With the grape harvest as a context, the undisputed protagonist of the months of September and October (in the northern hemisphere), we could not fail to talk about the different grapes varieties that exist. However, this is a very broad topic, which we have decided to divide into three parts: the most recognized varieties worldwide; the most famous in Spain; and last but not least, those of Castilla y León.
To contextualize, a striking fact. According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), only ten countries in the world are sufficient to produce 80% of the wine consumed. Of this decalogue, France, Italy and Spain, which occupy the first three places, produce half of this wine. But with which grapes?
Grape varieties France
First, Chardonnay, one of the most important white varieties. Originally from Burgundy, its cultivation is widespread. It is a very versatile variety.
To describe its characteristics we have to back to its native region. The Burgundy sun is the key factor for the wines from this area to have a pale golden color, as well as a light body, high acidity and aromas of apple and pear. In more moderate climate zones, the wines have more body, peach, and citrus aromas. Finally, with warmer temperatures, they acquire tropical aromas (mango, pineapple), high alcohol and low acidity. We find many barrel-fermented Chardonnays, aged on lees, which add more complexity, body, dried fruit and toasted aromas.
On the other hand, the Pinot Noir grape, originally from Burgundy, stands out. It is a red grape variety. Its medium-bodied wine has aromas of red fruits and also hints of game. With low acidity (due to the low tannin content), the fruity flavors of plums, blueberries or strawberries are enhanced on the palate.
We also find the red Merlot grape. This type of berry is grown in the largest producing areas such as France where, together with Chardonnay, it is one of the most widely planted varieties.
The wines of this variety grown in warm areas are characterized by intense violet color, concentrated fruit flavors, velvety tannins, good body and high alcohol; this is the most international style. But like Chardonnay, it changes according to climate. In colder areas such as Bordeaux, we find wines with more herbaceous flavors of ripe strawberry and raspberry; they also have more acidity and also less body and alcohol content. This variety is found as part of many coupages, as in Bordeaux where it is normally found with the Cabernets.
This red variety, Cabernet Sauvignon, is another of the best known and recognized French grapes all over the world. So much so that many people, when they think of red wine, relate it directly to this grape variety. And this is due to the extent of its cultivation, since it is capable of adapting to very diverse climates: from the Okanagan Valley (Canada) to the valley of the Beca (Lebanon).
This versatility gives rise to various types of wines, from young to crianza, aged in French oak barrels – as we do at Barcolobo. As a result, we find a wine with powerful body and dense tannins. During the aging process, the wine takes on a unique toasted flavor. In aroma, it presents floral hints of violets, as well as fruity notes of raspberries and blueberries.
On the other hand, we have its white counterpart, the C. Sauvignon Blanc, also from the Bordeaux region (France). This variety is characterized by the great resistance of its vine, which has also allowed its cultivation to spread to different wine regions. Although it is much less versatile than other types of berries. In fact, its juice is normally used to produce young, aromatic wines of medium acidity. Pale yellow in color, with greenish hues, with herbaceous touches on the palate.
Grape Varieties Italy
In our tour of Europe, we find the next two most important wine regions in the world: Italy and Spain. In these countries, new native grape varieties are appearing, which have also managed to gain a place in the world.
Sangiovese, from the Latin sanguis Jovis (Jupiter’s blood), is, as its name indicates, a red grape. Native to Italy, its cultivation is widespread throughout the country, from Tuscany to Sicily. Also all over the world, from South Africa to South America. As we can deduce, the plant needs warm, dry climates and chalky soil.
This variety gives rise to 14 other different types of grape, among which Brunello or Prugnolo Gentile stand out. The fruit of these vines is characterized by a violet color, with notable acidity and a high content of astringent tannins; it is not a very aromatic variety, with notes of sour cherry and earthy. It is the main grape of Chianti or Bruenello di Montalccino among others, it is part of the “Super Tucans” blend together with C. Sauvignon.
The Trebbiano variety is another widespread grapes variety in Italy, very present in Tuscany and Umbria (although its name seems to indicate that its origin is linked to the Trebbia river). It is one of the most widely planted varieties in this wine region.
This grape is very versatile, and its characteristics vary depending on when it is harvested. At its optimum moment, the wine produced reaches a good acidity. Pale yellow in color, it is noted for its floral and fruity aromas with a hint of bitter almond on the palate. However, if the harvest is extended to the peak of its ripeness, the wine from this grape reaches a higher alcoholic content, reducing its aromas.
Grape varieties Spain
We now turn our attention to Spain, which produces 29.7 million hl (11.8% worldwide and 21% of the EU). In fact, it is the region with the largest vineyard area: a total of 1.018 million hectares. Tempranillo is one of the most important varieties in our country and, to date, the most widely planted red variety, ahead of Garnacha.
Originally from La Rioja, its cultivation has spread throughout Spain, as it adapts very well to all types of soils and climates. Although its best version is found in cold climates. Such diverse conditions give rise to a quite versatile wine, from young to crianza or reserva.
Its fruit, medium to large in size, has a thick, bluish skin. Its juice is characterized by a good body, low acidity (low tannic content) and high alcohol content. It is therefore a high quality wine, fine and dry in the mouth. Its aroma reveals hints of red fruit, vanilla, tobacco and chocolate.
Airén is the most important white grapes in our country and the most widespread and cultivated variety: it occupies a third of the Spanish vineyard. Originally from Castilla-La Mancha (region of Valdepeñas and La Mancha), its berry is of medium size, yellowish green color and thick skin. As a result, we obtain a smooth, tasty wine with a golden hue. In aroma, fruity and citric touches – grapefruit and apple – stand out.
International grape varieties
After describing the strong core of wine production worldwide and its most important grapes, we will review other international grape varieties with great repercussion in their wine-growing regions.
- Shiraz grape. Of Palestinian Jordanian origin, its fruit is rather small to medium in size. Its wine stands out for its bright red color, with slight acidity due to its high content of soft tannins and high alcohol content. In aroma, nuances of forest fruits (blackberries, blackcurrants or raspberries) appear, which, as it ages, change to smoky touches reminiscent of leather.
- Riesling grape. Native to the Rhine region (Germany), this is a grape that adapts to all types of climates. However, its best results are obtained in cold areas. The wine from this berry, characterized by high acidity, takes on different fruity aromas, very intense, where stone fruit and citrus stand out. It is a quite versatile white grape with which different types of wines can be made, from dry to sweet, with medium or light body.
After this tour around the globe, we can say that the most famous varieties worldwide are those that belong to the largest wine regions. Since they have greater production and also more exports to other countries that fall in love with these grapes and extend their cultivation in new territories. If you want to know which are the most important ones in our country, we will tell you next week.