Varietal Guide

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Aghiorghitiko (red) (Ah-zheor-GEE-tee-koh)

Aghiorghitiko, which is Greek for St George, is a real charmer, oozing with fruit and soft tannins, with a dark purple, ‘black’, colour. It produces wines with a wide range of styles, from light, fruity, full-flavoured rosés to medium-bodied, juicy reds and seriously fine, cask-fermented examples. Only wines made from this variety can be called Nemea, the largest of the Greek appellations. Soils vary from oxide-rich red soils to sandy clay and marl. A notion of Cru is bound to develop in lower-yield, hillside sites such as Koutsi, while other quality sites include Ancient Nemea, Gymno, Ahladia and the cooler-climate, high Nemea valley of Asprokambos. A quantum leap forward in quality has spurred substantial investment from outsiders.

Aglianico (red) (Ag-LEE-ahn-ick-oh) Robust, quality southern Italian red grape variety found mainly on the volcanic slopes of Campania and Basilicata in Italy’s south.

Airén (white) (Ahy-RAIN) Neutral, drought-resistant Spanish variety grown mainly around the La Mancha region with the dubious distinction of being the world’s most widely planted vine variety.

Albana (white) (Ahl-BAH-nah) In Albana di Romagna, a fairly ordinary white appellation which owed its DOCG upgrade not so much to quality as to the power and influence of those responsible for its administration. On occasions, it rises above the norm.

Albariño/Alvarinho (white) (Ahl-ba-REE-n’yo) / (Ahl-vah-REE-n’yo) High quality variety grown in Galicia’s Rias Baixas region, where it produces aromatic, full-bodied, peachy and grapefruity whites which go beautifully with the local Atlantic shellfish, and known as Alvarinho in neighbouring Portugal’s Vinho Verde.

Aleatico (red) (Ah-lay-AH-tee-co) Italian red variety with Muscat-like fragrance grown in Italy’s south, on Elba and Corsica, and the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Alicante Bouschet (red) (Ah-lee-KAHNT Boo-SHAY) Like carignan, one of the Midi’s productive varieties planted mainly for its deep colour and known as Garnacha Tintorera (Grenache to dye for) in Spain.

Aligoté (white) (Ah-lee-go-tay) Aligoté plays the Robin role to Chardonnay’s Batman in Burgundy, where it produces crisp, sharp, if neutral dry whites, with a lemony tang of acidity. You can understand why aligoté is traditionally used to add a bit of verve and bite to the local crème de cassis to make Kir, or Champagne for Kir Royale. In the Côte Chalonnais in southern Burgundy, ally goaty, as the English like to call it, is the exclusive white grape variety in the Bouzeron appellation. It crops up in eastern Europe and is often used for sparkling wine in the former USSR wine producing countries.

Aramon (red) (Ah-rah-mawn) One of the triumvirate of workhorse Midi varieties planted in the last century for mass production plonk, now on its way out.

Arneis (white) (Ahr-NAYZ) Aromatic, nutty grape variety native to north-west Italy’s Piedmonte, where it produces the delicately fruity, herby dry whites of Roero.

Assyrtiko (white) (Ahs-SEER-TEE-koh) Arguably Greece’s finest white cultivar, Assyrtiko is more of a wine-lover’s grape than a crowd pleaser, and is prized for its high acidity and staying power. It performs an admirable double act, producing fine bone-dry wines as well as amber-hued dessert wines. Although its origins lie on the volcanic island of Santorini, since the late 1970s it has adapted itself well to the diverse soils and microclimates of mainland Greece, where its unmistakable severity is softened. In northern Greece, near Thessaloniki, a leading estate blends it with the semi-aromatic, Viognier-like Malagousia. It is also grown successfully on the island of Evia, and is a vital blending component in Attica estate wines, where it is vinified alongside the Roditis and Savatiano varieties. Santorini Vinsantos are made by sun-drying Assyrtiko with 10% of the rarer, more aromatic Aidani grapes for up to 10 days. These raisined grapes, after a slow fermentation and extended cask ageing (5-20 years), produce amber-hued dessert wines.

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Bacchus (white) (Back-uss) Aromatic, Sauvignon-like dry white, a crossing of Silvaner plus Riesling with Müller-Thurgau popular in Germany, also used in England.

Baga (red) (BAH-ga) This is the main red variety in the Bairrada region of Portugal (hence also known as Tinta Bairrada), where it produces reds with a distinctively honeyed, beeswaxy character.

Barbera (red) (Bar-BARE-ah) As widely planted in Italy as Sangiovese, but at its best in the hills around Alba and Asti in Italy’s north-west, barbera is a variety whose style varies considerably according to yield. When it’s low-yielding and matured in small oak casks, it can be concentrated, rich and deliciously cherryish and capable of ageing well. In high yields it’s more of a soft, everyday glugging red whose high acidity makes it ideal for relatively rich dishes. Outside Italy, Barbera is widely planted in California, where, with few exceptions, it has missed out on Sangiovese’s Cal-Ital-led surge in popularity, and in Argentina where it can be juicy and cherryish and a very good partner for pasta, risotto and pizza.

Blaufränkisch (red) (Blaow-FRAHN-keesh) Juicy, high quality Austrian variety capable of making deliciously succulent reds and can be good when aged in oak and in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon. Known elsewhere as Limberger, Kékfrankos, Nagyburgundi, Frankovka, Vojvodina and Franconia.

Boal (red) (BOH-ahl) One of the four main varieties that are used to make Madeira. It is also used a a style level of Madeira that is medium-sweet.

Bombino (white) (Bom-BEEN-o) This is an important southern Italian white variety which at low yields can produce dry whites with character such as Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

Brachetto (red) (brah-KET-ohh) Brachetto is a red Italian wine grape variety grown predominately in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. In Piedmont production mostly falls within an area of the provinces of Asti and Alessandria between the rivers Bormida and Belbo plus various parts of the province of Cuneo. At Canelli, on the border between the hills of Asti and the Lange proper, the grape is known as Borgogna. The most notable wine made is the red Brachetto d’Acqui Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) which is made in both still and spumante (fully sparkling) versions. Brachetto tend to produce light bodied, highly aromatic wines with distinctive notes of strawberries. In the DOCG region of Brachetto d’Acqui, the grape is used to produce a slightly sweet sparkling wine that is similar to Lambrusco and is sometimes called the a light red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti.

