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INTRODUCTION TO THE RED GRAPE VARIETIES

The following page contains a listing of the major red grape varieties. Each month we will feature an additional variety and it will be displayed in the THIS MONTHS FEATURED RED GRAPE VARIETY paragraph.  In subsequent months that variety will be added to the alphabetical listing following the monthlyly featured grape variety.  I hope this information proves to be of value to your winemaking endeavors.

THIS MONTHS FEATURED RED GRAPE VARIETY

PETIT SIRAH:

History: The “petit” refers to the size of the grape developed on the vine. Petit Sirah is a black grape that has its origins in the Durif variety of grape originally grown in France in the late 1800’s.  The Durif grape tends to produces a very low quality wine and there are very few winery’s growing this variety in many of the regions of France at this time.  However, the Petit Sirah grape is grown extensively in California, Australia, Mexico, Washington State and Chile.

Characteristics: It makes a well-balanced wine that has sturdy tannins with spicy flavors of carnations, violets and plums.  It can have a touch of wood, smoke and sometime rosemary depending on the soil conditions.  It is well known for its cellaring ability.

Food Pairing: Goes well with hearty red meats that are grilled or barbequed.

ALPHABETICAL LISTING OF RED GRAPE VARIETIES

CABERNET FRANC:

History: Cabernet Franc was first introduced into the Loire Valley of southwest France toward the middle of the 17th century.  By the 18th century it could be found throughout France.  It is a black-skinned grape that DNA evidence has shown it to be the parent of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Characteristics: Usually blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The result is a Bordelais blend of wine.  It adds to the complexity of the final blend and has a peppery perfume. As a varietal it produces a light-to medium-bodied wine making a fruitier and lighter wine than Cabernet Sauvignon.  It can add more subtle aromas of tobacco, violets and even raspberry to your final product.

Food Pairing: Goes with red meats and heavy game as well as poultry dishes.  Mediterranean dishes with tomato sauce are a good choice.  Also a good pairing with cheeses and pizza.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON:

History: Cabernet Sauvignon is considered a classic red grape.  One of the worlds most widely recognized red wine grape. You can find vineyards all over the world that are growing this versatile grape. The grapes origin is a cross between the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc and most scholars feel that the resultant grape plant occurred naturally in the field in the 17th century.

Characteristics: This grape is grown both for individual varietal as well as an ingredient in blended wines. The grape does not require a particular type of soil type and that is why areas outside of France are growing it quite successfully.   It has a black current, vanilla and spice flavors with aromas of cherry and plum when young.  With aging the aromas of cedar, tobacco or cigar become more prevalent.

Food Pairing: Beef and other red meats is a good match.  Italian hearty red pastas, lamb as well as strong-flavored cheese.  Nice with dark chocolate.

MERLOT:

History: Merlot is considered a classic red grape.  The first recorded mention of Merlot grapes was in the late 1700’s.  They were first cultivated in the Libournais region of France. Thought to be an offspring of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  It is a dark skinned grape that is almost black in coloration.

Characteristics: Usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to yield a Bordelais blend.  It is one of the most popular and most planted of the red wine varieties throughout the world. It has complex and varying flavors depending on the planting region.  It is a medium bodied wine and has fruity aromas such as berry, plum and a hint of current.   It has been described by wine enthusiasts as smooth because it is lighter in acid and tannin content than the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Food Pairing: Merlot is a medium-bodied wine and pairs with like weight foods such as meat loaf, veal, lamb and beef stews.  Also goes with roast duck and seafood like salmon and tuna.  For cheeses you might try Parmesan, Gouda, cheddar and Monterey Jack.

PINOT NOIR:

History: Pinot Noir is considered a classic red grape.  This grape first appears in extensive records about the 14th century primarily in the Burgundy region of France.  It is now grown all over the world at the present time and favors cooler areas of the globe. It has a reputation of being difficult to cultivate properly because of its sensitivity to light conditions, pruning demands and certain mildews.

Characteristics: This wine is in most red burgundy wines.  Pinot Noir is probably one of the most popular in the world.  This grape has been used to create some of the most exquisite wines. It has been described as a romantic, sensual and sexy wine.  It has a sweet fruitiness of black cherry, raspberry and currant flavors with very low tannins.  It ages well and if done properly it brings out the spicy gaminess and smoky, leathery flavors while suppressing the fruitiness.

Food Pairing: Referred to as the ultimate food wine.  It goes with a long list of foods like veal, chicken, turkey and game birds as well as filets of beef or pork.  Most sausages combined with mushrooms, mustards, peppercorns, and coriander. There are very few foods that Pinot Noir does not go with including sweet spiced food, cheeses, braised beef and sweet vegetables

SYRAH:

History: This black grape variety comes from the Rhone Valley of France and was cultivated in Roman times in the 3rd century AD. It is known as Shiraz when grown in Australia. It is a very versatile grape and will make elegant wines with full-bodied flavors. It thrives in a warm climate, poor soil and lots of sun.

Characteristics: This noble grape produces wine with an intense dark purple-black color.  It has been known to age majestically for decades.  It has been used for blending with Grenache, Cinsaul, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre to name just a few. You will find tastes of blackberry, smoke, tar and black pepper with a smooth and supple texture. The tannins have a chalky character.  Because of its affinity for aging it is a perfect enhancement to many blends to give them longevity.

Food Pairing: Beef and most red meats are a good paring including game meats like veison and bison.  Also goes with sausage and slow cooked stews as well as barbequed ribs. Lamb seems to be a particular good combination. It goes well with salmon and tuna.

ZINFANDEL:

History: This exotic black grape is widely grown in California and was introduced there in the mid 1800’s. The best grapes are grown from vines that are over 40 years old.  These grapes produce wines that range from sweet, to light—bodied reds, to full-bodied dry red wines, to sweet late harvest wines.

Characteristics: This grape is California’s answer to the French Claret.  It makes a dry sturdy red wine.  It is not a wine that will age well beyond 5 to 8 years. It has a spiciness of black pepper and intensive fruitiness that ranges from wild berries, cherry, blackberry to prunes. It has a luscious texture. Its flavor range is from nutty to chocolate to oak, leather and vanilla.  It has been used in blend wines with complex wines that are high in tannins.

Food Pairing: Beef, lamb, pork, sausage and venison that is braised, grilled or roasted.  Spicy barbeque sauce will go well with the meat pairing. Any recipe that includes tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms and olives is a terrific combination.


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