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 particular seasonal
weather conditions of that appellation (vintage), 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 her skills in applying them.
But among all these factors, grape variety
has the dominant effect on wine flavor. Take any World Famous Vineyard
(or even an entire Appellation), plant it with a variety
other 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.
Variety is truly the spice of life, as Paso Man entertainingly explains in this short YouTube segment:
The word "varietal" is only used properly as an adjective, never as a noun...1
Varietal character, 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 in 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 single-variety
wines and blends they produce.
see table and links below)
"White" grapes are listed in GREEN,
while "black" (red) grapes are in PURPLE. Not all varieties are listed (not even close to all). Not all listed varieties are yet profiled/linked (underlined). Grapes 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. For additional
information, please use the Related Links list below the table
LINKS Tim Ramey
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.
Dettweiler, of the German Federal Centre
for Breeding Research on Cultivated Plants, gave us her kind permission to reproduce
some of the grape cluster photos from their web site (although the pages are no longer available online). There is
a database, however, for Scientific
Literature in the
fields of viticulture and enology.
Many countries maintain databases of plant genetics, including the Vitis International Variety Catalogue, based in Germany. Many others may be accessed by following the "Important Links" button in the left column of their home page. Some of these include:
The University of California at Davis 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.
Wines Grown in Slovenia has information about and illustrations of many familiar varieties and also some unique to Eastern Europe, both ancient
The Alcoholand Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau division of the United States Treasury Department controls and maintains the American Grape Variety Names allowed for use on labels of wines produced in the USA.
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; this wealth of valuable information is an excellent starting point, despite random obsolescences.