grape varieties for wine

Grape Varieties – Know Your Grapes That Form The Wine

Interested in learning more about the types of grape that go into your wine? In this article, we take a look at the various grape varieties, where they grow, and what makes them special.

Grape Varieties

1. Barbera

Originally from the Italian Piedmont region, in our country Barbera is cultivated near San Rafael, a Southern Mendoza region that produces very good wines. Barbera wines have good color and body but are not very elegant; which accounts for its widespread use in blends.

2. Bonarda

It is planted in large areas and increasingly used for high-quality wines. According to researchers, it is not the same variety as the Italian Bonardas.

On the other hand, P. Truel has identified it as the Corbeau variety, an officially accepted name. However, this variety has become so important and the popular name Bonarda is so firmly established in Argentina that it will be very difficult to change its denomination.

Due to its abundance, vigor, and low cost, Bonarda used to be mainly considered when it came to inexpensive wines, but it is now also produced as a varietal.

It results in candid, full-bodied, and colorful wines, with fruity aromas and subtle aniseed-flavored hints. They can be successfully aged in the barrel due to their good structure.

3. Cabernet Franc

This is a more rustic variety than Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is very useful in blends, to grant intensity and color to the other varieties in the blend. It has pepper, raspberry and violet aromas.

4. Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is a widespread variety at the world level. Originally from Burdeaux, France, it is one of the most plastic varieties, along with Chardonnay, as it maintains a certain tipicity wherever it is grown and it adapts well to different climates and soils. However, it finds ideal conditions in temperate and warm areas.

Its grapes produce a wine with marked acidity and sharpness, with heavy tannic presence. With aging, it comes up tasty and full-bodied. It displays intense colors and a complex aroma of fruits, truffles, coffee, green pepper, and blackcurrant.

One of the characteristics of the grape is the high tannic content, which results in wines of good structure, apt for barrel aging, and prolonged home aging.

In France, it is the main variety of the Bordeaux region and produces the best wines of the Medoc. In Argentina, this king of red wine varieties presents subtle but well-defined characteristics, according to the terroir where it is grown.

In the North-west of the country, Cabernet Sauvignon gets astonishing color intensity and aromas, which remind of blackberries and green pepper.

Within Cuyo this wine varietal gets fruitier, with ripe cherry hints; while in the south of the country aromas get more intense, developing mineral and earthy bouquets. Barrel and bottle aging lends a particular elegance, with tobacco, leather, and spice aromas.

5. Chardonnay

Considered the top variety among fine white grapes, Chardonnay is used to produce the highest-quality white varietals, blends for white generic wines, and for the most important local sparkling wines. It makes rich, balanced wines, with good aroma and great persistence.

In France, its country of origin, its flavor, and aroma are reminiscent of fresh butter, hazelnut, baked almonds, and toasted bread. It is part of the blends for wines of the Chablis appellation.

In Argentina, Chardonnay is very much appreciated due to its capacity of reaching a proper maturation and producing a wide range of wine styles, from sparkling to full-bodied and barrel-aged wines, including fresh and elegant Chardonnays. Its primary descriptors are tropical fruits and apples.

In our country, the Upper Mendoza River Region, the Mendoza Eastern Region, the Uco Valley, and San Rafael as well as the Alto Valle de Río Negro produce excellent Chardonnay grapes.

6. Gewürztraminer

It is a rosé-colored and citric-flavored grape variety, flaunting a great aromatic characteristic. It is native to Central Europe and it is used to make certain high-quality white wines.

It is better developed under cool rather than warm climate conditions, reaching a relatively high level of natural sugars. However, wines from these grapes are usually dry with typical floral and fruity aromas.

The wines made from Gewürztraminer grapes are perfect to pair with fatty cheese, game meat, smoked fish, and Asian cuisine.

7. Malbec

The most emblematic Argentinian wine is made of this variety. Known as Cot in most viticultural countries, its most common name in Argentina is Malbec or “French grape.”

