in some other DOs, but principally in the neighboring Manchuela (MAN-KOO-ey-la) DO, which is part of the Castilla-La Mancha region. The name Bobal derives from the shape of the grape clusters, which are said to resemble a bull’s head. It has a long presence in this area of Spain, possibly dating back to Roman times, and is documented as far back as the 15th century.

The arrival of Phylloxera in the latter half of the 19th century, which proved to be disastrous for the wine industry, saw a dramatic increase in the planting of Bobal as it proved to be resistant to the disease. Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century Bobal was a workhorse grape used to make bulk wine for blending. It was very well suited to this task as it is a high yielding, hardy variety, has plenty of tannins due its thick skin, retains excellent acidity in hot, arid conditions and has one of the highest levels of anthocyanin (pigment in red grapes) of any grape, which gives its wines a dark, rich color. On the downside, the berries tend to ripen unevenly, but that is less of an issue in a blending wine. Much of the crop was used, and still is, for the production of Rosé.

One of the methods used in the production of these bulk wines, but not much practiced today, is called doble pasta, which means ‘double pulp’. In this method the grape skins left behind after the production of Rosé are added to a new batch of red wine production, so this new wine is essentially fermented on two batches of grape skins. The resulting wines are very powerful and concentrated. However, at the turn of this century it became increasingly uneconomic to cultivate Bobal for bulk wine production. Another serious threat to the grape came in the form of vine-pull schemes, which encouraged growers to pull up their indigenous Bobal vines (many very old) and replace them with “improving” varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo.

In an effort to find alternative options for Bobal some producers began, for the first time, to take a quality orientated approach. They severely pruned the vines to restrict yields, practiced dry-farming (no irrigation), only harvested ripe grapes through careful picking and sorting, and concentrated on old vines, of which there are many. In the winery, they intervened as little as possible in the wine making process and many began to age the wines in oak to add depth and complexity. The wines they made were a revelation and marked the arrival of Bobal as a high quality grape that demanded attention. The ripe fruit flavors and lively acidity of these wines, combined with their tannic frame and the use of oak, give them considerable aging potential.

While some very nice wines are made in a lighter style without the use of oak, it is those with more concentrated fruit flavors and some barrel age that best exemplify the full potential of Bobal. They display aromas of red and black fruits with notes of violet, herbs, vanilla and wood smoke, followed by flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, prunes, fig and cassis, together with hints of toast and spice. As they mature, they can display additional notes of licorice, chocolate, tobacco and exhibit an appealing earthy quality. The body is often medium, sometimes full, but always with a vibrant acidity that brings life to the concentrated fruit flavors. Made in this way, Bobal has so much to offer and also makes an excellent blending partner with grapes such as Garnacha (aka Grenache) and Tempranillo, as it adds color, flavor, body, tannin and acidity.

The best varietal wines can improve for up to 10 years or more, but the jury is still out as this new incarnation of Bobal is such a recent phenomenon. It is best to open these wines an hour before serving, or decant if you prefer, to enable them to open up and reveal their full flavor profile. In addition to varietal examples, be sure to check out blends where Bobal is the main player. These wines are usually softer, but extremely rewarding and quite delicious. Spain has a wonderful habit of bringing a relatively obscure or unknown grape variety to prominence, which adds to the excitement of this great wine country. Bobal is one such grape and well worth adding to your wine wish list.

Taste: Aromas and flavors of blackcurrant, black cherry and blackberry, as well as vegetal notes of green bell pepper and mint, together with vanilla and spice from oak.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: High

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Most are made to be consumed within a few years of release, but higher quality wines need several years to soften their tannic structure and develop their full flavour profile.

Description
Cabernet Sauvignon (ka-ber-NAY saw-vee-YOHN) is a classic grape variety that has travelled the globe and is the most famous red wine grape in the world. It is believed to have originated in the 17th century in southwest France as a result of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc (hence the name). From France it has spread across all continents, as it travels well and is easy to grow and vinify (i.e. to make into wine).

The key characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon are its high tannins and acidity. It also has strong aromas and pronounced black fruit flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and blackberry, as well as vegetal notes of green bell pepper and mint. It has a great affinity for oak, which softens its harsh tannins and adds additional flavors of vanilla and spice.

It ages extremely well and as it does so it can develop great complexity with aromas of cedar, pencil shavings and cigar boxes. Cabernet Sauvignon from cool climate regions are generally medium bodied and lighter than those from warmer climates.

When grown in a cool climate region winemakers must be careful as they run the risk that the grapes may not ripen fully, resulting in a dominance of vegetal or “green” flavors and aromas (remember one of this grape’s parents is Sauvignon Blanc), as well as higher acidity and harsher tannins. This is why in cooler regions it is generally blended with Merlot or Cabernet Franc.

However, if the balance is right and they are well made, these cool climate Cabs can be wonderful, with intriguing flavors and textures as well as great finesse and complexity. They also offer a very interesting counterpoint to warm climate cabs, which are powerful, intensely fruity, high in alcohol and more robust and muscular.

Taste: Aromas of black and red fruits infused with vegetal bell pepper and oak fragrances. A broad range of flavors, include blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, plum and red berries, may be accompanied by cedar, coconut, tobacco and vanilla.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Simpler wines are best consumed within a few years of release, but higher quality wines need time to age and develop.

Other: The character and structure of the wine will vary depending on which grape variety is dominant in the blend.

Description
Cabernet Sauvignon (ka-ber-nay SOH-vin-yohn) and Merlot (mer-LOW) form one of the great partnerships in wine. What makes this blend so good is the way these two classic grape varieties complement each other to produce a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. However, this partnership needs the right conditions in terms of climate, soil type and topography (what the French call terroir) and there is no better place for this than Bordeaux in southwest France.

Merlot brings body, texture and mellowness, which fleshes out the tannic backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon and softens its harsh acidity. Both varieties take well to oak and their combined fruitiness, tannins and acidity ensure that they age extremely well and develop great complexity. They generally display aromas of black and red fruits, infused with vegetal bell pepper and oak fragrances. These aromas are followed on the palate by a broad range of flavors, including blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, plum and red berries, which may be accompanied by cedar, coconut, tobacco and vanilla flavors contributed by oak.

