As you walk down the aisle at your local wine shop it can be hard to pick out what to buy- even after you've decided whether to go sparkling, rose, white, or red.  What varietal do I pick?  Where does it grow best?  What style is it?

This page will give a brief WCWG rundown on grape profiles and styles.

RED GRAPES:

  • Pinot Noir  This grape needs extensive care to mature.  It can grow to produce some of the most complex and beautiful wines, full of potential.  It can also cause many problems as it has thin skin and is susceptable to disease and frost.  It's natural home is BurgundyFrance, where it grows wines with aging potential, earthiness, truffley smells, and great red fruit.  Oregon and California are producing the best New World Pinots with smooth power and lush red fruit.  New Zealand is also a candidate.  Almost exclusively used to create red still wine, but can make rosé and also used in Champagne production.
  • Merlot  This grape is easy going.  It ripens early for harvest and creates wines that are silky smooth.  Tannin and acidity is usually light to medium and makes plump, juicy wines.  It is at home in Bordeaux, and on the right bank (Pomerol and Saint-Émilion) makes voluptuous, ageable wines.  Northern ItalyChileWashington and California turn out excellent examples as well. 
  • Cabernet Sauvignon  This grape is a monster.  It's thick skin and affinity for oak creates big, lush, complex wines with huge aging potential.  Warm climate is necessary for it to fully ripen yearly.  The grape's natural home is Bordeaux, particularly left bank where it dominates the blends.  CaliforniaNapa in particular, is where the grape flourishes into big bold expensive wines.  Washington and Chile turn out great examples and many other parts of the globe use this grape as single varietal or blending agent to build structure for local grapes.
  • Syrah/Shiraz  This grape is en vogue.  It creates deep, full, spicy wines with great fruit character. The only difference is the style- they are the same grape.  The home of Syrah is France's Rhone Valley where the wines are complete with black fruits and herbal, gamey undertones.  Shiraz is Australia's where it makes chocolatey, peppery, juicy wines.  Other areas: CaliforniaWashington, and S. Africa
  • Grenache Noir  The vines, when youthful, will produce a multitude of highly alcoholic grapes.  If controlled, or allowed to mature, can make full bodied, fruit filled, spicy wines.  It is at home in the southern Rhone Valley, being the primary grape used in blends (Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, etc.).  In France it is also found in Languedoc, while it is called Garnacha in Spain, and Cannonau in Sardegna.  Also a popular single varietal and blender inAustralia and the American West Coast.
  • Malbec  This grape was first known in France, both as a blending agent in Bordeaux and a single varietal in Cahors.  There it produces gamey, rustic, tannic wines.  It is better known in Argentina, where it produces rich and spicey wines that are smooth and velvety.  It's popularity has taken off, as well as plantings in other countries.
  • Cabernet Franc  This is the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, with less tannin and body.  It is accompanied by berry and green pepper flavors along with leafy aromatics.  You can find at home in France as a Bordeaux blending varietal (main grape in Château Cheval Blanc), and the Loire Valley (ChinonBourgueil).  Northeast Italy and the US (New YorkVirginia,Washington) make light/medium bodied fruit filled quality versions and blends.
  • Sangiovese  Italy's most planted grape, it can make noble wines in Tuscany or easy drinking wines in Emilia-Romagna.  Ripe red fruit, tobacco, leather, and some barnyard are characteristic.  The crisp acidity and tannins can produce long lived wines like Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti Classico.  When blended with other varietals it can make the best wines in the world, like Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and other Super Tuscans.  California is new to this varietal, but potential is there with the grape and soil.
  • Zinfandel  This grape makes deep red wines higher in alcohol content, jelly fruit, spice, and slight sweetness.  It can "factory" produce large numbers of grapes each season, which is why it was used in California to make wine in high volume (like white zinfandel).  Sonoma and Amador County make some of the best Zins.  Zinfandel's origins can be traced back to the Adriatic Coast where it is turning out old world styles from Puglia (known as Primitivo) and Croatia (known as Crljenak Kaštelanski).
  • Tempranillo  Spain’s most famous grape has great affinity for American oak and adopts much of it's spice flavor from it.  It has natural strawberry and tobacco flavor.  Tempranillo has many aliases in Spain: Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Ull de Llebre, and Cencibel.  In Portugal it is known Tinta Roriz and Aragonés.  Can also be found in California and Australia.

WHITE GRAPES:

  • Chardonnay  This varietal is like a chameleon.  It will take on the attributes of any terrior or oak that a winemaker decides to put it in contact with.  Chablis will come off flinty, white Burgundy will be a bit fatter and buttery, California tropical fruit, etc.  The grape is originally from France, with the best coming from Chablis and Burgundy.  Very good Chardonnay is made all over the globe: US West Coast, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Italy, to name a few.
  • Sauvignon Blanc  The name mean "wild white" in French, and this native grape is that indeed.  It grows wild, but makes crisp, clean, refreshing wines.  It's origins trace back to the Loire Valley, where it makes steely, minerally, high acidic whites.  In California, it is often introduced to oak, making it rounder and more tropical.  New Zealand seems to make one of the best versions, with more gooseberry and grapefruit.  Chile and northeast Italy are quickly becoming great producers as well.