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Grape Varieties

One of the most influential factors affecting the flavour of wine is the grape variety or varieties that go into its making. Understanding some of the key differences between those most commonly found in the wine-producing world, helps to provide a compass for enjoyable exploration. Our guides outline key characteristics and wine styles, common tasting terms and where in the world to head to for the grape of your choice.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

'If there is such a thing as a mythology in wine, then cabernet would occupy an exalted position on Olympus. The name cabernet is irrevocably linked with Bordeaux, its home, and Claret, the wine which in the Anglo-Saxon world conjures up images of sophistication and good living.'

Sebastian Payne MW

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Chardonnay

Chardonnay

'Chardonnay does not have a distinctive aroma or flavour, although it does have a broad and structured palate. Instead it reflects where it is grown and how it is made.'

Toby Morrhall

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Grenache

Grenache

‘At its simplest grenache makes round, heart-warming wines. At its best it has real majesty, making full-bodied wines with a sensation of sweetness due to the amount of alcohol and glycerol. It can become complex and spicy, with flavours reminiscent of rich fruit cake.’

Marcel Orford-Williams

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Malbec

Malbec

‘Malbec or cot is found all along the Pilgrim’s Way from the vineyards of the Loire to those of the southwest and though once important in Bordeaux, is now a marginal variety except in Cahors where it thrives. In its second home of Argentina it has single-handedly put the country on the map.’

Marcel Orford-Williams

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Merlot

Merlot

'Merlot gives colour and the richness of alcohol making round, supple wines. It has aromas of plum, strawberries, redcurrant, violet and truffle.'

Joanna Locke MW

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Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

'There are many versions of pinot noir, which mutates easily and which growers find exasperatingly difficult to grow successfully. It remains therefore an irresistible challenge to wine-growers as far apart as Oregon, Argentina, New Zealand and Hungary.'

Sebastian Payne MW

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Riesling

Riesling

'Anyone fortunate enough to have drunk great German riesling knows that it can be the finest white wine variety of all. We say unequivocally that riesling and chardonnay vie for first place, because both can produce such an astonishing range of complex quality and outstanding ageing potential.'

Sebastian Payne MW

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Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc

'Sauvignon blanc is still very much the grape du jour in vineyards – and wine bars – across the world; the gin and tonic of our time.' Sebastian Payne MW

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Semillon

Semillon

'Semillon stands out for its versatility: its unique natural make-up means it produces superb wines right across the style spectrum, from delicate, dry, aromatic, low-alcohol wines to full, round oaky styles and lusciously sweet, dessert wines.'

Pierre Mansour

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Syrah/Shiraz

Syrah/Shiraz

'Syrah is characterised by being deep in colour, sometimes almost black and unmistakably spicy, with peppery, black-fruit flavours.'

Marcel Orford-Williams

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Tempranillo

Spain's most famous red grape variety, whose name means 'the small early one', is actually a tough cookie thriving in challenging conditions and producing some of the country's best wines.

Pierre Mansour

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Viognier

'The viognier grape likes warmth so it’s no surprise that it found its way to Australia and California where those growers that managed to tame its tendency to heady fruit make some brilliant examples.’

Pierre Mansour

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