Discovering the Tastes
- plummy and cherryish
- undertones of sweet vanilla
The high-in-acid BARBERA grape of north-western Italy is a chameleon-like grape which changes considerably according to yield. As an everyday variety, it is a juicy glugger but it can metapmorphose into a concentrated, rich, plummy and cherryish wine with undertones of sweet vanilla and spice when aged in small new oak casks. In Argentina, it tends to the former style with a little less acidity thanks to plentiful Andean sunshine.
- grassy and raspberryish
- aroma of lead pencil shavings
CABERNET FRANC, the distant relative of CABERNET SAUVIGNON, can produce deliciously perfumed, supple, raspberry and blackcurrant-infused red wines in Bordeaux, while further north in the cooler regions of the Loire Valley and in north-eastern Italy, it produces a wine which tends to become more herbaceous in style. It is often described as having the aroma of pencil shavings.
- capsicum and blackcurrant
- a range of cedar, vanilla and coffee notes
CABERNET SAUVIGNON covers a wide spectrum of aromas and flavours. It tends towards herbaceousness when not fully ripe with capsicum and grassy undertones, but as it ripens it tends towards the flavour of blackcurrant and, when very concentrated, cassis. In California and Chilean cabernet, you can often spot mint or eucalyptus. Its affinity with oak lends secondary characters with a range of vanilla, cedar, sandalwood, tobacco, coffee, musk and spicy notes.
- bubblegum and banana
- cherry and strawberry flavours
GAMAY, the beaujolais grape, is the gluggiest of all grape varieties, partly because of the carbonic maceration or whole berry fementation method used, which helps preserves the naturally refreshing juiciness of the variety. Carbonic maceration is responsible for a variety of aromas and flavours ranging from bubblegum and banana through to strawberry and cherry.
- white pepper and raspberry
- thyme and rosemary scents
The light-coloured GRENACHE is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety and as a result it often mingles the classic Mediterranean garrigue scents of thyme, fennel and rosemary with white pepper and its warming, raspberryish fruit flavours. It tends to be low in tannin and hence soft and supple and, at its apogee in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it takes on heady aromas and spicy, robust fruit flavours which can border on the raisined.
- mulberry and blackberry flavours
- tarry and leathery
Harsh and rustic in its homeland of south-west France, the MALBEC grape is often improved in Cahors by the addition of the softening MERLOT grape. It really comes into its own however in Argentina, where it becomes altogether smoother and lusher with all sorts of plummy, red berry and earthy fruit flavours like raspberry, mulberry and blackberry allied to tar, leather and game-like characters.
- bell pepper and blackcurrant
- chocolate and spice-like characters
MERLOT’s soft texture helps to give it a deliciously plummy, almost fruitcake-like flavour and a mellow smoothness which makes it more approachable than its sister grape, the CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Like cabernet, it can be a little grassy and bell-pepper-like from cool climate regions and it develops blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and spice-like characters when fully ripe. Chilean MERLOT often produces juicy reds with blackcurrant pastille flavours.
- brambly and blackberry-like
- animal, funky and meaty
MOURVEDRE is a darker, thicker-skinned variety than its Mediterranean counterpart, GRENACHE, producing a firm-structured, often tannic, brambly, blackberryish red with notable funky, meaty and animal-like characters. More often than not it’s blended with other southern French varieties. It can be spicy and as it ages, develop the aged meat character of game or even wet fur.
- tar and roses
- truffle and liquorice spiciness
Northern Italy’s thick-skinned NEBBIOLO grape of barolo and barbaresco fame is one of the most delightfully aromatic of red grape varieties and for that reason sometimes compared to PINOT NOIR, but the aromas and flavours are very different. Structured by high acidity and no shortage of tannin, NEBBIOLO’s bouquet encompasses violet, smoke and rose-like perfumes with flavours of truffle, fennel, liquorice and, most famously, tar.
