About Wine Grapes


Essentially, all major grapes come from Vitis vinifera. This is the original source of many of the grape varieties. In fact, this species of grape comprises several key wine varieties. Variations of Vitis (vine) vinifera include the popular American Vitis labrusa.

There are more than 8,000 different varieties of grapes from which to choose. All can act as a basis for wine. However, only around 100 grape varieties are the focus of wine lovers.  Among the very basic and popular names of wine you should remember are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
    (CAB-err-nay So-ve-NYON). A Vitis vinifera species, this is probably the most famous red grape around the world. The grape reflects the character of its locale. The best regions are Bordeaux, France; Napa Valley, California and Chile.
  • Chardonnay
    (shar-duh-NAY). Vitis vinifera. This adaptable grape is universally known and enjoyed. Lately, it has been considered too popular. Nevertheless, this green-skinned (white) grape is one of the most adaptable. It grows in most climates. With medium to high acidity Chardonnay grapes produce a classically dry to some off-dry white wines. These grapes grow best in Burgundy, France, Champagne, France, California and Austria.
  • Chenin blanc
    (SHEH-nin-BLON). Vitis vinifera. This white grape is sometimes called Pineau de la Loire. It has produced white wines in the Loire Valley in France and is the most commonly planted grape in South Africa. High acidity renders the product variable in terms of quality.
  • Merlot
    (merr-LOW). Vitis vinifera. Red (black) grapes of this vine produce red wines. It is often a blending grape. Bordeaux reds come from Merlot grapes. Favored regions are Bordeaux, France, Washington State and Napa Valley in California, the Chilean Central Valley and Australia.
  • Muscat
    (MUSS-kat). Vitis vinifera. This green (white) grape is often called Muscatel or Muskatel. One of the most ancient of grapes, it has several varieties. These result in a range of products. Muscat grapes can produce frothy, dry, sweet or fortified wines. This depends upon both the variety used and the country of origin. Favorite regions include Alsace and Rhône – France, Piedmont – Italy, Greece, South Africa and Australia.
  • Niagara
    (Nigh-aga-RA). Vitis labrusca. This green (white) grape is a north American variety. Wine drinkers describe it as “foxy.” It is the leading grape in the United States and is found in Canada as well. The grape does not ship well so it is best used locally. Favored regions is the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and New York State in the United States.
  • Pinot Blanc
    (PEE-no-Blon). Vitis vinifera. This white grape sometimes bears the name of Piano. It is popular in Alsace, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary and British Columbia, Canada.
  • Pinot Gris
    (PEE-no-GREE). Vitis vinifera. A white grape variety, this vine produces easy to drink wines. They are light, white or deeper and richer in color. The plants grow best in Italy, Alsace, France, Germany and Australia.
  • Pinot Noir
    (PEE-no-NWAHR). Vitis vinifera. A red (black) grape, this produces serious red wines. Diifuclt to cultivate well, the grapes flourish in Burgundy, France, Sonoma, California, Oregon, Martinborough, New Zealand and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
  • Riesling
    (RISE-ling). Vitis vinifera. These white grapes produce some of the world’s best white wines. They are varietally pure and can be crisp and dry or lush and sweet. The best regions for growth and production are the Mosel-Saar-Rwer, Nahe, Pfalz and Rheingau in Germany as well as Alsace, France, Niagara Penisnusal, Canada and the Claire Valley in Australia.
  • Sangiovese
    (San-gee-oh-VAY-see)Red Italian grapes from this vine produce a range of wines from light to full-bodied. Popular regions include Tuscany, Italy and California, United States.
  • Sauvignon Blanc
    (Soh-vig-non Blonc) Vitis vinifera. This green-skinned (white) grape is high in acidity. The product is a white wine with zing. As an aperitif wine, Sauvignon Blanc is considered better than Chardonnay.
  • Sémillon
    (say-mee-Yohn). A golden-skinned or white grape, this is a blender. It usually creates good, dry white wines when combined with Sauvignon. In the 1950s, it was one of the most planted grapes in Chile, South Africa and other places around the globe. Today, it is still popularly grown in California and Washington State.
  • Syrah
    (see-RAH) Vitis vinifera L. The ancestral home of this dark-skinned grape is Rhône. It is now popular in Australia. They call it Shiraz (she-RAHZ). Used in varietal and blending, Syrah is high in both tannis and acidity. It is also high in popularity. This grape is among the top 10 grapes grown around the world.
  • Tempranillo
    (tem-pruh-NEE-yo). Vitis vinifera. This is Spain’s noble grape. QA variety of red (black) grape, Tempranillo makes a full bodied red wine. The popular regions are located in Spain, South America, Canada and the United States.
  • Zinfandel
    (zin-fan-DELL). Vitis vinifera. Originally. This red grape was believed to be native to California. Tests prove its origins are in Croatia. High in sugar content, Zinfandel is used to create sweet bush wines.

These varieties of grapes are the most common in the world of wine. In the very least, you need to know their names and the type of wine grape. You must be able to distinguish white grapes from black even though the color of the grapes is neither. Moreover, wine, despite its color, is classified as white, red or rosé. Confused? Read on.

For The Wine Enthusiast