According to several authors, it is originally from Quercey and Cahors, in France. The French agronomist Michel Pouget first introduced it in the country in the mid 19th century because it showed good adaptation to the foothill region irrigated by the waters of the Mendoza River.

Malbec experienced such a spectacular growth that it reached a planted area of 50,000 hectares. This variety generated a particular agricultural ecosystem.

It was planted at high densities –5,500 plants per hectare; trained on low 1.5-meter on three-wire trellis with Bordelais double Guyot pruning. Irrigation methods used are surface and furrow irrigation. Wines made from these grapes acquired their own tipicity, which accounted for the creation of the first Argentinian Controlled Appellation of Origin (DOC): Luján de Cuyo.

Malbec is a frail variety demanding specific ecological conditions and vineyard management techniques and does not reach the development of its varietal characteristics in all regions.

It requires wide night-day temperature variation and cool nights. It is more sensitive to high night temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon. Maximum average day temperatures should not be higher than 30°C during the months of ripening; otherwise, color intensity and total polyphenols in grapes might decrease.

Some Mendoza regions gather all the above mentioned climatic conditions which account for the great success of Malbec in this province.

Up to these days, Malbec has been the subject of many elaboration methods, which led to the most varied styles of wine, from young and simple wines to the most complex and aged ones, including rosés, sparkling and fortified wines.

Among its organoleptic characteristics, its intense red color with purple hues stands out. The most common aromatic descriptors are plum, red fruit, ink, and anise. In the mouth, it is softly meaty and rounded. Malbec is “the red wine” to pair with roasted beef, stews, pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, game meats, and hard cheeses.

8. Merlot

Merlot is the main variety used to make the blend wines from the famous French appellations, Saint Émilion and Pomerol. Italy is the country with the world’s most extensive area of vineyards, and Eastern Europe has a considerable large area planted with this variety.

Apart from France, in California and Chile, Merlot vineyards are continuously extending further and its grapes express outstanding characteristics.

Argentina houses 7,371 ha of Merlot. It is the fifth wine red grape variety in importance and in the past 15 years, this variety growing area has enlarged significantly, being the larger area in Mendoza and a considerable part of it in the province of Rio Negro. Merlot achieved great expressions in cold regions, such as Uco Valley, Alto Agrelo (Mendoza), and Alto Valle (Río Negro).

9. Moscatel de Alejandría

This white grape variety belongs to the Muscat family of Vitis vinifera. It is considered an “old vine” and wine experts think that it is one of the oldest existing varieties with no genetic modification.

The grape was born in the North of Africa and its name probably derived from the association with the old Egyptians who used grape to make wine. While today it is grown as a table grape and used to produce raisins, it is still an important variety for the Australian and South African wine industry.

Besides, it is also grown intensely in the Samos Island, in the north-east Aegean region of Greece, and it is said that Cleopatra drank Muscat wine coming from there.

Moreover, it is believed that this variety rivals the French Beaume de Venise in its most refined form. This grape variety is also grown in Italy, Chile, Portugal, Cyprus and France.

It is spread throughout Spain, especially in coastal areas such as Valencia, Malaga, Alicante, Cadiz, Jerez, and the Canaries. It is the main grape variety in the appellations of Malaga and Valencia, though it is also spread throughout Alicante and the Canaries.

10. Pedro Giménez

The grape variety grown in Argentina under this denomination is not the same as the one produced in other countries.

It is hardly ever used alone, although some winemakers might boast of producing an excellent varietal with it. In Argentina, it is mostly used in the production of sherry or manzanilla-style wines, which in their country of origin are made with Palomino, a non-existent variety in Argentina.

11. Petit Verdot

It is a black grape variety used to make red wines, mainly for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon. The fact that it ripens later than most of the other varieties does not allow it to be successful in many French regions, being only found in Bordeaux.

It provides aroma, color, acid, and tannins for many of the great French red wines, by means of an addition up to 10% of the total composition.

