Varietals to Know for Certified Exam

WHITE WINES

ALBARIÑO Spain: • Rías Baixas *Unoaked

CHARDONNAY France - Burgundy: • Chablis • Côte d’ Or • Mâconnais * Village or Premier Cru United States - California • Napa Valley • Sonoma County • Central Coast

CHENIN BLANC France - Loire Valley: • Vouvray *Demi-Sec - Off-Dry

GEWURZTRAMINER France: • Alsace

PINOT GRIGIO Italy: • Friuli • Trentino - Alto Adige

RIESLING Germany: • Mosel • Rhein *Kabinett or Spätlese - Off-Dry

SAUVIGNON BLANC France - Loire Valley: • Sancerre • Pouilly-Fumé New Zealand: • Marlborough TORRONTÉS Argentina: • Salta • Mendoza

RED WINES

CABERNET FRANC France - Loire Valley: • Chinon • Bourgueil
The Cabernet Franc grape is native to southwest France and makes exceptional Bordeaux blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.Some grape growers plant Cabernet Franc in Italy, parts of Europe, the United States, China, and Kazakhstan. Cabernet Franc is also used to make ice wine.

Best Cabernet Franc wines: 

  • 2005 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg: $685
  • 2017 Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Matarocchio Bolgheri Superiore: $527

CABERNET SAUVIGNON France - Bordeaux: • Graves • Haut-Médoc United States - California: • Napa Valley • Sonoma County

GAMAY France - Burgundy: • Beaujolais *with carbonic maceration

GRENACHE France - Rhône Valley: • Châteauneuf-du-Pape • Gigondas MALBEC Argentina: • Mendoza

MERLOT France - Bordeaux: • Pomerol • Saint-Émilion United States - California: • Napa Valley • Sonoma County NEBBIOLO Italy - Piedmont: • Barolo • Barbaresco

PINOT NOIR France: • Côte d’ Or * Village or Premier Cru United States- California: • Napa Valley (Carneros) • Sonoma County • Central Coast United States- Oregon: • Willamette Valley

SANGIOVESE Italy - Tuscany: • Brunello di Montalcino • Chianti Classico

SYRAH France – Rhône Valley: • Northern Rhône Valley Australia: • South Australia • Western Australia • Victoria TEMPRANILLO Spain: • Rioja *Reserva or Gran Reserva

ZINFANDEL United States- California: • Napa Valley • Sonoma County

1. Merlot

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Merlot (from the French “merle” for blackbird) is the flagship Bordeaux grape used in both single varietal wines, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blends.

Bordeaux red blends that use Merlot are full-bodied and acidic with a velvety tannin mouthfeel and fruity flavors.

Some grape growers plant Merlot widely outside its French home as well — in places like California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa.

Best Merlot wines to buy:

2. Pinot Noir

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Pinot Noir is an ancient red wine grape variety with obscure origins in Burgundy, France. Its grape vines demand careful management and harvesting from the wine grape grower.

The translucent red-hued wines made from Pinot Noir grapes boast a layered flavor profile of fruit, chocolate, licorice, and mushroom.

The Pinot Noir grape variety is also used for producing sparkling wines.

Best Pinot Noir wines:

3. Cabernet Sauvignon

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The Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is one of the most widespread ones in the world. Developed as an accidental cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, it produces low yields resistant to rot and pests.

In cooler climates, Cabernet Sauvignon produces paler and highly acidic wines, while the wines from warmer regions are darker, densely flavored, and mildly acidic.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon wines:

  • 2013 Ghost Horse Vineyard 'Spectre' Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California: $5,295
  • 2003 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA: $4,267

4. Cabernet Franc

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The Cabernet Franc grape is native to southwest France and makes exceptional Bordeaux blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Some grape growers plant Cabernet Franc in Italy, parts of Europe, the United States, China, and Kazakhstan. Cabernet Franc is also used to make ice wine.

Best Cabernet Franc wines: 

  • 2005 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg: $685
  • 2017 Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Matarocchio Bolgheri Superiore: $527

5. Syrah and Shiraz

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Syrah and Shiraz are two names of the same red wine grape. Syrah is the original name of the variety native to the Northern and Southern Rhone regions in France, while Shiraz is its Australian name.

Syrah (Shiraz) is a trendy red wine grape with an intense spicy and fruity nose. During winemaking, some Syrah wines undergo malolactic fermentation that gives them a distinct buttery finish.