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Cabernet Franc (red) (Cab-air-nay FrahNK) If Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are, respectively, Bordeaux’s king and queen, Cabernet Francis its prince. Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s acts both as great blender with its special fragrance and at the same time as a form of insurance policy. On the cooler, clay soils of the Right Bank, it forms the backbone of many of the supple delicious, blackcurrant and red berry fruit St Emilions and Pomerols, most notably Cheval Blanc. Outside Bordeaux it’s the major red grape of the Loire, where it’s more herbaceous in style, as it tends to be in north-east Italy. The name used for it in the middle Loire is Breton. It’s also grown in California, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Cabernet Sauvignon (red) (Cab-air-nay So-veen-yawN) Famous, fabulous and fabled, Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world’s greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Francand petit verdot. Cabernet can be herbaceous when a little unripe with capsicum notes, becoming blackcurranty or cassis-like often with cedary, musky and spicy qualities. It’s deep-coloured and its assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France’s pays d’Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class, the best of which come from Bordeaux and California and parts of Tuscany and Australia. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.

Canaiolo (red) (Can-nah-YOH-lo) Grown widely throughout central Italy but best known as a minor blending partner to Sangiovese in Chianti, although no longer a compulsory ingredient.

Cannonau (red) (Cah-noh-NAH-oh) An Italian red grape widely grown in Sardinia that produces wines that can be dry or sweet and also fortified, as well as some rosés. Most of the wines have at least 13.5 percent alcohol, and one year of oak aging.

Carignan (red) (Cah-reen-yawN) The most widely planted grape variety in France, this workhorse red grape abounds as a bush vine in the vineyards of southern France, where it is mostly used as a blender in Languedoc’s major appellations of Corbières and Minervois. At low yields, and vinified by carbonic maceration, it is capable of producing good, if rustic, reds. In Catalonia in Spain, it is known as Cariñena, and in Rioja, as Mazuelo. As Carignano del Sulcis, it makes attractively herby wine in Sardinia and is widely planted in California and South America.

Carmenère (red) (Car-men-air) Variety which died out in Bordeaux after phylloxera but has since been revived in Chile, where it is also known as Grande Vidure.

Catarratto (white) (Cah-tah-RAH-toe) An Italian grape, widely planted in Sicily, where it is a component of Marsala.

Catawba (red) (Cah-TAW-bah) A native American Varietal, which happens to also be a hybrid, this grape used to be the most widely planted varietal in the United States for a centruy. It is still widely grown in Ohio and New York State, where it is second only to Aurora as the most widely planted red varietal. It produces a wine with a pronounced grapy flavor, and is also used to make a sparkling version.

Chancellor (red) (Chans-slur) The modern name for a Fench-American Hybrid, the grape produces a full bodied wine, mostly in the Eastern United States.

Chardonnay (white) (Shar-doe-nay) Chardonnay is the most popular of all white grape varieties, albeit not the most widely planted variety in the world (a dubious honour belonging to Spain’s Airén). Why so popular? As the grape of white burgundy it produces a variety of flavours and styles according to where it’s grown and how it’s made, from minerally, unoaked Chablis to the grand and complex, nutty dry whites of Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune and the fleshpots of Pouilly Fuissé further south. Along with Pinot Noir, it is also the major grape variety in Champagne. Because of its versatility, it’s spread like a bush fire throughout Europe and the New World, with brilliant, opulently and exotically flavoured whites in California, Australia and New Zealand. As winemakers lavish increasing attention on it, it does increasingly well in Chile and South Africa. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American, and while barrel-fermented Chardonnays tend to be the richest, most complex and long-lived dry whites, the trend to unoaked Chardonnay is catching on as a backlash to the hefty, overwooded styles. Despite talk of Chardonnay fatigue, its wonderful flavours, richness and versatility ensure that it is here to stay.

Chasselas (white) (Shah-s’lah) Not well-regarded in Alsace but more esteemed in Savoie and in Switzerland, and also widely grown in central Europe.

Chenin Blanc (white) (Shay-naN BlaNK) The versatile Chenin Blanc’s pretensions to classic grape status are mainly realised in the Loire Valley, where its floral aroma, apple and pear-like flavour and acidity contribute to long-lived dry styles and luscious sweet whites around Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Vouvray and Layon, and, on occasions, full-flavoured sparkling wines. Considered more of a workhorse variety in the New World, it is South Africa’s most widely planted grape variety (known as Steen), widely planted in California, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, and occasionally produces quality dry whites when barrel-fermented.

Cinsaut (red) (SaN-so) Southern Rhône variety, aka Cinsault, used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Midi, also popular in South Africa and an ingredient in Lebanon’s Château Musar.

Clairette (white) (Clair-et) Ancient Languedoc grape used in many of southern France’s regions, but usually needing the acidity of grenache, picpoul or Ugni Blanc to bring it to life.

Colombard (white) (Cohl-um-bahrd) Probably because of its association with Armagnac and Cognac, for which it is distilled in south-west France, Colombard has no status at all within the grape variety world. When produced at reasonable cropping levels, it can make a more than acceptable, commercial dry white style such as vin de pays des Côtes de Gascogne. It is produced to make neutral, commercial wines in South Africa, California and Australia, and some say the best colombard in the world is made by Joe Grilli’s Primo Estate in the Adelaide Plains.

Cortese(white) (Cor-TAY-zeh) Piedmontese dry white with crisp Alpine acidity probably best appreciated in the wines of Gavi and also forming part of Verona’s Bianco di Custoza.

Corvina (red) (Cohr-VEE-nah) Late-ripening quality component of Valpolicella and the powerful Veronese speciality reds, Amarone and Recioto.

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Dolcetto (red) (Dohl-CHET-toe) Not sweet despite the sweet-sounding nomenclature, this is an everyday north-west Italian variety whose low acidity and tannins make it perfect for lapping up risotto and pasta in the Beaujolais mould. Made for drinking young, it’s alive with vibrant plummy, liquorice-like fruitiness, although some of the best Piemontese producers make a more serious, richer style which can improve with age for as long as five years. Also found in limited quantities in Argentina and Australia.

Dornfelder (red) (DORN-fell-DER) Colourful, early-ripening red producing fruity, appealing reds in Germany and grown to a limited extent in England.

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Ehrenfelser (white) (AIR-en-fell-zer) Hybrid white wine grape made in Germany by crossing Riesling and Sylvaner. Advantageous for a better ripening over a wider range of sites, but has low acidity and does not age as well as Riesling.

Elbling (red/white) (Ell-bling) Ancient grape, also known as Kleinberger, grown in France, Germany and Luxembourg. Used to make highly acidic but mainly low-strength wine.

Ezerjo (white) (Ez-AIR-ho) Widely grown in Hungary and also Yugoslavia. It produces full-bodied, refreshing wine of the same name.

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Fernão Pires (white) (Fur-nay-yo Pee-air-ess) Quality Portuguese variety grown throughout Portugal but especially in Ribatejo and Bairrada where it’s known as Maria Gomes.

Freisa (red) (FRAY-zah) Another light Piedmontese variety with a slight raspberryish tang produced as a still or sparkling red.