It is recently grown in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, California, Colorado, Texas, Washington, Virginia, Australia, Venezuela, British Columbia, and New Zealand, with the purpose of enhancing other wines.

Its aromas preserve redolent of banana and lead pencil. During its aging process, it reaches an intense purplish color.

12. Pinot Gris

This is a white grape variety of the Vitis vinífera species and it is thought to be a mutant clone of the Pinot noir grape. Wines made from this grape exhibit a color ranging from deep golden yellow to coppery including a pink hue. The clone of Pinot Gris found in Italy is known as Pinot Grigio.

It is supposed that Pinot Gris was the favorite grape of the emperor Carlos IV, who made Cistercian monks take blends of this variety to Hungary. Later, this vine was called Szürkebarát, meaning “grey monk”.

Researchers from the California University in Davis have determined that Pinot Gris grape has a similar DNA profile to Pinot Noir grape and the color difference derived from a genetic mutation occurred a few centuries ago. Leaves and plants of both vines are very similar, being the color the only feature to differentiate one from another.

13. Pinot Noir

This is the variety used to make the best Burgundy wines. In France, it is also grown in Alsace, the Central Loire Valley, and the Champagne region (since the white wine from this red variety is part of the curve of the best French Champagne wines).

The area devoted to Pinot Noir in Argentina is presently increasing, mostly concentrated in Mendoza, Rio Negro, and Neuquén as well as in Córdoba province. Argentinian wine tasters and connoisseurs are learning to appreciate this grape, which is capable of producing wines of a particular quality.

Depending on its clones, Pinot Noir is the fastest grape variety to mutate- its color ranges from ruby to deep red, but maintaining raspberry, beetroot, cherry, cassis, leather, licorice and earth aromas in every case.

In Argentina, it has a different treatment in the vineyard resulting in wines of chararcteristics that differ from Pinot Noirs of other locations.

According to winemaker Esteban Roldán, Argentinia n Pinot Noir has lots of concentration; it is not ros like other ones. This is due to the number of sunlight hours, the temperature range, and the type of soil.

14. Riesling

This variety originates in Germany and in the Alsace region in France. Riesling wines have an unmistakable aroma and often show a natural sweetness that makes them very elegant wines.

This variety is not very much cultivated in Argentina, since its yield is minimum, and only in cold climate areas it develops in good sanitary conditions.

There, delicate yet structured wines are produced with this grape. Its typical aromas range from citric and floral to mineral or even metallic notes. When aged in bottle, it evolves wonderfully, reaching astonishing levels of complexity.

15. Sangiovese

A typically Italian wine grape used to produce the famous Chianti. In Argentina, Sangiovese has been cultivated for decades, but it is another example of wine varieties whose potential for making top wines has only been discovered a few years ago.

When young, it offers violet and raspberry aromas; but when it is barrel aged it gains in complex nuances such as raisins, which reminds of the peninsular Chianti.

16. Sauvignon Blanc

This is the finest variety after Chardonnay. Preferably, it is harvested before it reaches full ripeness to preserve its acidity, which imparts particular dryness to the wine.

This originally French variety is cultivated in the Loire, in Bordeaux, and in the southwest of France. It sometimes has a soft, pleasant smoky flavor. It also shows cassis, valerian, and some musk. At times, it reveals what the French call Pierre Fusil, the typical smell of tinder when in contact with the spark that originates the fire.

This old wine variety has not been very developed in Argentina, but during the last few years, it has expanded considerably. When the vineyard is properly managed, this grape produces wines with intense aromas that resemble wild vegetables, chlorophyll, and citric. In some other cases, Sauvignon Blanc offers white fruit bouquets.

17. Semillón

For a long time, Semillón was looked down on in our country because the denomination was used for low-quality wines. Undoubtedly, those wines were made with a different variety or with very poor processing. Nowadays, it is identified with very good wines.