- raspberry and strawberry
- cola spice, incense and game
PINOT NOIR is one of the most sensuously fragrant red grapes in the world with a variety of scented aromas based on red berry characters closest to raspberry and strawberry, and often tinged with incense and cola-like (!) spice. It can be a little minty and vegetal but when ripe usually tastes of raspberry or strawberry as well as cherry and, when exotic, loganberry, mulberry and fraise du bois. If overripe, it becomes jammy. As it matures in bottle, it often develops silky textures and alluring undertones of truffles, game and leather.
- plummy and blackberryish
- hints of baked banana and burnt rubber
A difficult grape to grow and equally hard to make, PINOTAGE comes in a range of red wine styles from simple everyday glugger to the more serious structured reds. It is known for its characteristic burnt rubber character which most growers try to eliminate, and, when successful, produce a wine with a range of plum, cherry, blackberry and banana flavours. With oak cask maturation, it can become smoky and spicy.
- cherry and plum
- herby and savoury
SANGIOVESE, the main Chianti grape, produces a variety of styles from youthfully lively young reds with juicy, cherryish flavours with mouthwatering acidity to the richer, more concentrated, long-lived, oak-aged style with dark cherry, plum, savoury and herby, bayleafy flavours. Tinged with tea, and spices picked up from oak cask maturation, SANGIOVESE wines as they mature can develop gamey, leathery, almost animal characteristics.
- strawberry flavours
- a veneer of vanilla and tobacco-spice
The mainstay of Rioja and a host of other Spanish reds, TEMPRANILLO is a versatile grape which is equally well used to making juicy young strawberryish reds as well as more serious, oak-aged reds with a veneer of vanilla, liquorice and tobacco spice characters overlaying the strawberry flavours. Like SANGIOVESE, it can be very savoury, a quality often defined as tobacco leaf, and it becomes leathery with age.
- brambly and raspberryish
- headily spicy
In its pink incarnation, ZINFANDEL, sometimes known as white ZINFANDEL, tends to be light, sweetish and bland. Take it seriously though and it produces powerfully-constructed, brambly, reds with raspberry and blackberry-like flavours and plenty of tannins and spice. It is believed to be the same grape, or virtually the same grape as southern Italy’s primitivo, which is equally capable of producing heady, robustly spicy reds.
- citrusy and crisp
- fragrant and spritz-fresh
ALBARINO, arguably Spain’s best white grape variety, is sometimes referred to as Spain’s RIESLING, as much because it resembles the citrusy side of RIESLING in character as because its fragrant, spritz-fresh style makes it the perfect seafood white. It has plenty of body and fresh acidity with grapefruity, citrus-perfumed flavours
- melon, grapefruit and pineapple
- buttery and nutty
In Burgundy, CHARDONNAY ranges in quality from bland to intense and in style from oaked to unoaked and from the minerally, unoaked, lean, bone dry chablis style to the richer, classically hazelnutty intense dry whites of the Côte de Beaune. In the New World, CHARDONNAY varies from the melon, apple and grapefruit cool climate styles to more tropical fruit styles with flavours of peach, mango, lime and pineapple. As a non-aromatic variety, its affinity with oak brings both a textured, buttery roundness as well as smoky, toasty, clove and cinnamon-spice and nutty features.
- quince and apple
- sweet barley sugar and honey characters
CHENIN BLANC in its most classic form in the Loire Valley is full of floral and honeyed aromas and quince and apple-like flavours with good zippy acidity. When cool-fermented as in so many instances in South Africa, it can be quite peardroppy, becoming more peachy in fuller dry whites. With botrytis development in the grapes, it becomers rich in barley sugar and honeyed characters, particularly in tthe luscious sweet wines of the Loire Valley.
- fragrant rose petal and lychee
- dusting of Turkish Delight
Like walking into the perfume section of a department store, GEWURZTRAMINER is the grape variety with the most overt and recognisable range of aromas in the world. It smells of ginger and cinnamon, fragrant rose petals and pot pourri with a dusting of Turkish Delight and tastes of deliciously exotic lychees and mango. It is so spicy as to be instantly appealing, but its all-encompassing fragrance can rapidly pall.