There are two types of this traditional blend in Bordeaux, sometimes still referred to as Claret. Those from the left bank (Medoc and Graves) are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, and those from the right bank (Saint-Emilion and Pomerol) are dominated by Merlot. The former are firmer and more tannic, while the latter are softer and rounder with less tannin. Cabernet Franc also plays an important role in many of these blends, especially those from Saint-Emilion. Two other grape varieties that traditionally play a minor role are Petit Verdot on the left bank and Malbec (often called Cot in France) on the right bank.

From their French homeland Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have travelled the world and are truly international. Across different countries, with different terroirs, they continue to reveal intriguing aspects of what is arguably the greatest partnership in wine.

Taste: Generally blended to produce quite robust wines with red and black fruit flavors and a peppery finish. When made as a varietal it has aromas of violets, wild herbs and red fruits followed by flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry, along with spicy notes.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Best to drink while young. Superior blends and good varietal wines can age for several years.

Aka: Also known as Cariñena and Mazuelo in Spain.

Description
Carignan (kar-in-YON) appears to have originated in the province of Aragon in northeast Spain and although widely grown, particularly in southern France and Spain, it is in decline today. It is a very high yielding grape, generally not considered high quality (although some would disagree with this view), and is almost exclusively used for blending.

The attractive qualities of Carignan for winemakers, other than the yield, are its deep purple color, high tannin and high acidity, each of which can be valuable blending characteristics on their own. Conversely, these same characteristics, combined with a lack of fruit flavour at high yields, usually make it too tough and bitter for production as a varietal wine.

As part of the vinification process, Carignan will often undergo carbonic maceration (see full explanation of this technique in the glossary section of the app), which increases the color, softens the astringency and brings out the fruit flavor.

Generally, it is blended with a range of major grapes, particularly Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to produce wines that are quite robust with red and black fruit flavors and a peppery finish. These blended wines can be average in quality, but the best are excellent.

Some varietal wines are made but they are generally only good if the vines are old (50 years or more), yields are restricted and the sites are good. These full bodied wines have aromas of violets, wild herbs and red fruits, followed by flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry, along with spicy notes. The best can age for ten years or more.

Taste: A velvet texture, accompanied by black fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum, with spicy notes of clove and black pepper giving it a savory character.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: High

Acidity: Low

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years, but the better wines age well gaining complexity.

Aka: Occasionally goes under its old Bordeaux name of Grand Vidure.

Description
Carmenère (kar-mhen-NEH-ree) is a French grape variety, from Bordeaux, which was almost annihilated by a Phylloxera plague (an insect pest) in the second half of the 19th century. However, wine growers in Chile had imported vines from France before the plague and for most of the 20th century they were thought to be a clone of Merlot, with which Carmenère shares many characteristics.

It is only since 1998 in Chile that wines can officially be labeled Carmenère – prior to that many wines described as Merlot were actually Carmenère. Now that Chile has correctly identified Carmenère, it has made the grape its own. The country is now almost the only source of wines made from this good quality grape. As a result of this renewed interest, Carmenère is now thriving and fast gaining a reputation, both in Chile and abroad, as an up-and-coming grape variety.

It is a late ripening grape and needs a long growing season, making it very suitable in its adopted South American home. Carmenère wines are medium to full bodied with high levels of tannin and relatively low acidity. Like Merlot, it has a velvet texture accompanied by black fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum, with spicy notes of clove and black pepper giving it a savory character. If the grapes are not fully ripe it can display more pungent vegetal notes, such as green pepper.

Carmenère can be deliciously lush and fruity, and very elegant. It makes a lovely varietal wine and, given its Bordeaux heritage, it is no surprise that it blends exceptionally well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It has much to recommend it.

Taste: A distinct white pepper aroma with red fruit flavors of strawberry and raspberry, accompanied by spicy notes of clove and licorice, while oak adds vanilla and toast. The best wines can develop complex flavors of blackcurrants, black olives, coffee, leather and tar.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Low to medium (can be high, depending on the blend).

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: The majority are made to be drunk young but the best wines, such as those from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, age well.

Aka: Also known as Garnacha in Spain and Cannonau in Sardina.

Description
Grenache (gruh-NASH), or Grenache Noir, to give it its full name, is one of the world’s most widely planted grape varieties – with good reason too, as it makes some delicious wines. It has its origins in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha, but it is most closely associated with the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley in France and these two countries still dominate in terms of numbers of vines planted.

Grenache is a warm climate grape and ripens late in the season. It is quite drought resistant and does best in hot and dry conditions, especially when planted on the poorest soils, and the vines are pruned heavily as it is naturally high yielding. Its grapes are large with thin skins and, when they ripen, have very high sugar levels. As a result, the wines they make are relatively light in color with high alcohol levels and are quite full bodied.

Although Grenache is a high quality grape, it is generally blended with other varieties, such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault in the Rhône. This is because it is very complimentary within a blend, as it adds body and fruitiness without adding tannin or acidity, which are both naturally low in Grenache.

It has a distinct aroma of white pepper and its red fruit flavors of strawberry and raspberry are accompanied by spicy notes of clove and licorice, while oak adds flavors of vanilla and toast. The best wines are superb and can develop complex flavors of blackcurrants, black olives, coffee, leather and tar.

Varietal examples of Grenache were once relatively rare, but many are produced today and they can be very good. However, the true vocation of this fine grape is to play the leading role in a well-crafted blend.

Taste: Aromas of black fruits, violets and spice (cinnamon and nutmeg), can also include vanilla, smoke and earthy fragrances with age. On the palate flavors of fresh cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum may be accompanied by dark chocolate, licorice, tobacco, leather and coffee, as well as mineral notes, followed by a refreshing, bitter cherry finish.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: High

Acidity: High

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years of release. They are fruity in youth and gain more complexity with age – the best wines improve for up to ten years.

Description
Lagrein (lah-grine) is a very interesting grape that has been going through something of a renaissance in recent years. It is native to Trentino-Alto Adige in northern Italy and is considered to be the oldest grape grown in the region, with an early reference dating from 1379.