Furmint (white) (FOOR-mint) Susceptible to raisining and noble rot (known as aszú in Hungary’s Tokaji), this full-bodied, high acid quality grape is the major partner in the blend with Hárslevelú which makes up Tokaji, the rich, long-lived wines of the Tokaj region in Hungary, now undergoing a revival thanks to western investments. It can produce a good, fiery dry white too. It’s also grown in Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Romania.

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Gaglioppo (red) (Gag-LEE-yo-po) The main red grape variety of Calabria in Italy’s south, whose robust tannins and rich flavours, particularly around the town of Cirò, have earned it a reputation as ‘the Barolo of the South’.

Gamay (red) (GAM-may) Gamay is the Beaujolais grape, and, as such, carries with it an innate inferiority complex next to the Red burgundy grape, Pinot Noir. It’s a pity because when it’s good, Gamay can make a deliciously, gushingly juicy everyday red with a refreshing nip of acidity and flavours ranging from strawberry and cherry to hints of banana. In the ten Beaujolais crus, it’s also capable of making a more serious, ageworthy red. Also grown with moderate success in the Loire, Switzerland and former Yugoslavia and known for some strange reason in California as Valdiguié.

Garganega (white) (Gahr-gah-neh-gah) This is the classic white grape of Soave, notorious for its vapid character, although when made well from low-yielding, hillside vineyards, it can be delicately almondy and crisp.

Gewürztraminer (white) (Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur) One of the most distinctively perfumed grapes in the world, Gewürz is the Alsace grape which smells of fragrant rose petals and Turkish Delight and tastes of lychees. Its boudoir spiciness make it an extremely popular wine with newcomers to wine, although it can be on the heavy side. In its late-harvest form, it makes deliciously rich, sweet, exotic whites. It can be difficult to get the balance right in the vineyard, but is widely grown in Europe, notably Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe as well as in small quantities in Chile, South Africa, Oregon, California, Australia and New Zealand too.

Godello (white) (GO-day-OH) Godello is a white grape mainly found in the Galicia area of Northwest Spain. The wine has bright citrus flavors similar to Albarino, with some hints of minerality.

Grechetto (white) (Greh-KEH-toe) One of Italy’s more characterful dry white grape varieties principally responsible for the slightly fennel-like Umbrian whites of Orvieto and also Vin Santo.

Greco (white) (GREH-co) Grape variety of Greek origin, hence the name, grown in Campania, the best examples of which are Greco di Tufo and Greco di Bianco.

Grenache/Garnacha (red) (Gray-NAHSH) / (Gahr-NAH-cha) One of the world’s most widely planted grapes, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety which does best as a low yielding bush vine. It produces powerful, warming, raspberryish reds whose greatest expression, from old, low-yielding vines, is to be found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Château Rayas) in France and in Australia’s Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. It also makes good fortified reds as in Banyuls, Rivesaltes and Maury. Known in Spain as Garnacha tinta, where it’s widely planted, particularly in Rioja and Priorat, it fleshes out the tempranillo. It’s grown in California and in Italy too.

Grignolino (red) (Gree-nyoh-LEE-no) Native of the same north-western Italian alpine foothills as Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, producing youthful, attractively scented, everyday reds.

Grillo (white) (GREE-lo) Sicilian variety which has traditionally been used as the basis for the fortified wines of Marsala but also used to make a honeyed, still dry white with good acidity.

Grüner Veltliner (white) (GREW-ner Felt-LEE-ner) Austria’s most widely planted grape variety, where, in quality regions like the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, it can produce an assertive, steely, rich dry white capable of rivalling the best Rieslings, while around Vienna it is used for the young ‘Heurige’wines. It has a unique aroma and flavour with elements of white pepper and celery marking it out from any other variety. It’s also grown to a certain extent in Slovakia and Hungary.

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Hárslevelú (white) (HARSH-leh-veh-LOO) Important partner with furmint in the Tokaji blend bringing aromatic and spicy properties to the blend, and also grown in other parts of central Europe.

Huxelrebe (white) (HOOK-sel-reh-buh) Aromatic German crossing with grapefruity undertones mainly grown in Pfalz and Rheinhessen with small quantities planted in England.

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Inzolia (white) (In-ZOH-lee-ah) Grown mainly in Sicily and in Tuscany a little. Used commonly in white table wines, it has an acidic, nutty flavour.

Iona (white) (I-OWN-ah) New York-based hybrid grape used for producing dry, sparkling whites.

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Jacquère (white) (Jah-kair) Little-known, quality white variety confined to Savoie, where it makes attractive Alpine dry whites with real verve and zip to them.

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Kerner (white) (Kair-ner) Reliable ripener and successful Riesling-based crossing largely replacing Silvaner in Germany, where it’s a better bet than either Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau.

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Lambrusco (red) (Lam-BROOS-co) A varietal from the Vitis Lambusca family, this unusual and popular red varietal from the Modena region of Italy is always made as a frizzante, or lightly sparkling wine. it is made in a semisweet and a dry style that uses the Charmat method to produce the wine. Listan (white) (LEES-stin) Also known as Palomino, the Spanish grape variety is used best in large quantities for Sherry production. It’s also planted widely around the world, used to produce low quality table wines.

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Macabeo (white) (Mah-cah-BEH-oh) Widely planted in northern Spain and around the Mediterranean vineyards of Roussillon and Languedoc, where it’s known as Maccabeu, needing low yields for quality.

Malbec (red) (Mahl-bek) Responsible for the so-called ancient ‘black wine of Cahors’ in south-west France, Malbec is also a minor partner among the five main red varieties that make up the Bordeaux blend. While it can be harsh and rustically tannic in France (usually needing Merlot to soften it), it is the red grape par excellence of Argentina, where it makes a softer, juicier style of red, especially from old vines, with raspberry, mulberry and game-like undertones. It’s also grown in Chile, Australia and California.

Malvasia/Malmsey (white) (Mahl-va-SEE-ah) / Mahl-z) Like Muscat, this is an ancient, Mediterranean-based variety, whose heartland is Italy, where it makes anything from dry white and red wines to the rich, sweet, fragrant whites of the islands, notably Sardinia, Lipari close to Sicily. Malvasia Istriana, from Friuli is particularly good and, as a sub-variety, like Malvasia di Candia, it is often blended to improve Italian basic whites. As a red variety, Malvasia Nera is blended with Negroamaro in Puglia. It’s common in Spain and Portugal and in Madeira, it is responsible for the rich Madeira wine known as Malmsey.

Marsanne (white) (Mahr-SAHN) This is a quintessential northern Rhône grape variety with a faintly nutty character usually blended with the zippier Roussanneto make the dry whites of Crozes Hermitage, St.Joseph, Côtes du Rhône and at its best, the rare white Hermitage. It is becoming increasingly popular in the south of France as a blender and it’s long been grown in Australia’s Goulburn Valley. With the popularity of Rhône varieties in California, it’s being tried out with some success here too.

