France is the world’s most important wine producing country, with a viticultural history spanning thousands of years and the highest annual production among all nations. Here we look at the grapes that are the driving force behind the French wine industry.
Notable white grape cultivars:
Exclusive to Spain, this grape produces neutral flavours with a light, laidback aroma. The bouquet can be compared to peppers, cherries and roasted meat with a definite tannic bite.
A grape that flourishes in colder climes found in the Burgundy region of France but also in Russia, the Ukraine and Bulgaria. It gives a light white wine which should be drunk young. The aromas are fruity, with crisp apple and zesty lemon being present. Especially well suited for drinking alongside shellfish.
A grape that gives rise to subtle wines which have a thin character with low alcohol content. The aromas produced are rustic – reminiscent of spices and wild herbs. As such many appreciate the light body and gentle tones.
Originating from Piedmont, the name literally means ‘little rascal’ in Piedmontese due to its difficulty to grow. Persistent winemakers are rewarded with a batch of wines with a crisp and floral touch. They tend to be dry with a full body and notes of pears and apricots.
A golden grape indigenous to the volcanic, fertile soils of Santorini and other Aegean islands. It produces dry and sweet wines with definite musk and a syrup texture. Assyrtiko wines and blends contain a bouquet of citrus fruits. The mineral-rich origins of the grape also make themselves present, giving an earthy and robust element to the wine.
Named after the Graeco-Roman god of wine and madness, this variety of white grape was engineered in 1933. It gives rise to exuberant, powerful flavours similar to the punchy, fruity tones of Muscat.
A highly variable grape with a lot of potential. It is used to produce many sorts of wine from the flinty Chablis to the mellow, buttery New World Wines with tropical overtones. It is also used extensively in the making of Champagne. In colder climes it has a lean, sharp taste due to its high acidity. In medium climes it is softer, developing a honeyed and tropical aroma.
An ancient grape variety originally from Egypt with a history of over five thousand years of cultivation. Usually it is vinified into a fruity, dry and full white.
A grape with high levels of acidity which allows it to be used in anything from balanced dessert to sparkling wines. The vigorous fruity flavours are akin to pears and green apples with a definite mineral feel. With aging it takes on a smooth, honeyed character.
A south-eastern Piedmontese grape. It creates wines with moderate acidity combined with light, crisp flavours which pair well with the delicate flavours of fish. They tend to be medium bodied with lime greengage notes.
A grape with a light pink to red skin colour often used in the production of aromatic wines. It has high natural sugar content and a very powerful tropical bouquet of lychees (a fruit tree with which it shares many odorant chemicals). When dry Gewürztraminers have a floral aroma of passion fruits and heady roses. The pungent aroma this grape produces in wines means they are in the unusual position of being ideally suited for drinking alongside Asian cuisine.
A Sicilian grape known for its fresh, floral bouquet with a well-rounded palate laced with tangerine and citrus fruits. The wine is refreshing, character laden and cleansing.
Used to make light, refreshing wines. The freshness is due to a natural acidity, with fruity and floral aromas. They are often lemon or straw coloured. Most commonly used to make the Portuguese wine Vinho Verde.
A grape family that produces wines with deep, bloody colours with noted aromas. The presence of residual sugar also adds a pleasant sweetness to the experience. In their youth Malvasian wines are full-bodied to the extent of being described as “fat” with a rounded, soft texture in the mouth. They are characterized by rich, chocolate flavours and when fortified take on smoky, nutty aspects. With ageing they become nutty, though perish rapidly after vintage.
A family of grapes notable for its sweet, floral aroma. These wines produce a ‘grapey’ quality which is instantly recognisable. Grown worldwide, it is speculated to be the oldest domesticated grape variety.
Popular in Spain and South Africa, Palomino grapes are known for their use in manufacturing sherry and fortified wines. It has low acidity and sugar, which is ideal for making sherry. Tastes include honeydew, raw nuts and citrus overtones.
Originating in the Rhine region of Germany, the Riesling is flowery to the extent of almost being perfumed. It is used to make dry and sweet sparkling white wines. The pure and crisp wines it gives rise to have traces of lemon and lime which takes on a petrol-like hint with maturation.
An ancient grape from the Caucasus Mountains bordering Armenia and Turkey. It has been present for 5000 years. Rkatsiteli wines are famed for their floral and spicy constitution with a lengthy, crisp finish.
A green-skinned grape from the Bordeaux region of France. It produces crisp, dry wines with a fresh feel to them. It also forms the basis of many dessert wines. The bouquet fluctuates according to the climate it is cultivated in. This can vary from wild grass all the way to sweetly tropical.
A golden-skinned grape used in the production of sweet, dry white wines. Mostly grown in France and Australia, it has a herbaceous bouquet with elements of grapefruits, grass and citrus. It is known to be a mellow, neutral wine.
Cultivated in Alsace, this grape produces a pleasant, simple wine with flavours of light spice and flowers.
A grape with a reputation for being especially hard to grow. Legend has it that it draws its name from the Roman pronunciation of the via Gehennae
– literally “Road to Hell”, a possible allusion to the difficulties inherent in growing this grape. Grown almost exclusively in the northern Rhone regions of France, the grape has a distinct floral and fruity aroma due to the presence of terpenes. The taste can be compared to peaches and honeysuckle underpinned by a trace of bitter almond. Wines produced using this sort of grape have high alcohol content.
Notable red grape cultivars:
A predominantly Italian grape with low tannins. Young wines produce fresh bouquets of red and black berries – ranging from cherries to blueberries. Often the wines are imbued with the flavour of toasted oak barrels which results in a complex, vanilla flavour. With age the wines fruity textures develop into more bitter, dried fruits.
