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Wine Basics: Red Wine Grapes

butterbites's picture

Alright, so I have been in California for a year, and spent a year in France before that, and believe you me, I have drunk more wine in these two years or so than I had ever before. And it has taught me a lot. For example, I never knew you could get drunk just drinking wine. Lousy jokes apart, even though I still cant taste one wine from the other, except my favorite – Zinfandel, I have at least learned enough to write a few blogs here.


My biggest problem when I started with wines was the names. To me they were just fancy names till I noticed that there were multiple companies that were using the same fancy name. Eureka! Most wines are made from just one or two grape varieties. Once you know them, you’ll able to talk the talk and drink the drink much better. Here is my 2 cents on key Red Grape varieties:


Cabernet Sauvignon
It is a variety of red grape, which is grown across the world – Bordeaux, California, Italy, Spain, and Eastern Europe. It gets its name from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc as it is known to be a cross of the two. The wine mixes very well other varieties such as Shiraz and Merlot and brings depth to the softer wines. As a group, Cabernet Sauvignon wines are generally full-flavored, with a stronger flavor than Merlot for instance, and with a smooth and lingering "finish". The wine can have different aroma depending on the region that it is grown in. Those made in Bordeaux are characterised by a smell of violets, blackcurrant fruit, and spice. Those from Eastern Europe wines of this grape can often share the aromas of their French counterparts, but are more often dominated by aromas of chocolate, ripe berries, oak, and pepper. In Australia, there is often a strong smell of eucalyptus.


Merlot is Bordeaux’s most popular and widely planted grape, and Bordeaux wines are arguably the most rich red wines. It is used as a blending grape as well. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot an ideal grape to blend with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. The name comes from the French regional patois word "merlot", which means "young blackbird". The name came either because of the grape's beautiful dark-blue color, or due to blackbirds' fondness for grapes. Merlot is produced primarily in France, Italy, California, and Romania. It is planted on smaller scale in other countries such as Australia, Switzerland etc. Merlot grown in hot regions can produce lesser rich, over-alcoholic versions, but those grown in colder regions such as Washington, US, produce clearly defined, richer wines. Also compared to Cabernet, a Merlot grape tends to have higher sugar content.  

Stay tuned for part II, I am too tired to type more tonight …


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joanne.cain's picture
butterbites's picture
Wine Basics: Red Wine Grapes