Interestingly, the Syrah grape variety is also used to produce sparkling wine.

Best Syrah wines:

6. Grenache

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Grenache is a late-ripening, heat-resistant grape with low tannin levels. Native to the Aragon wine region of Spain, it has become popular worldwide.

The pale hue of Grenache wines is a deceptive cover for their candied fruit and spicy flavours.

The grape is usually blended with other grape varieties in the French Southern Rhone region. But in Spain, it is also vinified as a single varietal wine.

Best Grenache wines:

  • 1990 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve: $4,806 
  • 2013 Alvaro Palacios L'Ermita Velles Vinyes: $2,086

7. Gamay

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Gamay is mostly grown in the French region of Burgundy. It’s the main grape used in the light and fruity Beaujolais wines.

Most Gamay wines are medium-bodied with a soft tannin mouthfeel, bright acidity, and red fruit flavors.

Best Gamay wines:

  • 2011 Yvon Metras Fleurie Cuvee l'Ultime: $271
  • 2014 Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon 'Cuvee 3.14': $114

8. Tempranillo

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Tempranillo is an early-ripening Spanish red wine grape mainly used to make high-quality Rioja blends with Gamay and Carignan. It’s also grown in Portugal, Australia, South America, the USA, and South Africa.

It produces an aromatic ruby red wine with an array of berry, plum, vanilla, and herb flavours.

Best Tempranillo wines: 

9. Sangiovese

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The Sangiovese grape has an Italian origin that dates back to the 6th century. It’s the main grape used in famous Tuscan wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.

It produces highly acidic, full-bodied, tannic wines that age well in a cellar.

An excellent complement to Italian cuisine, wines made with the Sangiovese grape have a flavorful palate of black currant, tobacco, cinnamon, clove, and thyme.

Best Sangiovese wines:

  • 1990 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG: $1,728
  • 1978 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Toscana IGT - Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: $2,324

10. Zinfandel

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Zinfandel is a Croatian grape most popular in the US. It’s genetically similar to its Italian twin, Primitivo.

It produces a range of wines based on the terroir of the vineyard where it comes from.

The Zinfandel reds are intense with distinct fruity and spicy flavors. The Zinfandel grape also produces the celebrated sweet American wine — White Zinfandel.

Best Zinfandel wines:

  • 2013 Dark Matter Wines Zinfandel: $200
  • 2018 Martinelli Jackass Hill Zinfandel: $139

11. Carmenere

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Carmenere (meaning “crimson”) is one of the six red grape varieties used in traditional red Bordeaux blends. Carmenere is late-ripening, which makes it challenging to be grown for any wine grape grower. Today, it’s mostly grown in Chile.

Carmenere has a spicy, herbaceous character (similar to Merlot) and makes exceptional blends with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Best Carmenere wines:

  • 2010 Vina von Siebenthal 'Tatay de Cristobal' Carmenere: $216
  • 2008 Concha y Toro Carmin de Peumo Carmenere: $125

12. Malbec

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Malbec is one of the Bordeaux grapes that gained fame in Argentina and gradually became a global favorite. It’s a thin-skinned grape varietal that produces different wines depending on the vineyard terroir and the techniques used by a winery.

The Argentinian Malbec wines have softer tannins and bold fruity flavors, while the French Malbec offers more savory notes.

Best Malbec wines:

  • 2010 Tiano & Nareno Travesia 1908: $312
  • 2014 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Chanares Estate Malbec: $252

13. Petite Sirah

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The Californian Petite Sirah grape is originally from the French Rhone wine region. It produces dark-colored wine with chewy tannins and complex spice, plum, and pepper flavors.

Best Petite Sirah wines:

  • 1998 Turley Wine Cellars Hayne Vineyard Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, USA: $149
  • 2009 Prager Winery & Port Works Royal Escort Port, Napa Valley, USA: $200

14. Petit Verdot

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Petit Verdot serves as a blending grape in Bordeaux and the New World wine regions. The flavorful palate of blackberry, licorice, pepper, and dark chocolate makes it an exquisite complement to smoky meat dishes.

Best Petit Verdot wines:

  • 2001 Abadia Retuerta P V Petit Verdot Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon: $386
  • 2012 Passopisciaro 'Franchetti' Rosso: $123

It’s time for the white wines now!