Its most likely origin is in the Lagarina Valley in Trentino, from which it probably derived its name, although its presence there is very limited today. Recent DNA profiling has revealed that Lagrein is a cross between Teroldego and an unknown variety that may be closely related to Schiava Gentile.

Lagrein is a highly productive vine that produces vigorous growth. Careful vineyard management is therefore required to restrict yields in order to ensure good quality of fruit. Its berries are dark and thick-skinned, resulting in wines that are inky black in color with high tannin levels.

An interesting fact about Lagrein is that as the grapes ripen the stems or stalks stay green (you would normally expect them to turn brown). There are actually two main sub-varieties of Lagrein, one with long stems (grappolo lungo) and the other with short stems (grappolo corto). If appropriate action is not taken in the winery, these stems can significantly increase the level of tannin in the wine.

In addition to high tannin Lagrein also has naturally high acidity, which makes it a very good match for a wide range of foods. Given its dark color and tannic structure it is often added in small amounts to paler and softer varieties, such as Schiava and Pinot Noir, but it can also be found blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the past Lagrein was mainly used for blending, as well as to produce rosé, and the small amount of red wine that was made was bitter and tannic.

However, in more recent years consumer demand for higher quality and more concentrated red wines has seen a transformation in the production of Lagrein. As yields were restricted and modern winemaking techniques were employed the quality, fruit concentration and unique character of Lagrein was revealed and demand consequently increased. The production of varietal wine has now moved centre stage and Lagrein has received well-deserved recognition as one of the best and most interesting indigenous Italian grape varieties.

These wines are very distinctive and full of personality. Aromas of black fruits, violets and spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) are present, and these wines can also exhibit vanilla, smoke and earthy fragrances as they age. On the palate flavors of fresh cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum may be accompanied by dark chocolate, licorice, tobacco, leather and coffee, as well as mineral notes, followed by a refreshing, bitter cherry finish. The best examples are intriguing and, while complex, can also display a rustic quality. Surprisingly, the body of these wines is often much lighter on the palate than their almost black color would suggest.

Lagrein is very much a specialty of northern Italy, and especially Alto Adige. As a result, it may be difficult to find, but is available from many leading wine retailers.

Taste: A violet bouquet with dark fruit flavors of blackberry, cherry and plum, accompanied by notes of spice and tobacco.

Body: Full

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Low

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years, but the best wines from Cahors age extremely well gaining complexity.

Aka: Also known as Auxerrois and Cot.

Description
Malbec (MAHL-bek) originated in France, but you could be forgiven for thinking that it is native to Argentina, which has adopted this grape variety and done so much to restore its prestige. Introduced into Argentina from France in the mid 19th century, it is now the country’s most important premium red grape variety. Acreage has increased so much that Argentina now produces the majority of Malbec made worldwide.

In its French homeland, and elsewhere, it can be a difficult grape to grow because it is susceptible to disease and rot, but it is perfectly suited to the heat, long hours of sunshine and altitude of Argentina’s main wine regions. Importantly, the dry mountain air in these Argentinian regions means that the vines are virtually disease free. With such favorable growing conditions the most important consideration for winegrowers is not to over-produce Malbec and to ensure they take measures to restrict yields. When they do, the results are extremely impressive.

Malbec makes full bodied wines with a violet bouquet and a dark fruit character of blackberry, cherry and plum, accompanied by notes of spice and tobacco – quite similar to Carmenère but with more depth. Tannin is medium to high, while acidity is low and it takes well to oak aging. However, it expresses itself quite differently across regions, being softer and rounder with riper, richer fruit in Argentina compared to its French stronghold in Cahors, which produces firmer, earthier versions.

Argentina’s success with Malbec has not gone unnoticed and winemakers around the world are taking note, with many adding it to their vineyards. We are sure to see many more excellent wines from this exciting grape.

Taste: Smooth and soft with aromas of bramble fruits, cassis and ripe cherry that can be accompanied by spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry and plum are followed by notes of toast and vanilla if the wine is fermented, or aged in oak.

Body: Medium

Tannin: Medium (and soft)

Acidity: Medium

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years of release. There is some evidence to suggest that Marselan ages well, but it is still too early to say.

Description
Can you imagine a grape that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache – the refined power and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, combined with the spicy richness of Grenache? Well, this was what inspired Paul Truel of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to develop such a grape for the Languedoc region by crossbreeding these varieties as far back as 1961.

The result of his efforts is Marselan, which was named after the French Mediterranean town of Marseillan close to where the first vines were cultivated. From the growers’ perspective he wanted to create a heat tolerant, disease resistant vine that displayed the best attributes of both parents. In many respects he achieved this, but there was one downside. Marselan produces small, thick-skinned grapes and its grape clusters, or bunches, are also small. Consequently Marselan is a relatively low yielding vine, which is not what the growers wanted.

At that time, the focus was more on quantity than quality and so, for the next thirty years, Marselan was forgotten. By the end of that period, wine markets were demanding better quality, which prompted a reappraisal of Marselan. Its low yielding characteristic, which also consistently produced high quality fruit, was now seen as an advantage. When coupled with its excellent disease resistant properties, especially to mildew, the rationale for planting it was very strong and in 1990 the INRA secured its official registration and approval for commercial release.

Despite the obvious potential of Marselan, plantings of the grape were slow to begin and the first varietal wines, produced by Domaine Devereux in the Languedoc, did not appear until 2002.  Since then, plantings have increased considerably and it looks like we will see a lot more of Marselan in the future. Most plantings are still in Southern France, with the majority in the Languedoc, but there are also plantings in the Southern Rhône and Provence.

Although many winemakers prefer to use Marselan in blends with local varieties such as Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, there are quite a few varietal wines made. They are very smooth and soft with aromas of bramble fruits, cassis and ripe cherry, which can be accompanied by spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. On the palate flavors of raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum are followed by notes of toast and vanilla if the wine is fermented, or aged in oak (many are not). Acidity is good and the tannins are soft and generally well integrated.

Marselan is still at a relatively early stage of development, and it will take time for winemakers to understand the grape and work out what terroir is most suitable and how best to manage it in the vineyard and the winery. Many of the varietal wines made today are good quality, fruit forward wines that lack complexity, but it will take time before we know if Marselan can produce truly great wine.

