As a testament to how much of a wine geek I am, my dinning room has the popular De Long’s Grape Varietal Table framed on one wall. 184 of the world’s favourite grapes organised by body and acidity. It looks a lot like the Periodic Table of Elements that you may remember from Chemistry class in school. But there are just 13 grapes that you really need to know.The truth is not every grape variety matters so much. Rather its more important that you learn the characteristics of the major grapes…the Sauvignon Blancs of the world.
Sauvignon Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine best known for its grassy, herbal flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is also called Fume Blanc, and is a popular choice for fish and shellfish dishes.
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) – The low acidity of this white varietal helps produce rich, lightly perfumed wines that are often more colorful than other whites. The best ones have pear and spice-cake flavors.
Chardonnay – Chardonnay is a white wine which can range from clean and crisp with a hint of varietal flavor to rich and complex oak-aged wines. Chardonnay typically balances fruit, acidity and texture. This varietal goes well with everything from fish and poultry to cheeses, spicy foods and nut sauces.
Muscat – The white Muscat grape produces spicy, floral wines that often do something most other wines don’t: they actually taste like grapes. Muscats can range from very dry and fresh to sweet and syrupy. This varietal is often served with puddings and chocolate desserts.
Gewurztraminer – Gewurztraminer is a white wine that produces distinctive wines rich in spicy aromas and full flavors, ranging from dry to sweet. Smells and flavors of litchi nuts, gingerbread, vanilla, grapefruit, and honeysuckle come out of this varietal. It is often a popular choice for Asian cuisines and pork-based sausages.
Riesling – Rieslings are white wines known for their floral perfume. Depending on where they’re made, they can be crisp and bone-dry, full-bodied and spicy or luscious and sweet. The flavor is often of peaches, apricots, honey, and apples and pairs well with duck, pork, and roast vegetables.
Champagne/Sparkling Wine – These wines are made effervescent in the wine-making process. Champagnes and sparkling wines range in style from very dry (Natural), dry (brut) and slightly sweet (extra Dry) to sweet (sec and Demi-Sec). Many sparkling wines are also identified as Blanc de Blancs (wines made from white grapes) or Blanc de Noirs (wines produced from red grapes).
Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir is a red wine of light to medium body and delicate, smooth, rich complexity with earthy aromas. They are less tannic than a cabernet sauvignon or a merlot. Pinot Noirs exude the flavor of baked cherries, plums, mushrooms, cedar, cigars, and chocolate.
Zinfandel – Primarily thought of as a Californian varietal (though recently proven to have originated from vineyards in Croatia), Zinfandel is a red wine with light to full body and berry-like or spicy flavors. The Zinfandel grape is also widely used in the popular off-dry blush wine known as White Zinfandel. The Red Zinfandel pairs well with moderately spicy meat dishes and casseroles.
Syrah (Shiraz) – Syrah can produce monumental red wines with strong tannins and complex combinations of flavors including berry, plum and smoke. It’s known as Shiraz mainly in Australia and South Africa.
Petite Sirah – Petite Sirahs are red wines with firm, robust tannic tastes, often with peppery flavors. Petite Sirahs may complement meals with rich meats.
Merlot – Merlot is a red wine with medium to full body and herbaceous flavors. Merlot is typically softer in taste than Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s flavors and aromas include blackberry, baked cherries, plums, chocolate, and mocha.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine known for its depth of flavor, aroma and ability to age. It is full-bodied and intense, with cherry- currant and sometimes herbal flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon may have noticeable tannins.