9 Most Popular White Wine Grapes

Here are some of the prominent white wine grape varieties:

  1. Chardonnay
  2. Sauvignon Blanc
  3. Riesling
  4. Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
  5. Chenin Blanc
  6. Viognier
  7. Semillon
  8. Gewurztraminer
  9. Muscat

1. Chardonnay

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Chardonnay is one of the most widely grown white wine grape varieties native to Burgundy, France. It’s an integral component of sparkling wines like Champagne and many creamy, single-varietal wines and blends.

Chardonnay wines boast hints of butter, tropical fruit, vanilla, and coconut.

Best Chardonnay wines:

  • 2014 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru: $19,273
  • 2002 Leroy Domaine d'Auvenay Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru: $33,497

2. Sauvignon Blanc

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The highly adaptable Sauvignon Blanc produces excellent dry whites. It’s grown in different wine regions (particularly New Zealand) even though its roots can be traced back to the Bordeaux region in France.

Sauvignon Blanc boasts an intense aroma and a delectable palate of elderflower, gooseberry, passionfruit, green olive, and asparagus — a fine treat for any wine lover.

Best Sauvignon Blanc wines:

  • 2011 Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc: $8,538
  • 2003 Benjamin-Louis - Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Asteroide, Loire Valley, France: $2,691

3. Riesling

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The Riesling grape makes some of the best age-worthy white wines in the world. The Riesling grape is also used in ice wine production.

This white wine grape is widely cultivated in Germany, France, Austria, New Zealand, Canada, and the US.

Best Riesling wines:

  • 1959 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese: $41,094
  • 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese: $7,027

4. Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)

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Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (“Pinot” meaning pinecone and “gris” meaning grey) is a mutant variant of Pinot Noir grapes, native to the French Burgundy region. Originally called Pinot Gris, the grape is known as Pinot Grigio in Lombardy, Italy.

This grape is also grown in Switzerland, Hungary, and Germany.

It produces white, rose, and orange wines with a light body, great acidity, and citrusy tasting notes.

Best Pinot Grigio wines:

  • 1989 Gravner Anfora Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT: $275
  • 2013 Dario Princic Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT: $93

5. Chenin Blanc

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Chenin Blanc is a popular white wine grape variety in South Africa and France. It creates wines with high acidity and a medium body.

The grape can be used in diverse wine styles, such as dry, sweet, and sparkling wine.

Best Chenin Blanc wines:

  • 1990 Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Moelleux 'Goutte d'Or', Loire Valley, France: $488
  • 2017 Richard Leroy Les Noels de Montbenault Chenin, Loire Valley, Vin de France: $466

6. Viognier

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You may find Viognier in various wine styles. The most celebrated Viognier wine is Condrieu, produced in Rhone Valley.

Viognier is a low-yielding, drought-resistant grape that combines Chardonnay’s texture with Sauvignon Blanc’s vitality and Gewurtztramminer’s tropical aromas.

Native to Rhone Valley, Viognier is also a favored white varietal in the US and Australia.

Best Viognier wines:

  • 1970 Chateau-Grillet: $375
  • 2018 M. Chapoutier Condrieu Coteaux de Chery: $230

7. Semillon

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Semillon is a high-yielding, golden-hued grape variety that produces dry and sweet white wines. It’s primarily grown in France and Australia.

Semillon wines reveal rich, citrusy flavors and elegant complexity.

Best Semillon wines:

  • 1990 Chateau Coutet Cuvee Madame: $653
  • 1909 Chateau Caillou: $1,950

8. Gewurztraminer

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Gewurztraminer is a derivative of Sauvignon Blanc (or the Italian Traminer). The grape is found in France, Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand.

Gewurztraminer wine has an opulent aroma bouquet of lychee, rose petal, ginger, and grapefruit.

Best Gewurztraminer wines:

  • 2002 Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Selection de Grains Nobles, Alsace, France: $280
  • 2013 Cantina Termeno - Kellerei Tramin 'Epokale' Gewurztraminer Alto Adige: $96

9. Muscat

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Muscat refers to a group of 200 grape varieties used to prepare various wines globally. Muscat wines are aromatic with spicy and floral notes.

The Muskat momjanski is a Croatian grape variety used in sweet dessert wines.

Best Muscat wines:

  • 1875 D'Oliveiras Moscatel Reserva Vintage: $1,549
  • 2015 Groot Constantia Grand Constance Muscat: $150