Wine Grape Variety
The interdependent factors that affect
wine flavor are the variety or varieties of grape used, the location
where the grapes are grown (appellation), the treatment of those vineyards
along with the skills of the vineyardist and finally the equipment and techniques used
by the winemaker, as well as his skills in applying them, but grape variety
is the dominant factor affecting wine flavor. Different grape varieties make wines of different aroma and flavor characteristics.
Take any World Famous Vineyard
(or even an entire Appellation), plant it with a different variety
than the existing one and the wine made there would become completely unrecognizable, even if the vineyards were treated
with the same level of care and attention and the wine was also processed by the same hands and methods.
|The word "varietal" is only used properly as an adjective, never as a noun...
Varietal character, however, while somewhat predictable, is not precise; variations occur,
since virtually all vines are propagated by cloning. Some grape
types are more prone to clonal variation than others. The
name of a particular variety, therefore, should be considered a "surname"
for vines that share a genetic history. Grapes can share genetic profiles, yet vary dramatically in fruit color, as well as flavors and aromas, such as pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot meunier. Each "family" of varieties
may, in turn, include only a few or very many individual "sibling"
clones, each with its own particular traits and its clonal name or number which may be considered as its "given" name.
One explanation why so many wine drinkers don't expand their choices beyond the usual Chardonnay,
Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon, is that they have little experience with the myriad of other wine grapes available. The profiles here describe
some of the history and cultivation characteristics of different wine grape varieties and aromas and flavors typical in the varietal
wines and blends they produce.
see table and links below)
Grapes selected to be profiled are limited to those that are of most importance or significance to
American consumers and those approved by the TTB
for use by American wineries. "White" grapes are listed in GREEN,
"black" (red) grapes are in PURPLE;
not all varieties listed are yet profiled/linked (underlined). For additional
information, please use the Related Links list below the table
photographed many of the images of grape varieties to
Great Wine Grapes,
written by his father, Bern C. Ramey. They appear in our
profiles with his kind permission. Tim Ramey Photography
is located in Chicago, Illinois.
The University of California at David maintains the National Grape Registry of all grape varieties grown in the United States.
Dr. Francois Lefort of
the University of Crete directs
Vitis Database, a
multimedia web-backed genetic database for germplasm
management of Vitis resources in Greece. Dr. Lefort
kindly granted PfW his permission to reproduce some of
the leaf and cluster photos of the varieties most
familiar to Americans.
The European Network for Genetic Grapevine Resources, Conservation and Characterization is an extension of the German Federal Centre
for Breeding Research on Cultivated Plants. Dr. Erika
Dettweiler has given us her kind permission to reproduce
some of the grape cluster photos from this site. There is
also a database for Scientific
Literature in the
fields of viticulture and enology.
Wines Grown in Slovenia has information about and illustrations of many familiar varieties and also some unique to Eastern Europe, both ancient
Looking new directions in wine? Try Chris Kern's Forgotten Grapes for wines made from "alternative" grape varieties, presented in a casual and humorous format.
Anthony J. Hawkins' created the ambitious Super
Gigantic Y2K WineGrape Glossary in the mid-1990's, and continued to update entries into late 2007; it contains a wealth of valuable information is an excellent starting point, despite random obsolescences.