This will probably be a work in progress page forever. The aim here is to provide some basics about the grape varietals used to make wines. I will start with the “noble grapes” but will continue to add as many as I can as time goes on.
Typical Nose: Look for black currants, cherry, mint, eucalyptus, green pepper, tobacco, earth, vanilla, or cedar.
Pairings: Big tannic, structured wines like this call for big, bold foods. Pair these wines with grilled red meats (steak, lamb, buffalo, etc.), or meats served a heavy full flavored sauce.
About the grape: The current “King” of the wine world, Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively young grape on the world stage. It is believed to have been created in the 17th century, and is a cross between the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. This grape is a relatively easy grape to cultivate in warm and sunny environments, and with it’s thick skin is resistant to rot and frost.
Typical Nose: Cherries, olives, plums, black currants, roses, violets, caramel, cedar, vanilla, Earth.
Pairings: Merlot is going to pair well with just about anything as it has lower tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, more body than Pinot Noir, and generally a fruit forward profile. It can still overpower more delicate dishes like some lighter fish, but you can be pretty broad with this wine. Lamb, duck, hamburgers, pizza, tuna, and salmon all will pair well with this versatile wine.
About the grape: A cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot can be found on it’s own as a varietal, and as a blending grape, typically with Cabernet Sauvignon. When blended it will “soften” the wine by lowering the tannins in the combined wine.
Typical Nose: Cherry, raspberry, roses, cedar, licorice strawberry, plum.
Pairings: Turkey, duck, and ham are well suited to this low tannin yet flavorful wine. It also pairs well with chicken, salmon, tuna, and anything with a mushroom component/sauce.
About the grape: A very smooth red wine that is low in tannins and high on fruit which makes it a great wine for those new to reds. Flavors of cherry, strawberry, and raspberry are common, and a good balance of acid and tannins makes this an easy wine to fall for. Has the nickname of “The Heartbreak Grape” due to it being very difficult to cultivate due to it’s notoriously thin skin, and difficulty in creating wines from the grapes.
Typical Nose: Black fruits, raspberry, cracked pepper, bacon fat, violets, chocolate.
Pairings: This is a big, bold wine and the foods should match. Think grilled meats, lamb, BBQ, sausage, and my favorite, dark chocolate.
About the grape: Syrah, or Shiraz in Australlia and New Zealand, is another international grape grown world wide. The biggest players though are France and Australia. In France, the Rhone valley uses this grape the most with wines from the Northern Rhone being 100% Syrah and Southern Rhone wines using it more as a blending grape with Grenache.
Typical Nose: Plum, blueberry, blackberry, violets, coffee beans
Pairings: Another wine with good tannin structure you can pair it with spaghetti with meat sauce, grilled steak, chili, roast beef, hamburgers, beef based stews, you get the idea.
About the grape: Grown all over the world the current king region for Malbec is Argentina. Look for a bright, almost neon, pink color on the rims of these wines. While Malbec is an approved variety for Bordeaux blends its use is very minor there. It is still, however, a major component to the wines from Cohors, France where it is required to be at least 70% of the blends.
Typical Nose: Dark fruits like blackberry, dark cherry, blueberry, and plum. Jammy notes along with spiciness like peppercorn.
Pairings: This wine isn’t tame and neither should the food you serve it with be. BBQ, red sauces with pasta, pizza, burgers, etc. The one big thing to avoid is spicy dishes. Zinfandel usually is a pretty high alcohol wine and that alcohol will amplify the heat of spice if it’s in a dish.
About the grape: Although not from California, the Zinfandel grape seems to have found it’s home there. With this varietal you will see “old vines” which are wines made from grapes whose grape vines have been growing for 40, 50, even 100 years. These vines tend to add depth and character to the wines, although that is not a guarantee.
Typical Nose: Sour cherry, plum, licorice, raspberry, fennel.
Pairings: Being the main grape of the Tuscany region of Italy is it any wonder that these wines pair well with tomato based dishes and pastas. Try with pizza too.
About the grape: One big note to look for with these wines is a high acid level. Also look for a darker rim than usual. This is going to be the primary grape of Chianti wines, but you can also find it as a pure varietal wine from other locations, like California.