Mavrodaphne (red) (Mahv-roh-DAHF-nee) One of the leading red varietals in Greece, this grape produces a wine that is full bodied, and one that is usually transformed into a fortified, port-esque wine with 15 to 16 percent alcohol.

Mavrud (red) (Mahv-RHUD) Balkan vine best known for the sturdy reds of Assenovgrad Mavrud in Bulgaria, where the grapes are small-berried and low-yielding.

Melnik (red) (Mehl-NEEK) Bulgaria’s other quality near-native variety capable of producing good ageworthy, almost Rhône-like reds when produced from low-yields and aged in oak.

Melon de Bourgogne/Muscadet (white) (Meh-lohn De Bor-GOW-nyah) (Moos-cah-day) Known better as Muscadet, its region of production in the western Loire close to Nantes, Melon is synonymous with the rather neutral, acidic dry white Loire Valley wine which reached its zenith in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is not a particularly distinguished variety, but, when genuinely made sur lie, i.e. left on its lees for added zippy complexity, it can be transformed into a bracing summer white with a sort of sea-salty freshness, making it the perfect accompaniment to shellfish.

Merlot (red) (MARE-low) For long considered the junior partner in the great Bordeaux duo of grape varieties, Merlot has achieved growing popularity in the last decade of the 20th century thanks to the cult worship of certain Merlot-based Pomerols and Saint Emilions in Bordeaux as well as a growing taste for its lusciously plummy and flavoursome early-drinking delights in countries such as Chile and California. With its soft texture, deliciously plummy fruit flavour and mellow tannins, Merlot is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking to damp, cool, clay soils rather than the warmer gravels of the Médoc, plantings of the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot outnumber those of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and they are also growing extensively in the south of France. Merlot ripens earlier and more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its popularity in France and in northern Italy. It is widely planted in eastern Europe, but outside France, it is at its most serious in California, where it has become one of the ‘hottest’ varieties. It is also extensively grown in Chile, where it produces excellent value, supple-textured reds, and, increasingly in Australia and New Zealand.

Mondeuse (red) (Mohn-duhz) A peppery red variety grown in the high altitude vineyards of Savoie, also known as Refosco in north-east Italy’s Friuli region.

Montepulciano (red) (Mohn-ta-pool-TSHA-no) Best known for the rustic reds of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this deep-coloured variety, the main ingredient in Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, is widely planted in central Italy, and often used as a blender with Sangiovese.

Moschofilero (white) (Mo-scho-FEE-lair-oh) Moschofilero’s home ground is the Arcadian plateau (650m above sea level) in the central Peloponnese. In this ‘cool’ region, harvest starts late, usually during the first 10 days of October. Moschofilero is a blanc-de-gris variety capable of producing several styles of wine: fruit-forward whites that are light and dry, as well as high in acidity, dry and off-dry rosé wines with a insistent rose petal perfume and, more recently, sparkling wines. In Greece, there is a strong demand for Mantinia, the appellation where this variety thrives, and it has become highly fashionable thanks to its vibrancy and inherent fruitiness. Alcohol levels are low, about 11.5% abv, and reach 12% only in exceptionally ripe years.

Mourvèdre/Monastrell (red) (Moor-VED’rr) / (Mo-nass-strel) Increasingly popular as the world wakes up to its qualities, this robust, thick-skinned Mediterranean variety with its funky, animal-like character is most widely planted in Spain where it’s known as Monastrell. It’s at its intense, blackberryish best where it gets lots of sunshine, often close to the sea, hence its ascendancy in Bandol on Provence’s Mediterranean shoreline. On the back of the Rhône revival in California and Australia, it performs well in blends with other Mediterranean varieties, especially Grenache and Syrah.

Müller-Thurgau (white) (MEW-lehr Toor-gow) A marvel of commercial engineering but never a high quality grape, this Germanic crossing of what is thought to be Silvaner with Riesling or chasselas has Dr. Hermann Müller to thank for its dubious notoriety, which plumbs the depths in today’s liebfraumilch. It is an early-ripening grape favoured in cool, northern climates, where it can produce floral, sweet-pea like aromas. It can produce decent wine in Italy’s Alto-Adige, eastern Europe and in England and it formed the basis for the modern New Zealand table wine industry back in the 1970s.

Muscadelle (white) (Mus-CAH-del) The least of the Bordeaux trio of Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle, this grape nevertheless adds a certain fragrant quality to the dry and sweet whites of Bordeaux and is responsible for the wonderfully sticky, malty, fortified Tokays of north-east Victoria.

Muscat (white) (Moos-caht) There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat à Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its perfume and grapey character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, Italy’s south and Australia’s north-east Victoria and sparkling wines, notably Asti Spumante, Moscato Bianco and Clairette de Die. Muscat is widely grown in Spain, eastern Europe, Greece, Austria, Portugal and the New World.

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Nebbiolo (red) (Nay-BYOH-low) Arguably Italy’s greatest red grape variety, responsible in north-west Italy for the great reds of barolo and barbaresco, whose range of fabulous violet and rose-like perfumes and flavours of truffle, fennel, liquorice and tar, make it one of the world’s most distinctive grape varieties. Named for the Italian nebbia, meaning fog, because of the mists which enshroud the limetstone hills of Monforte around Alba, nebbiolo is a tricky grape variety to grow and is structured by good acidity and plenty of tannin. Small quantities are grown in California and Australia, where it has yet to show the pedigree of its Italian counterpart.

Negroamaro (red) (Neg-ro-ah-MAHR-oh) Puglia’s main red grape variety producing ripe sometimes raisiny, chocolatey Mediterranean reds, best known in the DOC wines of Salice Salentino and Copertino

Nero d’Avola (red) (Nair-OH Dah-VOH-lah) Good quality red grape variety, almost indigenous to Sicily producing intense, ageworthy reds, especially when blended and matured in small oak casks.

Nielluccio (red) (Nee-ell-OOH-chee-oh) Deep-coloured Corsican vine, producing average to good quality wine, especially when matured in oak casks and blended with the island’s other major red grape, Sciacarello.

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Optima (white) (OP-tee-mah) A recent grape variety grown in Germany which combines Riesling, Sylvaner and Muller-Thurgau. Good ripening time and grows in a wide range of soils, but tends to produce mediocre wines. Consumed maily in Germany.

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Palomino (white) (Pahl-oh-MEE-no) Palomino is the sherry grape grown in the vineyards of Jerez in southern Spain, where it performs best in Jerez’ white, chalk-like albariza soils. It is low in acidity and fruit sugar which makes it ideal for the production of sherry. Although not particularly notable as a table wine, once it has undergone the sherry process of fortification and ageing in oak casks, it takes on distinctive characters as it matures. There is a fair amount grown in California and Australia.