As more winemakers and more regions adopt it, and existing producers become more familiar with it, we should see an increase in the number of interesting, and hopefully exciting, Marselan blends and varietals arriving on the market.

Taste: A soft, silky texture with flavors of strawberry, raspberry and plum, accompanied by some vegetal notes in cooler climates, which change to blackberry and black cherry, with additional chocolate and fruitcake flavors in hotter climates.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Low to medium

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Most should be drunk young as only the finest wines need time to develop.

Description
Merlot (mer-LOW) is a grape of French origin thought to be related to Cabernet Franc. It is prized for its ability to produce deliciously soft, rich, velvet textured wines with low to medium acidity and tannin. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in sensuality, which explains its popularity worldwide.

In cooler climates, where tannin and acidity are a little higher, red fruit flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and plum dominate, accompanied by some vegetal notes. In hot climates it is more full bodied with black fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry, and if very ripe it can develop additional flavours of chocolate and fruitcake.

Merlot is one of the primary grapes of Bordeaux where it is blended principally with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to produce classic red Bordeaux (traditionally called Claret). It is particularly important on the right bank in Bordeaux (Saint-Émilion and Pomerol) where it is the main blending component and can even be produced as a pure varietal.

Internationally, Merlot has been a great success as it matures early and performs much better in cooler conditions than its main blending partner Cabernet Sauvignon. These characteristics combined with its ability to produce soft, rich, wines with low tannin and acidity has made it very popular with winemakers who can find a ready market for wines with such high consumer appeal.

Merlot is grown throughout the world with excellent examples made in the USA, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and Chile.

Taste: A characterful wine with aromas of violets, candied red fruit, dark berries, black pepper and spice, followed by lively flavors of raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and plum, leading to a bitter cherry and peppery finish. The best wines can be complex and age well.

Body: Light to Medium (but can be full)

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Drink within 2 to 3 years of release. The best wines can improve for up to a decade or more.

Description
Mondeuse Noire (mohn-DEUHZ nwahr), commonly known simply as Mondeuse, is a quality grape with a distinctive personality. It originated in eastern France, probably in or close to the alpine region of Savoie (sah-VWAH) where it is one of the oldest and most distinctive grape varieties. In the past, it was thought that Mondeuse was identical to the northern Italian grape Refosco as they both share similar botanical characteristics and flavor profile. However, DNA analysis has shown that this is not the case and they are separate and distinct varieties.

Interestingly, this analysis also revealed that Mondeuse Noire is not a color mutation of Mondeuse Blanche but is either its father or its son (the analysis cannot determine which). This is very significant, as we already known that Mondeuse Blanche is one of the parents of Syrah. Therefore Mondeuse Noire is either the grandfather of Syrah or its half-brother. It is worth bearing this close relationship in mind, especially when tasting Mondeuse, as it can be very revealing.

There is a pink berried mutation of Mondeuse Noire called Mondeuse Gris, which it is now extremely rare, and only survives in a conservation vineyard and in the special care of a few dedicated growers. Before leaving the subject of DNA analysis, it should be mentioned that it has also shown that Mondeuse Noire is in some way related to Savoie’s Corbeau grape (also called Douce Noir), which is known as Charbono in California and Bonarda in Argentina.

In the 19th century, Mondeuse had a sizeable presence in eastern France, but it was hit particularly hard by the Phylloxera epidemic towards the end of that century. It reached a low ebb in the 1970s but has started to recover in recent decades; now there are about 750 acres (300 hectares) in Savoie and the Bugey appellation in the neighboring Ain Department.

It is a difficult vine to grow, as it is naturally high yielding and requires considerable management in the vineyard to ensure yields are acceptable and of high quality. Well drained, stoney soils are best, although Mondeuse can be susceptible to drought. The biggest challenge Mondeuse faces in Savoie is achieving full ripeness in the foothills of the Alps and, consequently, it can have difficulty even reaching 12% alcohol. If the grapes are not fully ripe the acidity will be too high, making the wines extremely sharp and there is also the risk of vegetal aromas and flavors.

Most of the wines made in Savoie and neighboring Bugey are pure varietals and they fall into two styles. If yields are permitted to be high, which tends to be traditional, then the wines will be made in the Fruity style for early consumption. These light wines are refreshing, relatively low in alcohol and are almost always chaptalized (i.e. sugar is added to the grape juice before or during fermentation). They generally have a slightly bitter finish, which is reminiscent of many Italian reds, and are just perfect for drinking after a day on the ski slopes.

However, the best wines, produced from lower yielding vines, are richer and more substantial, with higher alcohol levels, and are made in the Smooth style. Many of these wines also receive oak aging, which provides additional structure and gives them aging potential for a decade or more. They are very characterful with aromas of violets, candied red fruit, dark berries, black pepper and spice. On the palate lively flavors of raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and plum lead to a bitter cherry and peppery finish. These wines can be intriguing and complex while also being rustic (in a positive way) at the same time.

Occasionally, Mondeuse is blended, but to no great advantage, as it is best when produced as a single varietal wine. Outside of France there are just a few acres of Mondeuse planted in Europe, with some in neighboring Switzerland and a tiny planting in Sicily. In the New World, there are some old plantings in the USA and Australia with just a small number of wines made by a handful of producers. In warmer climates, Mondeuse has no difficulty ripening and can become a very robust wine displaying its family pedigree and close relationship with Syrah.

Mondeuse is a quality grape that can be full of interest for wine enthusiasts and hopefully we will start to see an increase in its availability.

Taste: Smooth and round with aromas of flowers, red berries and herbs followed by flavors of plum, cherry and raspberry, along with earthy notes and a slightly spicy (pepper) finish.

Body: Medium to full (but light if yields are high)

Tannin: Medium to high (typically soft)

Acidity: Medium

Age: Ready to drink on release, but can improve for a few years in bottle. Serious wines from top producers have great aging potential.

Description
Montepulciano (mon-tay-pool-CHANO) is an Italian grape variety that is frequently confused with the famous wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from the Sangiovese grape and named after the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany – see Sangiovese (Classic) in the Powerful style. It is easy to see how confusing this can be. The Montepulciano grape is widely grown in central and southern Italy, but is most closely associated with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC where its best wine is made.