- white peper and celery
- an alluring herbiness
Austria’s widely planted grape variety produce an assertive, steely, rich dry white with a unique aroma and flavour. For some it hints at white pepper and celery, while others prefer the descriptors of gherkins and dill. Either way, there’s often an unusual, alluring herbiness in what, at its best, can be an excellent, steely dry white.
- marzipan-like and nutty
- opulently rich, honeysuckle aromas
MARSANNE is the blending partner of the higher quality ROUSSANNE and has a faintly peachy, nutty, blanched almondy character which can veer towards the flavour of marzipan. It is full-bodied, fat and becomes opulently rich with honeysuckle aromas and a mango-like tropical fruitiness in parts of Australia and California.
- floral sweet pea
- faintly spicy
This early-ripening German grape produces floral, sweet-pea like and faintly spicy aromas. It is hard to think of complex examples but at low yields in Italy’s Alto-Adige and in Württemburg in Germany, it is capable of rising above the bog-standard to develop minerally, more complex characters.
- grapes and raisins
- exotically fragrant
MUSCAT is best-known for its fragrantly perfumed, grapey quality, whether as a dry white or one of the sweet, fortified MUSCATs grown around the Mediterranean. In its sweet, fortified incarnation, it takes on the aromas and flavours of candied fruits, which can be a little coarse, but, in a good quality MUSCAT, exotically spicy, with suggestions of roses, raisins, crystallised oranges and pineapples.
- clean and refreshing
- grapey and smoky
PINOT BLANC can be bland and neutral when it’s cropped heavily, albeit clean and refreshing, but it can also be nutty and rich, almost like CHARDONNAY, with a delicately grapey or smoky character and good acidity, making it an ideal partner for seafood.
- smoky and spicy
- occasionally oily
PINOT GRIS / pinot grigio, often lightly copper-coloured, can be a sort of halfway house between the more neutral-flavoured PINOT BLANC and the overtly spicy and fragrant GEWURZTRAMINER with a smokiness, delicate spice and an occasionally oily character.
- apples and lime
- honey and petrol characters
In its Teutonic heartland of the Mosel and Rheingau Valleys, RIESLING produces elegant wines with crisp, lime, lemon, apple and peach flavours and honeyed richness. In the Mosel it is said to become slatey, which is easier to describe as minerally, developing honey, petrol and kerosene-like flavours. In Alsace it can be more floral and perfumed, while Australian RIESLING, particularly from the Eden and Clare Valleys, starts out lime and lemon-like and develops a minerally, keroseney character with age.
- white flowers, hawthorn
- almond and greengage
The elegant dry white grape of the northern Rhône, which reaches its apogee when blended with MARSANNE in fine white Hermitage, has plenty of herby aromatic power with a white flower, hawthorn and lime-blossom character, incisive acidity and a flavour sometimes reminiscent of almond and greengages.
- from gooseberry to tropical passion fruit
- aromas of elderflower and blackcurrant leaf
SAUVIGNON BLANC is at its most fragrant and fresh in the cooler climate of the Loire Valley where cut-grass, nettles, elderflower, blackcurrant leaf and gooseberries are the key flavours with minerally, zesty, flinty undertones. It is at its most assertive in the pungently catty, elderfloral style of Marlborough in New Zealand, where, depending on ripeness levels it ranges from green bean, tinned pea and asparagus flavours and the riper, more tropical characters of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit and mango.
- lime citrus and honey
- lusciously sweet and marmaladey
SEMILLON varies in character considerably according to its region of origin. In Bordeaux blends with sauvignon, it can be citrusy with a lanoline-textured, waxy, honeyed richness, while Hunter Valley semillon famously develops lime and buttered toast flavours with age, in contrast to the more pungently grass and asparagus-like characteristics associated with cooler climates. Made as a sweet wine, it makes some of the world’s most lusciously sweet, exotically marmaladey whites.
- peaches and apricots
- heady scents of jasmine
The hallmark of the VIOGNIER grape is the scent of spring blossom and jasmine and the rich flavours of apricot and peach. Ripening in warm sunshine, it can become quite heady and exotic with spicy undertones and plenty of body. Because of its spicines sand body, it can be confused in blind tastings with Alsace PINOT GRIS.