Parellada (white) (Pahr-ah-DEL-ah) Appley Catalan variety mostly used in the production of cava, but also used to make a refreshing dry white in the Penedès region.

Pedro Ximénez (white) (PEH-dro Hee-MEH-nez) The counterpart to Palomino in the Jerez region of Spain, PX, as it’s nicknamed, produces dark, sweet, raisiny fortified wines and is used as a blender to sweeten Oloroso sherry.

Periquita (red) (Pay-reh-KEE-tah) This is widely grown in southern Portugal, aka Castelão Francês, where it makes fruity reds sometimes with a gamey edge to them.

Petit and Gros Manseng (white) (Peh-tee/Ghro Mohn-SEN) Vine varieties from Jurançon in south-western France making assertive, grapefruity dry whites and, in the case of the superior petit manseng, luscious sweet whites following raisining (passerillage) on the vine.

Petit Verdot (red) (Peh-tee Vehr-doe) This high quality Bordeaux variety deserves to be better known as well as more popular but it doesn’t always get ripe, especially in marginal climates. It is thick-skinned and produces richly concentrated, intense red wines which are usually added in small proportions to Médoc reds. It’s grown in small quantities in California’s Napa Valley and is currently viewed in parts of Australia, notably the Riverland, as a variety with the potential to produce premium reds.

Petite Sirah (red) (Peh-teet See-rah) Not related, despite the name, to the more noble Syrah, this is grown mainly in California and South America, where it produces sturdy, robust, faintly spicy reds. No longer thought to be the same grape as France’s (and Australia’s) Durif.

Picpoul (white) (Peek-pool) Another ancient Languedoc white variety, aka Piquepoul, which in the lively dry whites of Picpoul de Pinet, goes down a treat with the locally farmed oysters and mussels.

Pigato (white) (Pee-GAH-toe) An Italian varietla cultivated around the Liguria region. The wines tend to be full bodied, and dry white wines.

Pinotage (red) (Pee-noe-tahj) Red South African variety developed by Professor A.I.Perold in 1924 as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir and then largely ignored for half a century. Revival began in the late 1980s thanks largely to Beyers Truter whose championing of the variety led to international recognition with Kanonkop. It comes in a plethora of styles according to growing conditions, vineyard management and winemaking. With an assortment of plum, cherry, blackberry and banana flavours, it takes to oak barrels and can age well.

Pinot Blanc (white) (Pee-noe BlahNK) Pinot Blanc is most commonly associated with the full-bodied dry white wines of Alsace which can be neutral, but can also be quite apple and pear-like in character and act as a very good accompaniment to fish and shellfish. It is also grown in Burgundy, although not many producers admit to having it. Perhaps because of its neutral character, it is also extensively used in Alsace as a base for sparkling Crémant d’Alsace. Outside France, it is popular in Italy as Pinot Bianco, Austria as Weissburgunder and grown in parts of Eastern Europe as well as Oregon and California, where Chalone make a speciality of it.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris (white) (Pee-noe Gree-joe) / (Pee-noe Gree) Pinot Gris, aka Tokay Pinot Gris in Alsace, is a slightly spicier and more expressive version of its stablemate, Pinot Blanc, and actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is one of the chief dry white varieties in Alsace, but also produces some deliciously sweet, ageworthy, late-harvest styles. It is the same grape as northern Italy’s Pinot Grigio, Germany’s Grauburgunder or Ruländer and Hungary’s Szürkebarát and is becoming moderately fashionable in New Zealand.

Pinot Meunier (red) (Pee-noe Muh-n’yay) Not particularly well-known as a varietal, this relative of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir is best known as the third main blending variety in Champagne, where it is more dependable than Pinot Noir because of its ability to ripen on slopes which Pinot Noir would have trouble coping with as well. It is generally thought to add suppleness and youthful fruit to the Champagne blend. Meunier is also grown in Germany an Australia and to a lesser degree in California.

Pinot Noir (red) (Pee-noe Nwahr) Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing limestone hills of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. This thin-skinned grape is a notoriously temperamental variety, which has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils. There’s no other grape like Pinot Noir with its wonderfully heady perfumes, and thrillingly pure, sweet, red berry flavours of raspberry, loganberry, mulberry, cherry and strawberry. It takes well to French oak and, in bottle, develops truffley and gamey undertones. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is one of the major grape varities in Champagne, and plantings of Pinot in the region are even more extensive than those in Burgundy itself. Despite its fickle nature, it is a tribute to its desirability among consumers and producers and it has inspired growers all over Europe and the New World.

Portugieser (red) (Por-tschu-GHEE-zer) Portugieser is a red Austrian and German wine grape found primarily in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and wine regions of Lower Austria. Producers usually make a simple light red wine, which is characterized by a fresh, tart and light body. It is also frequently vinified as a rosé. Primitivo (red) (Pree-mee-TEE-voh) A red grape grown in the Apulia region of Italy. These wines are intensly flavored, and contain at least 14 percent alcohol.  Some dessert wines are produced from the varietal, which some experts believe to be identical to the Zinfandel grape of California. Prosecco (white) (Pro-SEH-co) An Italian grape cultivated in the Veneto region for the wine bearing the same name. The wines are fizzante, or slightly sparkling, still, or spumante, fully sparkling. They tend to be crisp, dry and amabile.

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Raboso (red) (Rah-BO-so) A red varietal, native to the Veneto region of Italy. The grapes produce a austere, tannic wine.

Reichensteiner (white) (RIKE-in-stine-ehr) Three-way crossing by the late Dr Helmut Becker with Germany’s Müller-Thurgau, France’s madeleine angevine and Italy’s calabrese, also planted in England and New Zealand.

Refosco (red) (Reh-FOSS-coh) An Italian red varietal that is produced in the Friuli region. It is considered to be similar to Mondeuse in France and produces sturdy, full bodied wines.

Riesling (white) (REESE-ling) The one true classic non-French grape, Riesling is the most versatile, scented white variety in the range of wines it produces from dry to lusciously sweet. Yet it’s revival always seems to be just around the next corner. This is as much because of its tarnished reputation due to Liebfraumilch and the array of wanna-be Rieslings which have arrogated the good name of Rhine Riesling (Olasz, Welsch, Laski, Riesling Italico) as for the steely acidity which generally makes for more demanding wines than those produced from Sauvignon or Chardonnay. The late-ripening Riesling’s heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces wines rich in crisp, lime and appley flavours and honeyed richness. Its classification from dry to sweet gives it an entirely different cultural slant from its French counterparts, with the perfumed, sweet styles ranging from auslese to trockenbeerenauslese in great demand. Fine, dry Riesling is not only increasingly fashionable in Germany, but in Alsace and Austria too, where, in the Wachau in particular, some of the world’s greatest dry Rieslings are produced. As a cool climate variety par excellence, Riesling has not adapted as well as the other to classics to the New World, but there are a handful of regions where it has been shown to do well, most notably the Eden and Clare Valleys in South Australia, Mount Barker in Western Australia, New Zealand’s South Island, Washington State, and cooler spots in California and the Cape’s Constantia.