It is a good quality grape and can produce some lovely wines at quite modest prices. However, as Montepulciano is a prolific grape, yields can be very high which leads to light, if flavorsome, wines more in the Fruity style. A great deal of this light wine is produced by co-operative cellars. Such wines do not exhibit the true qualities of this grape which are only displayed when yields are managed by good winemakers who produce deliciously soft, yet rich, wines that have a great deal to offer. So, before you buy, check the producers name on the bottle.

Montepulciano is late ripening with typical soft tannins, even though they may be high, and tends to have lower acidity and less of a bitter cherry note than many Italian red wines. These features make its wines very smooth and approachable. Aromas of flowers, red berries and herbs are followed by flavors of plum, cherry and raspberry, along with earthy notes and a slightly spicy (pepper) finish. The biggest wines can be very concentrated and complex and as they mature display additional flavors of black fruits, olives, licorice and chocolate.

Montepulciano is ready to drink on release, but it can improve for a few years in bottle. Wines made with low yields by the top producers have great aging potential.

Taste: Aromas of red and black fruits as well as spices (clove, cinnamon and nutmeg) are followed by flavors of plum, cherry, and blackberry, with a refreshing cherry finish. More complex examples can display notes of coffee, tobacco, licorice and bitter chocolate, along with an earthy quality.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Medium to high (but tannins are generally soft)

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Best to drink within a few years of the vintage, but higher quality wines and oaked examples can improve for five years and more.

Aka: Sometimes written as Negro Amaro.

Other: Can offer excellent value for money.

Description
Negroamaro (NAY-grow-ah-MAH-row) is an Italian grape variety that has a long history, stretching back to Classical times in the Puglia region located in the south east of the country, which includes the “heel” of Italy. The origin of the name Negroamaro is uncertain. In modern Italian it translates as “black, bitter” (negro means ‘black’ and amaro means ‘bitter’), but this does not fit with the taste profile of the grape (except for badly made examples) as the hot climate of Puglia ensures that grapes can easily achieve full ripeness with high sugar levels.

Many believe a more likely meaning is derived from Greek, as this area at the heel of Italy was a Greek colony from 600 BC. The old name for Negroamaro was “Niuru Maru” and maru in ancient Greek meant Moor, or a person from North Africa, and this word has evolved into mavros, which means “black” in Greek today. So perhaps the name is simply a description of the very “dark black” skin of the grape. Either way it produces delicious wines that have a very broad appeal.

Negroamaro is ideally suited to Puglia as it thrives in a hot climate and is very resistant to drought. As it is a high yielding vine, good vineyard management is required to reduce the yield and concentrate the fruit flavors. Older vines produce the best fruit and Puglia is fortunate as vines over 50 years old are quite common. Traditionally, Negroamaro was used for blending to add color to other wines. However, with improved wine making techniques and the growing recognition that quality wines can be made from indigenous grape varieties, the focus has changed.

As a result varietal wines are now on the increase and the profile of Negroamaro as a grape capable of producing excellent quality wine is rising. These wines are smooth, with a silky texture and can be full of character. Aromas of red and black fruits as well as spices (clove, cinnamon and nutmeg) are followed by flavors of plum, cherry, and blackberry, with a refreshing cherry finish. More complex examples can display notes of coffee, tobacco, licorice and bitter chocolate, along with an earthy quality.

Negroamaro is also excellent in blends and is best known for the dominant role it plays – together with Malvasia Nera – in the red wines of the Salice Salentino DOC. In other areas of Puglia it is blended with grapes such as Montepulciano and Sangiovese as well as Malvasia Nera to great effect. These wines are quite delicious and can offer great value for money. Negroamaro is also used to produce very good quality and quite robust Rosé, which is very popular with seafood in this coastal region.

Generally, Negroamaro should be consumed within a few years of the vintage, but higher quality wines and oaked examples can improve for five years and more.

Taste: Rich, but soft, with black fruit aromas and flavors of black cherry, mulberry and plum, along with notes of herbs, leather, smoke and spice.

Body: Full

Tannin: Medium to high

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Best enjoyed within a few years of the vintage, but the best wines age well.

Aka: Also known as Calabrese.

Description
Nero d’Avola (NEH-ro DA-voe-lah) is the best and most important red grape variety in Sicily, which is Italy’s largest wine region. Its name refers to the small town of Avola in the southeast of Sicily, however the grape may actually have originated in Calabria on the mainland as its other name is Calabrese.

Up to the 1980s it was primarily produced as a robust bulk-blending grape and shipped to France and Germany to fortify weaker wines. However, in recent decades Sicily has been going through a transformation, with the introduction of modern winemaking techniques and practices. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in quality and Nero d’Avola has been one of the main beneficiaries.

It is frequently blended due to its low acidity and can produce wines in a range of styles. Its best wines, including single varietal wines, are big and robust with great fruit concentration. They are very full bodied with medium to high tannins, which are soft, and acidity is low to medium. On the palate they display rich, ripe black fruit flavors of black cherry, mulberry and plum, with notes of herbs, leather, smoke and spice. The texture can be soft and velvety and it takes well to oak, but only requires limited contact.

There is increasing interest in this grape variety, both in Sicily and internationally, because it is so well adapted to hot climates and can produce delicious, earthy, mouth-filling wines.

Taste: Aromas of violets, red and black fruits with notes of vanilla, star anise, herbs and spice. These are followed by flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and blackberry along with cedar, tobacco, leather and dark chocolate, leading to a persistent finish.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: High (but generally supple)

Acidity: Medium

Age: Best enjoyed within a few years of the vintage, but the best wines improve for up to 10 years.

Aka: Also known as Uva di TroiaSumarelloTroianoUva della Marina and Uva di Barletta.

Description 
Nero di Troia (NEH-ro dee-TROY-uh) – also commonly referred to as Uva di Troia (OO-vah dee-TROY-uh) – is a high quality grape from Puglia (the “heel” of Italy) that has been totally overshadowed by the two dominant red wine grapes of the region, namely Negroamaro and Primitivo. Many believe, with good reason, that Nero di Troia produces some of the best and most interesting wines in Puglia. It certainly deserves more attention internationally, and also within Italy.

