Guide to Red Grape Varietals
Different varieties of grapes will produce wines with distinct flavor characteristics. In the New World, often the soil and climate of a region will determine the best grape types to plant in a particular vineyard. In many parts of Europe the permitted grape varieties are determined by law. The international red grape varietals would range from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah and you will find these planted around the world. Each wine producing country will have grapes that are suited to that country and region. From Nebbiolo, Corvina, Sangiovese and Barbera in Italy, to Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell in Spain, Malbec in Argentina and Carmeniere in Chile, each country has its own signature red grape varietals that produce distinctive wines.
The Gamay grape produces incredibly easy-drinking reds with fresh and explosive fruit. With little to no tannins and a purple color, it is the grape used in making the adored Beaujolais wines of the Burgundy region. The aromas and flavors are amazingly grapey with lovely notes of cherry and plum. This is the ideal wine for anyone who is trying red wine for the first time. The Gamay reds are wonderfully quaffable and lovely when slightly chilled for a picnic or barbeque.
Mourvèdre produces deeply colored, firmly structured red wines that are usually medium bodied with red fruit components. It is the principal grape of Bandol and a key component in most Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Primarily used as a blending grape, Mourvèdre adds complexity, color and fragrance to the final blending. It is one of the most underrated red grapes and because of its low yields and uneven ripening, it is rarely seen as a varietal wine.
Petit Verdot is capable of producing red wines with intense color, fragrance and spice; however, it is primarily grown for blending purposes, especially in the southern area of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. Petit Verdot is blended to these Cabernet-based wines to add further complexity, color and tannin. A high-quality red wine grape grown mainly in France’s Bordeaux region. Petit Verdot produces full-bodied, extremely deep-colored wines with peppery, spicy flavor characteristics and high tannins. It has traditionally been used to add flavor, color, and tannins to the Bordeaux blend. This is particularly true in the southern Médoc where, because of the soils, lighter wines are generally produced from the basic grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Research to determine its origin and possible relationship to Zinfandel began in the late 1960s when plant pathologist Austin Goheen noticed a strong resemblance between the two vines while traveling in Apulia. He took Primitivo cuttings back to his laboratory at the University of California at Davis, but was never able to conclusively determine that Primitivo and Zinfandel were identical. It was not until the 1990s that Carole Meredith, a plant geneticist and professor of viticulture and enology at Davis, established with considerable further research and DNA fingerprinting, that the two are genetically the same. (See Zinfandel).