This grapevine was first cultivated in Argentina by the end of the 19th century. It adapts best to cool and moderate climates, such as the Uco Valley and Río Negro. In the Cuyo region, Semillon presents white fruits and honey-like aromas, while in Patagonia aromas turn to apple and earth. In both cases, this wine has a great bottle aging capacity, developing more complex bouquets.

18. Syrah

Its origin is still uncertain. In France, it is the base for the Cáte du Rhíne wines and is also part of the blend for the famous Cháteauneuf-du-Pape.

It is possibly the most renowned French wine grape after the Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties. In Argentina, several wineries process it to obtain a varietal wine with very satisfactory results.

It has adapted well to areas of heavy sun exposure, like Tulum Valley, in San Juan, and Eastern Mendoza. It offers intense colors, a full texture, and aromas that range between floral to spicy animal, after aging.

19. Tannat

This variety is native to the south-west of France, used for making red, rosé, and white wines. Nowadays, its main growing areas are found in France, Medanos, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay.

Wines made from Tannat grapes, offer a great intensity, flaunting exceptional tannins and they are ideal to pair with meats from young bulls.

20. Tempranillo

Quite a popular variety in the Cuyo region, it is now being rediscovered by winemakers and required by wineries due to the successful exports of the wines produced with it.

Although there is no certainty about its introduction in our country, the Argentinian Tempranillo has been identified as the same variety as the important Spanish wine grape also known as Tempranillo, Cencibel, Tinto del Pa?s or Tinto Fino.

When duly elaborated and aged in American oak barrels, Tempranillo reaches exceptional qualities and an excellent bottle aging capacity. In its youth, it offers simple but fruity raspberry and blackberry aromas, while those meant to be aged develop sweeping licorice and roasting hints.

21. Torrontés

Being the only wine variety considered 100% Argentine, Torrontés is cultivated in all the wine regions of the country, from Salta to Rio Negro. Argentina is practically the only country that produces it, and so the name Torrontés is readily associated with Argentina. There are three types of Torrontés: Riojana, Sanjuanina, and Mendocina.

The Riojana variety, the most representative of the three, is used to make the Cafayate Torrontés (from Salta) and, of course, the La Rioja wines. Wines made with this variety have received many international awards because its taste -so different from other white wines- has seduced wine tasters around the world.

Its origin has been an issue of broad-ranging discussion amongst many wine experts, but its relationship to the European Mediterranean Muscat is undeniable.

A proof of this bond is its fragrant and unmistakable aroma, resembling roses, jasmine, and geranium, with occasional spicy essences. The first cultivation of Torrontés dates back from the times of the Spanish Conquerors, and ever since it became one of the most cultivated grape variety in the country. Recently, it has been elaborated as a sparkling and fortified wine, with excellent results in both cases.

Torrontés produces a unique symbiosis with spicy food and Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes. It pairs marvelously with Northern Argentinean food, such as the typical empanadas and corn stew.

22. Traminer

The production of this variety from Alsace is quite small in Argentina. It is generally cultivated in very high and cold areas, where just a few, but well processed dry or sweet wines are obtained.

When it is made providing all the necessary care and attention, it shows a unique aroma and a full body, without resigning its typical natural and fresh acidity. The most frequent aromas are floral and citric, vegetables, with spicy bouquets appearing occasionally.

23. Ugni Blanc

Used in numerous white blends, it is part of the coupage for several sparkling wines to raise their level of acidity naturally. It produces lively but not very aromatic wines. In Italy, it is known as Trebiano and in France as Saint Emilion Blanc.

24. Viognier

Originally from Bosnia, Viognier has been grown in the Rhone Valley, France, for ages to make Condrieu wines. Planting of Viognier in our country began in 1993.

The Argentinian wine industry started to experiment with this grape variety only a few years ago. Viogner is suitable for fermentation in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. In the case of fresh young wines, flowery and fruity aromas appear, along with the distinctive caramel bouquet. When fermented in oak barrels, almond-like aromas arise.

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