The origin of Nero di Troia is uncertain, but it is believed to have arrived in Puglia with Greek colonists in ancient times. Many suggest that the Greek hero of the battle of Troy, Diomedes, brought the vine to Puglia when he settled there after the fall of the ancient city. Alternatively, the name is said to refer to the town of Troia in the Province of Foggia in northern Puglia, and this is the most likely explanation. There is also a possibility that the name may relate to the Albanian town of Cruja (the name translates as “Troy”), which is just a short distance across the Adriatic Sea from Puglia.

For commercial reasons Nero di Troia was adopted as the official name for the grape, in preference to Uva di Troia, in the hope that it could emulate the successes of Sicily’s Nero d’Avola. It should be noted that the prefix Nero in the name means “black” in Italian and Uva means “grapes”.

Nero di Troia was widely planted in northern Puglia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but has since declined considerably. It was traditionally used for blending and formed part of massive bulk wine shipments sent from Puglia to northern Italy and France to bolster the wines of those regions. However, since the turn of this century it has experienced something of a revival, at least as far as the production of varietal wines is concerned.

Nero di Troia is high in tannin and there is a tendency for berry clusters, especially if the berries are large, to ripen unevenly. Consequently, wines were often considered too tannic, needing years to soften their structure, and they could display herbaceous notes due to unripe berries. Blending was therefore considered the only option.

All this changed, however, when winemakers began to select clonal variations of Nero di Troia that had smaller berries and then restricted the yields. In addition, they ensured that only berries that had fully ripened were harvested, in order to eliminate any potential herbaceous notes and to ensure that the tannins in the wine were ripe and therefore softer. As a result the quality of the fruit improved dramatically. Aging in oak also helped to integrate the tannins and give them a supple quality.

With this careful management Nero di Troia revealed its true varietal characteristics and began to display its potential to make wines of real quality and complexity that can also display a sense of place. Producing these varietal wines is very challenging for the winemaker, but the results can be outstanding. Aromas of violets, red and black fruits with notes of vanilla, star anise, herbs and spice are followed by flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and blackberry along with cedar, tobacco, leather and dark chocolate, leading to a persistent finish.

The best of these wines, such as those produced by CefalicchioRiveraSanta Lucia and Torrevento, can display wonderful balance and complexity at prices that represent exceptional value for money. The most important DOC for Nero di Troia in Puglia is Castel del Monte, northwest of Bari, which also includes a DOCG classification for Nero di Troia Riserva awarded in 2011 (DOCG is the highest quality classification in Italy).

Many delicious blended wines featuring Nero di Troia are produced in a number of DOC’s across northern Puglia, as well as single varietal wines under the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification, which indicated that the wines are typical of the geographic region. Almost all the Nero di Troia cultivated today is confined to the northern half of Puglia. It is a very worthy grape and the best examples will amply reward those who seek them out.

If you would like to try something very different look for a white wine called “Come d’Incanto” produced by Cantina Carpentiere. This is a varietal wine made 100% from Nero di Troia grapes. It is vinified in the same way as a white wine – without skin contact – and the result is intriguing.

Taste: Aromas of red and black fruits with hints of coffee and chocolate are followed by a range of flavors including raspberry, cherry, pomegranate, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum, along with spicy (clove, cinnamon, pepper) overtones and prominent notes of oak. Can mellow with age and evolve complex forest floor flavors of truffles and mushroom, while still retaining a bright fruit character.

Body: Full

Tannin: Low

Acidity: High

Age: Generally, best within a few years of release. The highest quality wines reach their peak after about 8 years and can remain at their best for a similar period.

Aka: Also known as Cynthian (which is genetically identical to Norton) and in the past Norton was referred to as Virginia Seedling.

Other: Norton is derived from the native American vine Vitis aestivalis and is therefore a different species to Vitis vinifera which accounts for 99% of all wines made today. Because the wine industry is dominated by, and biased towards, Vitis vinifera varieties, Norton is frequently overlooked.

Description
The Norton grape occupies a unique position in the world of wine and has an intriguing story to tell. Referred to variously as “America’s True Grape”, “The Real American Grape” or “The Cabernet of the Ozarks”, it is perhaps the oldest cultivated North American varietal.

It first became commercially available in 1830 and was named after a Virginia physician and viticulturist called Daniel Norton who is credited with the development or discovery of the grape. Its exact origins are unclear, but the majority of its genome is derived from the native American vine species Vitis aestivalis. Modern analysis suggests that one of its parents was a Vitis aestivalis vine and the other was a cross between another native American vine species called Vitis labrusca and the European vine species Vitis vinifera.

After Norton became available it quickly established itself as the main red wine grape of Virginia and raised the State’s wine reputation, which received wide acclaim in the nineteenth century. This success was repeated in Missouri when German settlers embraced the grape and famously achieved worldwide acclaim for Norton when it was declared “Best Wine of All Nations” at a major international exhibition held in Vienna in 1873.

During the Phylloxera epidemic in the late nineteenth century Norton was heralded as the savior of European vineyards and many vines were planted in France, but did not take to the foreign soils. Norton went on to become one of the principal grapes in the American wine industry until prohibition (from 1920 – 1933) changed everything. Only in recent decades has Norton reemerged to claim its rightful position in American viticulture.

There are a couple of dozen native American wine species, but Vitis aestivalis appears to be one of the few capable of making premium quality dry table wines that are comparable to those of their European cousins. Norton is the best representative of Vitis aestivalis and does not display any of the undesirable “Foxy” characteristics (a pronounced musky quality) associated with other American varieties, such as Vitis labrusca.

The grape called Cynthiana, which is genetically identical to Norton, is considered by many to be the same grape. However, some growers believe it to be a variation of a clone of Norton (in viticulture a ‘clone’ is a vine developed from a cutting or bud of another vine) as it tends to ripen a little earlier. It also produces wines that are generally lighter in structure.

Norton is grown in the eastern and Midwestern United States, but is little known outside of these regions. Plantings have been tried in other areas, but have not performed well as the grape is very particular in terms of the soil type and climate it prefers. It is extremely hardy and very resistant to disease; however, one to the factors holding Norton back is that, unlike other vines, it will not produce roots from cuttings so propagation is slow. It also ripens late and has a tendency to produce low yields.