An Austrian and German wine grape that is usually turned into a brisk, light red wine whose hallmarks are a fresh, tarty bouquet with a pleasantly light body.
A dark-skinned and late-ripening variety which produces wines rich in tannin. It is known as the ‘Pinot Noir of the East’ due to its popularity and ease of growth in Eastern Europe. Blaufränkisch wines are famed for their rich tannin content, which produces a spicy character with a masculine kick.
Native to Valencia, Spain this grape produces fantastic roses. It produces hefty reds but has potential for intricate and delicate wines. It is notable for its high anti-oxidant content which underpins the health benefits of red wine consumption.
A lighter parent to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is often blended as it bestows wines with a peppery perfume. Like Sauvignon it is incredibly flexible and depending on the region grown it can give aromas such as tobacco, violets and raspberries.
Grown all over the world the Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular grape varieties internationally. Easy to cultivate, the grapes have thick skins and are known for their hardiness. The flavours and fragrances produced by this flexible grape vary enormously depending on the climate it is grown in. In cooler climates it is vegetal with a taste like that of a bell pepper. In medium climates it takes on a minty, eucalyptus-like character with an undertone much like pencil lead. As things get hotter the wine becomes sugary and fruity, like jam. The texture of the wine is brisk due to the firm tannins.
Best known in the production of Medoc wines, it was thought to have been destroyed by the phylloxera outbreak. However, cuttings were transported to Chile in the mid-nineteenth century where it has been unaffected. It produces low yields with gentle tannins softer than those found in Cabernet Sauvignon. Known in Chile as Grande Vidure they impact cherry-like flavours with smoky, spicy and earthy notes. You might also come across tobacco, dark chocolate and leather.
A black grape from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The name literally means “little sweet one” although the wines produced are especially dry. A light and easy to drink wine with aromas of licorice, prunes and black cherries. More tannic strands have a bitter finish akin to almonds.
Domina wines are tannin rich and full-bodied with aromas of candied cherry blended with black pepper with overtones of toast. They are mostly grown in the Franconia region of Germany.
A German wine that produces dark red wines with a light, fragrant bouquet with a weighty, long lasting palate.
Produces deep, dark wines unlike most German varieties which are lighter. It has highly intense flavours of tobacco and dark chocolate with a long, satisfying finish.
Famously used in the Beaujolais Nouveau wine from France. It should be drunk young as it is a light, fruity red. First mentioned in the 1400s, it is a very old cultivar. They are often subject to carbonic maceration which gives the wine hints of tropical fruits such as bananas. Aromas of sour cherries, black pepper and raisined blackcurrants are often encountered.
A spicy, berry-flavoured variety which needs hot, dry conditions to flourish. It is known for its soft taste. Although usually blended Grenache wines are described as accessible and fruity with the aromas and flavours often compared to black fruits, with a subtle spicy kick similar to black olives.
An Italian grape from the Emilia-Romagna region first cultivated by the ancient Etruscans. These grapes can be used in the production of frothy, slightly sparkling reds that are designed to be drunk young. Lambrusco wines have a strawberry flavour with a slight bitter finish and dry texture.
Produces light, pale and pungent wines that are fit for drinking young. It produces a smooth array of aromas evocative of fresh herbs, wildflowers and raspberries.
Merlot-based wines generally have a medium body and have a tart assortment of tastes and aromas reminiscent of plum, berries, leather and chocolate. The wine has a supple and silky texture.
An Italian variety of grape from the Piedmont region. Nebbiolo grapes are known for their high tannic content and complex blend of aromas such as tar, cherries, tobacco and roses. Wines produced using Nebbiolo grapes generally need several years of ageing to balance the tannins with other characteristics of the wine. It is also known for its high acidity which gives a pleasant, sharp tang.
A Chilean wine that gives rise to thin bodied, rustic red wines which have a light brown to golden hue. It was originally carried by the conquistadores to South America.
Petit Verdot is a variety of red wine grape, principally used in classic Bordeaux blends. It ripens much later than the other varieties in Bordeaux, often too late, so it fell out of favour in its home region. When it does ripen, it is added in small amounts to add tannin, colour and flavour to the blend. It has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into single varietal wine. It is also useful in 'stiffening' the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
When young its aromas have been likened to banana and pencil shavings. Strong tones of violet and leather develop as it matures.
Grown mainly in cooler regions and strongly connected to the Burgundy region of France. It is notorious for being difficult to cultivate and transform into wine. Pinot wines are considered to be some of the most flavoursome with a dazzling array of aromas and textures. The wine usually takes on a light to medium body with a scent not unlike black cherries or raspberries.
An Italian grape most commonly associated with Tuscany. It produces fresh, fruity flavours like strawberry with a mild spiciness. With ageing it takes on a sophisticated oaky tone. Wines that use these grapes are especially food friendly and can unlock a fantastic combination of flavours when paired with traditional Italian cuisine.
A grape with high tannins and acidity used to produce especially powerful red wines. Benefitting a medium to hot climate the grape evokes flavours such as dark chocolate, smoked meat and black pepper. In hotter conditions this develops into a delicious liquorice taste.
Referred to as Spain’s ‘noble grape’, it forms the basis of many full-bodied red wines. Often drunk young, Tempranillo wines are considered to be especially smooth when aged and oaked. The scents and flavours evoked are of vanilla, herbs, plums and tobacco.
A grape of Croatian origins that gives rise to robust red wines. Grapes cultivated in cooler areas give aromas of red berry fruits whereas anise, pepper and blackberry creep in as origins become warmer.
An Austrian red wine grape variety with some presence in Canada. It has a definite bite with a fruity character of cherries and blackcurrants.