Typical Nose: Strawberry, cherry, pear, flowers, candied fruit, banana.
Pairings: This is a wine with some acid and not a lot of tannin, so this is one of those red wines that will pair well with fish. Fish like salmon is a great option. Salty or oily food would work as well with the acid levels here.
About the grape: Gamay is most well known for coming from the Beaujolais region of Burgundy, France. While the rest of Burgandian reds are made exclusively from Pinot Noir, the wine from Beaujolais are all Gamay. Once a year, on the third Thursday of November, the Beaujolais Neveau wine is released to much celebration. These are sweet and fruity, fun wines, but don’t think that is what to expect from all Beaujolais wines.
Typical Nose: Apple, pear, citrus, tropical fruits. In addition you can find vanilla, butter, oak if the wine has been oaked before bottling.
Pairings: Just about any fish will go with Chardonnay; a heavy oak may overpower a lighter fish serving. Also goes well with a number of birds: turkey, duck, chicken, etc. Will pair nicely with pork as well.
About the grape: A classic white grape, Chardonnay is grown around the world and takes many shapes. You can find this one both with or without being aged in oak barrels. The barrel aged wines will show more vanilla and butter components along with being more rounded. The non-oaked wines will show more griping acidity. Although tough to find non-oaked chards in the past you are starting to see more and more available.
Typical Nose: Floral, peaches, green apple, melon, and even a gasoline type smell, are all common components to the nose of this grape.
Pairings: One of the most food friendly wines out there because it can be sweet or dry; you can pair this with fish, bird, Chinese, Mexican, and even a lot of deserts.
About the Grape: One of the most versatile grapes around, Riesling does well sweet, dry, or sparkling. It has high acid levels which helps make it a great food pairing wine. It is also a grape that is very expressive of the place it is grown in (aka terroir). This makes it a fun grape to explore all the locations it is developed into wine from.
Typical Nose: Citrus, tropical fruits, minerality, green apple, grass, gun flint, are all notes that you could pick up on depending on where in the world the grapes are grown.
Pairings: Typically a high acid/light bodied wine that will pair well with a number of light bodied dishes. Sushi, lighter fish, Asian inspired dishes, and even salads are all pairing options.
About the Grape: This is a grape that is grown around the world, but the best wine examples come from the Loire Valley in France and New Zealand. In France it is generally blended with Semillion. The wines are usually very refreshing from the high acidity, light body, and citrus flavors.
Typical Nose: Green apple, wasabi, limestone, straw, honey, tangerine.
Pairings: ”Classic” white wine pairings with this light wine. Fish, chicken, and even salads with the drier styled wines.
About the Grape: Can be known as “Steen” in South Africa, this grape gets it’s greatness in the Loire Valley of France. Named by the region the wine comes from there you will find it as Vouvray, Anjou and Samur, and Savennieres to name a few. It is also made in varying levels of sweetness from dry to sweet along with sparkling.
Typical Nose: Pear, Apple, Peanut shell, mushroom, dirt, lemon.
Pairings: With it’s bright acidity and fresh flavors this wine can pair well with seafood dishes like seared scallops, but also pair it will spicy Asian dishes to help cut through the heat. Buffalo wings would be another pairing I think would work.
About the Grape: Pinot Gris is going to come out of the Alsace region of France while Pinot Grigio will hail from Northern Italy. They are the same grape, just different names. You will also find these wines coming out of the Western United States (Oregon and California).
Typical Nose: Peach, honeysuckle, tropical fruits, apricot.
Pairings: A good wine for pasta with a creamy white sauce, spicy Asian foods, and chicken.
About the Grape: A Norther Rhone, France grape that also does well in California and Australia. Floral notes are usually strong with these wines. Because of the sweet fruit flavors the wine can seem sweet when really it is a dry wine.
Typical Nose: Lychee, roses, perfume, grapefruit.
Pairings: The acidity is key to this wine and it has hints of sweetness which makes it a great pairing for spicy Asian foods.
About the Grape: The color is one of the first things you will notice in these wines. Usually towards a golden color as apposed to the typical straw coloring out of most white wines. Germany is the dominant producer for these wines.