Rkatsiteli (white) (Ruh-KAT-see-TEL-ee) Widely planted Russian variety grown in most of the ex-Soviet wine producing republics, especially Georgia.

Robola (white) (Roh-boh-lah) Robola is grown on the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos, but the finest examples come from Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands. The finest grapes are produced at high altitude (500m above sea level), on the plateau of the picturesque Omala valley, where the soil is predominantly limestone. Robola produces full-flavoured, crisp whites whose alcohol ranges from 13% to 14% abv.

Roditis (white) (Roh-DEET-tis) Roditis has a number of clones, the most aromatic being Migdali and Alepou, both of which have a pinkish skin. This grape is a crowd pleaser and, as such, is widely planted all over Greece, forming the backbone of the Patras appellation in the northwestern Peloponnese. Two emerging sub-regions have staked their claim as the best sites for Roditis: one lies on the slopes of Panachaiko Mountain, the other is in Egialia, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. Roditis is also grown in Attica and in Beotia, while the Macedonian hillsides, northeast of Thessaloniki, are making a reputation as a new venue for the vines. The northwest version is spicier than the southern, and is making a convincing case for a tightly structured ‘northern style’, in contrast to the more generous wines produced in the warmer climate of the Peloponnese.

Rondinella (red) (ron-DIN-ell-AH) Rondinella is a red wine grape mainly found in Italy that is used for the production of Valpolicella and Bardolino. Due to the unique sugar levels of the grape, it is commonly used in the production of straw wines and recioto.

Roussanne (white) (Roo-SAHN) A white wine grape cultivated in the Northern Rhone valley and used in the white versions of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In practice, this grape has been widely replaced by the sturdier and more productive Marsanne, whose wines tend to be heavier and less elegant than Roussanne, but the varietal is making a comeback in California, New Zealand, and South Africa as its own varietal wine.

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Sagrantino (red) (Sah-gran-TEE-noh) Big, powerful, sturdy red grape variety best known for the DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco in Umbria.

Sangiovese (red) (Sahn-joe-VAY-zeh) Meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the Chianti grape par excellence, and responsible in Tuscany too, for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobilo de Montpulciano. A fussy grape to grow, it can produce lively, almost fizzing young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours and great finesse. Ongoing colonel selection in Chianti Classic designed to reverse the rush to plant productive clones is helping the process of improving Sangiovese-based wines in Italy. Sangiovese is widespread in Argentina thanks to the influx of Italian immigrants and has become fashionable in California and, to a more limited extent, in Australia.

Saperavi (red) (Sah-PUHR-ah-VEE) Deep-coloured Russian red grape with good acidity which can age extremely well in bottle, and widely planted throughout the ex-Soviet Union republics.

Sauvignon Blanc (white) (So-VEEN-YAWN BlahNK) While it may lack the dimensions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon’s greatest attributes lie in its fabulous array of aromatic qualities, which vary according to growing location and its treatment in the cellar. It divides into two clear styles characterised by the fragrant, zingy fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, and the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is a component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. It can do well in cooler areas within Europe, including parts of Austria and Hungary. In New Zealand’s Marlborough, it produces a stunning array of pungently, assertive characters, from the green grass, green bean, tinned pea and asparagus flavours to the more tropical, ripe spectrum of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit and mango. The Sauvignon cause has also been taken up to good and affordable effect by Chile and South Africa, whose cooler spots are proving ideal for this wonderfully zingy, fresh grape variety.

Savagnin (white)  (Sah-vah-nyan) Rustic grape of Jura producing whites with a distinctive ‘terroir’ character whose apogee is reached in the sherry-like (but unfortified) Vin Jaune of Jura and Château-Chalon.

Scheurebe (white)  (SHOY-ray-buh) Underrated German grape variety not unlike French Sauvignon Blanc in its ability to produce catty, grapefruit-like whites, mostly dry, but occasionally, notably in Austria, opulently rich and sweet.

Schiava (red) (Skee-AH-vah) An interesting red grape native to Italy’s Alto Adige region, it produces wines that are light in color and tannin, and that are fresh, fragrant, and early maturing. It can be used for straight red wine, or rosés.

Semillon (white) (Say-MEE-yoN) Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented. It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where its susceptibility to noble rot concentrates the fruit sugars and acids in the grapes to produce some of the most luscious, sweet wines in the world, most notably that of Chateau d’Yquem, a blend of four-fifths semillon, one-fifth Sauvignon Blanc. On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia’s most individual dry whites, in particular those from the Hunter Valley, which develop a buttered toast character with age, while the richer, fuller-bodied, lemony Bares Valley Semillons can also be excellent. Generally, its richness and body is often used to complement the aromatic Sauvignon, although in cool, maritime climates such as New Zealand, it can develop pungently grassy characteristics. Semillon, often spelt with the accent dropped outside France, is also widespread in South and North America, and it’s planted in eastern Europe and South Africa too, where it never quite scales the heights achieved in France and Australia.

Seyval Blanc (white) (Say-vahl BlahNK) A french-american hybrid, and widely planted in the United States, this grape is increasingly being marketed as a varietal wine. The grape produces a fresh, crisp wine that reminds some of a mild Sauvignon Blanc. A number of producers are however using oak aging to produce a richer, longer-lived wine.

Shiraz/Syrah (red) (SHEE-RAZ) / (SEE-RAH) Syrah is a quintessentially Mediterranean-climate variety, a big cropper resistant to pests and diseases, producing dark, inky, aromatic reds with black fruit flavours and peppery, spicy characteristics. It is the great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its apogee in the deep-hued, muscular, long-lived wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. It is a component of southern Rhône reds and the fastest growing grape in Franc’s Languedoc region, where it has been introduced as an improving variety. As Shiraz, it is Australia’s most important red variety, where it forms the backbone of Grange, Australia’s most famous red, and is grown with increasing confidence in South Africa and Argentina.

Silvaner (white) (Sill-VAH-ner) A relatively elegant German variety than Riesling with pronounced acidity reaching its best expression in Franconia, and known as sylvaner in Alsace, where it is one of the lesser varietals.

Saptburgunder (red) (SHPAT-boor-gun-der) The German name for Pinot Noir, it is the country’s most widely planted red varietal, with most of the vines in the Baden region.

St. Laurent (red) (San Law-rahn) Not dissimilar to Pinot Noir, this is one of Austria’s best red grape varieties and grown too in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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Tannat (red) (Tah-nah) Deep-hued, intense, spicy red known best for the wines of Madiran in south-west France, but also the foundation of Uruguay’s best reds and grown in Argentina.