However, when well made it is the equal of, and indistinguishable from, many European wines. It expresses itself differently depending on where it is grown. Aromas of red and black fruits with hints of coffee and chocolate are followed by a range of flavors including raspberry, cherry, pomegranate, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum, along with spicy (clove, cinnamon, pepper) overtones and prominent notes of oak.

The wine is very dark in color and the body is full with a velvet-like texture. Acidity is high and requires careful management on behalf of the winemaker. Tannins are low and consequently most wines are aged in oak for 1 to 2 years to give them structure. They can mellow with age and evolve complex forest floor flavors of truffles and mushroom, while still retaining a bright fruit character.

Good management in the vineyard and the winery is essential for Norton to be at its best. Poorly made or unfocused examples can be quite astringent with an intense grapey flavor. Well made varietal wines have good aging potential and generally reach their peak after about 8 years and can remain at their best for a similar period. Norton also performs very well in blends.

An interesting fact about Norton is that it contains a large amount of the phenolic compound Resveratrol, which is an anti-oxidant thought to have cardiovascular benefits by reducing cholesterol and lipid levels when wine is consumed in moderate quantities.

Taste: Delicate savoury aromas and red fruit flavors of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and plum are accompanied by additional complex flavors which can emerge as the wines age and mature. These additional flavors include fig, truffle, wood smoke and violets as well as forest floor and animal notes of mushroom and leather. Age can add great complexity to the best wines.

Body: Medium

Tannin: Low to medium

Acidity: High

Age: Most are best when young, while top quality wines develop great complexity with age.

Aka: Also known as Spätburgunder in Germany and as Pinot Nero in Italy.

Description
Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR) is perhaps the most enigmatic of all grape varieties. To many, it is the most sensual red wine in the world, while to others it is elusive and much over-hyped. In truth, it can frequently frustrate, but can occasionally be sublime.

Although grown throughout the world, it prefers cooler climates and finds its greatest expression in its home in Burgundy in France. Here Pinot Noir produces some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in the world and has been doing so for centuries. The terroir in Burgundy is unique and has been carefully managed and studied for over a thousand years. The best Burgundy wines are the benchmark for Pinot Noirs worldwide and the reason why so many winemakers have tried to emulate them.

Growing and vinifying Pinot Noir is not for the faint hearted. It is a very demanding vine to grow and does best on limestone soils. Because it is early ripening, it requires a cool climate to allow the grapes to mature slowly before reaching perfect ripeness. During the wine making process it needs constant attention and frequent interventions are necessary to ensure the desired result.

There can be wide variations in the flavor profile of Pinot Noir depending on where it is grown. Part of the reason for this is that it is a very old grape variety and, as such, is prone to mutation. Consequently, there are a great number of Pinot Noir clones even within an individual wine region. Each of these clones will display unique characteristics and produce wines that may be subtly or substantially different from other clones.

While the wines Pinot Noir produces vary considerably, it can be said that they are generally medium bodied (can be light or even full) with low to medium tannin and high acidity. Their delicate red fruit and savoury aromas can be very complex. Red fruit flavors of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and plum dominate, with additional complex flavors emerging as they age and mature, which can include fig, truffle, spice, wood smoke and violets, as well as forest floor and animal notes of mushroom and leather.

If the grapes are under-ripe, vegetal flavors are prevalent and if over-ripe (a risk in warmer climates) acidity will be too low and the wines will appear flat and jammy. Climatic conditions are therefore very important and the winemaker also has a critical role to play in the quality of the finished product.

Many of the best Pinot Noirs are aged in oak, but care is needed as new oak can easily overwhelm the wines’ more delicate flavors. With age, the finest wines develop wonderfully intense and complex flavors that make them some of the most sought after wines in the world. They can even evolve in the glass, releasing wave after wave of sensory stimulation.

Taste: Fruity aromas infused with violets are followed by flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, strawberry and plum that can be accompanied by tropical fruits such as banana. Spicy notes are characteristic, as well as oak flavors and, occasionally, vegetal undertones can be present.

Body: Full

Tannin: Medium

Acidity: High

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years, but the best wines age well.

Description
Pinotage (pinno-targe) was created in South Africa by Professor Abraham Perold in 1925 by crossing the two French grape varieties Pinot Noir and Cinsault (which was traditionally called Hermitage in South Africa and hence the name Pinotage). However, it was not until 1961 that the name Pinotage first appeared on a wine label.

It performs best in a warm climate, but can also deal well with cooler conditions. Yield control measures are necessary to ensure an optimal crop and it is at its best when the vines are pruned back and the grapes are allowed to fully ripen. If the vines are stressed due to a lack of water and temperatures get too high, an undesirable aroma can develop which is variously described as nail varnish, acetone or spray paint. This is acerbated if temperatures rise too high during fermentation.

Good winemaking is therefore essential and the Pinotage Association in South Africa has done a great deal to raise quality and standards. Pinotage is used to make wines in a range of styles and is frequently blended with other varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

As a varietal wine it is generally full bodied with medium tannins and high acidity. Fruity aromas infused by violets are followed on the palate by flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, strawberry and plum that can be accompanied by tropical fruits such as banana. Spicy notes, such as cinnamon, cloves and licorice, are characteristic as well as oak flavors and occasionally vegetal undertones can be present. It takes well to oak, which adds smoky notes and develops the wines’ structure and complexity.

Pinotage has its followers and its critics, but with low yields from old vines it is capable of producing wonderfully deep and vibrant wines. This unique grape, a South African specialty, is well worth investigating, as it is capable of delivering an extremely rewarding wine experience.

Taste: Fragrance of cold tea with red fruit flavors of cherry and plum, accompanied by a refreshing bitter-sweet twist on the finish.

Body: Medium

Tannin: High

Acidity: High

Age: Drink within a couple of years of the vintage.

Description
Sangiovese (san-joh-VAY-zeh) is an Italian grape variety with an ancient history that dates back to Roman times. It most likely originated in Tuscany and its name is thought to have derived from Sanguis Jovis meaning the “Blood of Jove”. DNA analysis has revealed that it is descended from two indigenous Italian grape varieties called Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. A characteristic of Sangiovese is its ability to adapt to different conditions and consequently there are over a dozen clones of the grape in Italy, with Brunello being the most well known.