Tempranillo (red) (Temp-rah-NEEL-yo) Spain’s most important quality red variety, forming the backbone of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, where it’s known as Tinto Fino (other synonyms include Ull de Llebre, Tinta del Pais, Tinta de Toro, Cencibel and, in Portugal, Aragonês and Tinta Roriz). Capable of making juicy young reds as well as serious, well-structured, fine, oak-aged reds with vanilla, tobacco spice and strawberry flavours, usually blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, but sometimes made on its own. One of the major red varieties of Argentina and grown also in Languedoc-Roussillon, California and Australia.

Teroldego(red) (Tay-rohl-DEH-go) A red variety from Trentino, aka Teroldego Rotaliano, which is deep-hued and capable of producing lively, juicy, Italian Beaujolais-style rosso.

Tinta Barroca (red)  (Teen-toe Bah-ro-cah) This is a robust Portuguese variety, aka Tinta Barocca, used as a blender in port but also popular in South Africa and known in Australia too.

Tinto Cao (red) (Teen-toe Kah-oh) One of the rarest, high quality port grapes grown in the Douro Valley, highly prized for its spicy character.

Tocai Friulano (white) (Toh-KYE Fr’yoo-LAH-noe) No relation to the Hungary’s Tokaji or Alsace’s tokay Pinot gris, tocai friulano, also known as Sauvignon vert or Sauvignonasse, is at its best in the hills of Friuli, where it makes a refreshingly crisp, nutty dry white style.

Torrontés (white) (Tohr-ROHN-tayss) Fragrant, grapey, Muscat-like Spanish variety common in Argentina, to which it may have been originally transported from Galicia.

Touriga Francesa (red)  (Too-REE-gah Fran-SAY-sah) This scented red is one of the five main grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley to make port and also good in the Trás-os-Montes region of Portugal.

Touriga Nacional (red)  (Too-REE-gah Nah-CEE-oh-nal) Although not widely known as a varietal, this rare, small-berried, dark-skinned Portuguese variety is nevertheless the highest quality grape that goes into the Douro Valley melting pot to produce port (the others are mainly Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). Still in Portugal, it’ also one of the major grapes of Dão and is grown in Australia, where it’s known simply as Touriga.

Trebbiano (white)  (Treb-YAH-no) The most widely planted white variety in Italy, quantity does not however bring quality in its wake. It’s an insipid variety, known in France as Ugni Blanc, where its use as the basis for brandy (as in Mexico too) speaks volumes. There are a handful of producers however, most notably in Lugana and Abruzzo, who, thanks to low-yields and careful winemaking, manage to squeeze some Chardonnay-like character out of this ubiquitous vine. Widely planted too in Argentina, South Africa and Australia.

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Ugni-blanc (white) (Oo-nyee Blahnk) Known as Trebbiano (see above) and Saint Emilion, a grape grown extensively in France – mainly used in Cognac and Gascony – as well as Italy and the New World.

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Verdejo (white) (Vehr-day-oh) One of Spain’s higher quality white varietiers grown around Rueda where it is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc to add body and richness to Sauvignon’s aromatic lift.

Verdelho (white)  (Vehr-DAY-lho) Portuguese variety grown in Madeira where it makes a fortified style between Sercial and Bual and grown as a still wine grape in Australia, especially Western Australia.

Verdicchio (white) (Vehr-DEEK-yo) High quality grape from the eponymous DOC in the Marche region of Italy with good body and faintly spicy flavours, and best from the Jesi zone.

Vermentino (white)  (Vair-men-TEE-no) Distinctively perfumed Mediterranean white with good acid retention grown in Italy mainly in Sardinia and Liguria, and known in Provence, Languedoc and Corsica as Rolle.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano (white)  (Vehr-NAHCH-ya dee Sahn Jee-mee-NYAH-noe) This dry white variety’s main claim to fame is that it’s grown around the picturesque, turreted medieval town of San Gimignano, where it occasionally justifies its promotion to DOCG status.

Vidal Blanc (white) (Vee-dahl BlahNK) A French-American hybrid descened from Ugni Blanc that produces attractive wines that may be crisp and dry or semisweet. Another variation is a supersweet and think ice-wine that is mainly produced in the Niagara Peninsula of Canada made from frozen grapes.

Vignoles (red/white) (Vee-NYOLE) A French-American hybrid that can be white or red depending on the cross hybrid used, this variety is mostly planted in New York State and produces red wines that are lively and acidic, while the whites can be off-dry to sweet and honeyed.

Viognier (white)  (Vee-OHN-yay) The ‘hottest’ of the Rhône Valley trio, which includes Marsanne and Roussanne, Viognier is one of those relatively rare varieties which have been ‘discovered’ and now everyone wants a slice of the action. Rippling out from the small appellation of Condrieu and the even tinier one of Château Grillet, the aromatic, powerful viognier with its hallmark blossom scents and apricot and peach-like flavours, has become the darling of Californians, and, latterly Argentina, Australia and the South of France too. It makes powerfully rich, dry whites made for drinking young, offering a delicious alternative style to Chardonnay.

Viura (white) (Vee-UHR-rah) The synonym used in the Spanish DO of Rioja for Macabeo, which is the most popular grape of northen Spain. High in production, Viura takes well to hot and dry regions. It also buds late which makes it less likely to be harmed by frost. Together with the varietals Parellada and Xarel-lo it is used in the production of the sparkling Spanish wine Cava. Both still and sparkling wines from Viura are dry, medium in acidity, and have notes of delicate wildflowers and bitter almonds. Best consumed young. Makes up 90% of the still white wine production in the Rioja. It can also be found in large quantities in southern France, particularly in the Languedoc area where it is usually blended with Grenache Blanc.

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Welschriesling (white)  (Velsh-REECE-ling) The ‘poor man’s Riesling’, Welschriesling is actually not related to the superior rhine Riesling of Germany at all. It is at its best in Austria, where it can make sumptuously sweet dessert whites. As a Central European grape variety, it goes under a sheaf of pseudonyms, such as olsazriesling (in Hungary) laski Riesling (in Slovenia) and Riesling italico (in Italy). Germany’s attempt to distance it from rhine Riesling has resulted in a change of name for all pretenders to rizling.

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Xarel-lo (white)  (Zah-RAY-loh) Earthy, undistinguished Catalan variety normally used as a blender in cava along with Parellada and Macabeo.

Xinomavro (red)  (Zee-NOH-mahv-roe) Xinomavro is, quite possibly, the greatest of Greece’s red grapes and, quite definitely, a wine lover’s wine. Fickle and inconsistent, it is capable of producing great wines only on specific sites and in vintages warm enough to ripen its low-tannin, high-acid grapes. The grape is, so far, unique to the central Macedonian ‘Xinomavro triangle’ of Naoussa, Goumenissa and Amyndeo. The longest-lived wines come from Naoussa. Here, its tough, tannic, high-acid structure resembles Barolo. Merlot is now often grown alongside Xinomavro, and various new blends have emerged. Xinomavro and its blends are food wines, ideally paired with rich dishes.