Today, Sangiovese is the most important red wine grape of central Italy and is famous as the main component of Chianti (which must be at least 70% Sangiovese) and for producing big, varietal wines like Brunello di Montalcino. However, the majority of Sangiovese is used to make unpretentious everyday wines, such as basic Chianti, which have their own charm and appeal. Perhaps their greatest attribute is their ability to pair so well with food, especially Italian cuisine, due to their refreshing quality and good structure.

These wines have high levels of tannin and acidity and traditionally a small amount of local white wine was added to soften them. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah are added instead, which gives the wines a fruitier taste profile and a little more body. They take well to oak, which can add richness, although this is less relevant for simpler wines designed for early drinking.

These everyday Chianti wines have a fragrance of cold tea, with red fruit flavors of cherry and plum that are accompanied by a refreshing bitter-sweet twist on the finish, which is typical of so many Italian red wines. Quality varies widely, but the better examples are medium bodied and all of these everyday wines are best drunk while they are young and fresh.

For details of more serious Sangiovese wines, such as Chianti Riserva, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Vino Nobile di Montpulciano and the famous Brunello di Montalcino, see Sangiovese (Classic) in the Powerful style.

Taste: Silky texture with aroma of flowers, stewed berries and spice are followed by flavors of juicy cherry, raspberry, plum and blackberry. Often displays dark chocolate and earthy notes on the finish.

Body: Medium

Tannin: Low to medium

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Best to drink while young, although oaked examples can age for several years.

Aka: Called Sankt Laurent in Germany and known as Svatovavřinecké in the Czech Republic.

Description
St. Laurent (ZANKT LAU-rent) is a good quality grape variety whose homeland is Austria, although it may actually have originated in France. It gets its name from Saint Laurent’s day on August 10th when the véraison process begins as the grapes start to change color from green to red.

St. Laurent is generally believed to be a seedling of Pinot Noir, with which it shares many characteristics and morphological similarities. Although this relationship is not entirely certain, it does appear to be a cross between Pinot Noir and another grape variety. So far, attempts to identify the other parent have not been successful. Together with Lemberger (Blaufränkisch), St. Laurent is a parent of Zweigelt, Austria’s most planted red grape variety (see Zweigelt entry in the Fruity style).

Despite the fact that St. Laurent is a particularly difficult grape to grow, and yields are low, plantings in Austria have doubled since the turn of this century. This reflects an increased emphasis on quality in Austrian wine and a renewed interest and passion for superior indigenous grape varieties. The standard of Austrian wine and winemaking is now one of the highest in the world and is deserving of a great deal more attention.

The wines St. Laurent makes can be quite intriguing and delicious, with silky textures and soft tannins. Aromas of flowers, stewed berries and spice are followed by flavors of juicy cherry, raspberry, plum and blackberry with dark chocolate and earthy notes on the finish. Wines produced from old vines can be especially good, displaying more sensuality, minerality and depth of character.

They make an interesting alternative to red Burgundy (made from Pinot Noir). Oak is sometimes used, but contact needs to be light. Some wines can mature in bottle and display additional flavors, but as a rule they are best drunk while young. It is often used for blending with other varieties such as Zweigelt and Pinot Noir.

St. Laurent may be difficult to find, but if you chance upon a bottle don’t miss the opportunity to try this rewarding grape variety.

Taste: Fruity aroma with flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry and plum that can be accompanied by blackberry and mulberry. Oak ageing adds additional flavors of herbs, mushrooms, leather, tobacco, vanilla, coconut and spice.

Body: Medium to full

Tannin: Medium

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years of release, while the finest wines have great aging potential.

Aka: Also known as Cencibel, Ojo de Liebre, Tinta de ToroTinta del Pais, Tinta Fino and Ull de Llebre in Spain and Aragonêz and Tinta Roriz in Portugal.

Description
Tempranillo (tem-pra-NEE-yoh) is indigenous to Spain where it is the most important grape variety, and also the country’s best native red grape. It is one of the world’s great red grape varieties, a fact that perhaps for too long was only recognised in Spain. Happily, all that has changed and a revival of interest in this quality grape, both at home and abroad, has ensured that its ability to make outstanding wines has never been more prevalent than it is today.

Tempranillo takes its name fromthe Spanish word temprano, which means early, as it ripens several weeks earlier than other native varieties. It prefers chalky and limestone soils, which have the added benefit of promoting acidity, which is naturally low in Tempranillo. Climate is also important and it performs best in cooler, more moderate, conditions and these also increase acidity. However, to achieve sufficient sugar levels to give its wines body, heat is required. This dichotomy is resolved at higher altitudes in areas with a continental climate or where a maritime influence has a cooling effect.

While Tempranillo is grown all across Spain, these conditions are most prevalent in the north of the country, particularly in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, which are famous for their Tempranillo dominated wines. They are medium to full bodied with medium soft tannins and low to medium acidity. Strawberry is generally the most prevalent red fruit flavor, along with cherry, raspberry and plum, but black fruit flavors of blackberry and mulberry are often present. Tempranillo takes well to oak and, as it ages, develops additional flavors of herbs, mushroom, leather, tobacco, vanilla, coconut and spice.

In its homeland, Tempranillo has been going through a great revival in the last decade and many excellent wines of real character are being made in several regions. This success has not gone unnoticed and other countries are now taking note and beginning to realise the potential of this high quality grape.

Spanish Wine Labels

As well as stating the region of origin, Spanish wine labels often state for how long the wine has been aged.

Joven labeled wines are young wines which usually have no cask aging, although they may have some, and generally should be consumed soon after release.

Crianza red wines must be two years old and aged for at least six months in oak casks (they are generally medium bodied, but can be full).

Reserva red wines, usually from better vintages, must be three years old and aged for at least one year in oak casks.

Gran Reserva red wine, from the best vintages, must be five years old and aged for at least two years in oak casks.

As Reserva and Gran Reserva are higher quality wines, with longer aging, they therefore command higher prices (and are usually full bodied). However, a word of caution here, beware of very cheap Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, as a Crianza will almost always be of better quality.

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