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Zibibbo (white) (Zi-BEE-boh) One of the most ancient varieties still around, this grape is thought to have been drank by Cleopatra. It is mostly used for blending in Australia, South Africa, Greece, and Spain (for use in Sherries). In Italy, it is used to make still wines that are sweet and made in the style of Marsala, except the stil wines do not have the added distilled spirits as in Marsala. Zinfandel (red) (Zin-fahn-DELL) Responsible for the blush wine craze of the late 1980s, Zinfandel is a near-native grape of California, where at its best, it produces powerfully-constructed, brambly, spicy reds for the most part best drunk young or relatively young. Known as Primitivo, it also flourishes in Puglia, around Manduria, producing similarly big, albeit more savoury, reds. Like South Africa’s Pinotage, it has recently undergone a major revival in California, so much so that Italy, ironically, has recently won the right to the use of the name Zinfandel for Primitivo.

Zweigelt (red) (ZVY-gelt) Despite being bred from a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent in 1922, Zweigelt is now the most widely planted red grape in Austria. Hardy, vigorous and productive, Zweigelt (or Blauer Zweigelt and Rotburger as it is also known) buds late and ripens early, which are very useful traits in the cool Austrian growing regions. Though it is at its best when yields are low, Zweigelt can be counted on to consistently produce medium bodied reds that have a nice mix of currants, herbs and tannins. From better sites and low yields some very rich and tannic reds can be produced that can take well to both barrel and bottle aging.

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Common Myths About Wine and Spirits

Headaches after drinking wine are due to Sulfites: There is no such thing as a sulfite-free wine. Sulfites are a naturally occurring part of the winemaking process; generally 8-10 parts per million (ppm), but as much as 20 ppm, are produced during fermentation. Any wine sold in this country that contains more than 10 ppm must be labeled with the phrase “contains sulfites”. Sulfites are often blamed for “wine headaches”, but research has proven only a very small percentage of the population is allergic to sulfites. Those individuals are required to alter their diets in numerous ways to avoid sulfite intake. All current studies and research suggest that wine headaches come from alcohol and histamines and the ability of the wine drinker to metabolize the sugars in the wine. For instance, a 2-oz portion of dried apricots has a much greater amount of sulfites than a glass of wine. (Sulfite levels are generally 10 mg in the glass of wine vs. 112 mg in apricots.)

Looking, and smelling the Cork can tell you if a wine is good: Unfortunately, this is not true. i. If a cork is dry, thus no wine has seeped through the cork, and only the bottom is wet, or if a cork is wet, wine has seeped into the cork, the wine can be good and be bad. ii. Also, when the cork is pulled from the bottle, smelling it will not tell you anything. While there is some residual wine on the cork to “smell” there is not enough surface area to determine whether or not the wine is flawed. The only smell is the cork itself. iii. The only thing looking at the cork can tell you is if there is mold on the cork, indicating a flawed wine. This practice of looking at the cork was started in the 1700’s when producers started to put their name on the cork to prevent counterfeits. The consumer would look at the spelling on the cork, and match it to the label on the bottle to determine the authenticity of the wine.

“Reserve” Wines are better than non-reserve wines: In some countries like the term “Reserve,” “Riserva”, etc…are regulated by the government. In others, they are not, and are used at the discretion of the producer. Knowing where these terms are regulated can indicate the quality of a wine, and can also determine whether or not the term has any significance. In Italy, the term “Riserva” is controlled by the government, and only allowed to be put on a label if the wine has been aged for a longer than normal period of time. This time changes based on the wine, i.e. Chianti must be aged for three years; Barbaresco is aged for four, etc…The term also means that the wine being used for the “Riserva” is the best wine the producer has to offer. In Spain, the term “Reserva” is only given to red wines that have been aged for three years, with one of those years being in oak barrels. The term is also given to white wines that have been aged for two years, and at least six months in wood. In the rest of the world, especially in the U.S., the term “Reserve” is not regulated at all. Some producers do use it only for their top bottling, but some also use it to make their wine look better.

Resveratrol is reason to drink more red wine: Resveratrol is an antioxidant, chemical compound found in the skin of red grapes, and is present in wine made from these grapes. Scientific tests have shown that Resveratrol can lower cholesterol levels, and reduce the chance of heart disease. Additionally, it has also been shown to decrease the size of cancerous tumors. While there might be many more benefits to this chemical (Alzheimer’s, Spinal Cord Injury, etc…), in order to ingest enough Resveratrol to gain these benefits, the amount of red wine needed would be extremely harmful to the consumer.

Screwcaps are only for cheap wine: While this once may have been true, screwcaps are now being utilized by more and more wineries for their benefits. Wines bottled with real corks can go bad due to a chemical compound found in cork, trichloroanisole or TCA. The result is an extremely musty and moldy smell and taste. This “wet cardboard” taste and aroma can be avoided by not using cork. Additionally, cork can be expensive, as it is a natural product. Screwcaps provide a great way around these two issues, and are increasing in popularity because of it.

Uncorking a bottle for a few hours before drinking to “let it breathe” will improve and soften the wine: This one is a little controversial, but tests show that simply uncorking a bottle of wine doesn’t do much to let a wine open up due to the small surface area of the wine exposed to air. One good analogy to explain this is; expecting a wine to breathe by popping the cork is like expecting a weary traveler to feel refreshed from a long plane ride by simply opening the cockpit door. To really let the wine breathe you need to decant it and let it stretch its legs. And speaking of legs…

Wine “legs” indicate high quality in wine: “Legs” are the viscous clear streams of fluid that run down the inside of a glass after the wine has been swirled. In general more pronounced legs do indicate a greater amount of alcohol in the wine, but legs or tears indicate nothing about the quality of the wine. Most professionals can use the “legs” to try and determine the vintage of a wine with the color. Most times, the more “legs” that appear means a hotter vintage or climate which results in more alcohol.

White wine should be chilled; red wine should be warm: Most whites are served too cold; frosty wine has little smell or taste, and it certainly shouldn’t sit in ice getting frostier. Red wine should be drunk at room temperature, but not if the room is very warm (most wines are best below 65 degrees), because then the alcohol starts to evaporate. In that case, red wine should be cooled for a few minutes.

White wine goes with fish, red with meat: The old school views on food and wine pairing are starting to be broken. New “pairing principles” are starting to state that you drink what you like with the food. With this in mind, just be aware that most red wines will overpower delicate dishes; most white wines won’t stand up to hearty foods.