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7

Varietals and pronunciations

Every wine grape originates from the same species: Vitis vinifera. When we discuss a grape's "varietal," we're referring to a specific "cultivar" within that species—that is, a particular strain that has been cultivated into its current form.

Grapes grow all over the world, in vastly different regions, over different terrains and within different climates. Some have been selectively bred, shaping them into more than 1,300 varietals of grapes used to make wine today. Being comfortable talking about a wine requires understanding where it comes from—and learning how to pronounce the names of the grapes in it is a logical place to start.

  • Aglianico (ahl-YAHN-ee-koh): This red wine is native to Southern Italy and is known for its musky flavor and firm tannic structure. Aglianico ages well and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Flavors of white pepper, black cherry, smoke, game and spiced plum.
  • Albariño (ahl-bah-REEN-yoh): This aromatic white wine grape grows primarily on the North Atlantic Coast of Spain—believed to have been brought to Spain in the 12th century by monks—and in Portugal. Flavors of lime blossom, melon, grapefruit and lemon.
  • Arneis (ahr-NEYZ): This white varietal hails from Italy’s Piedmont region. Once on the verge of extinction, it made its resurgence in the 1960s and is now grown in California, Australia and New Zealand. Flavors of peach, pear, citrus, flower and almond.
  • Barbera (bahr-BEHR-ah): Grown in various wine regions throughout Italy, Barbera can develop very different flavors depending on region and aging method. Flavors of dark cherry, dried strawberry, plum and blackberry.
  • Cabernet Franc (kah-behr-NAY frahn): Grown mainly in France, Cabernet Franc is the love-child of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and was created sometime in the 1600s. Flavors of raspberry, green olive, mulberry and herb.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (kah-behr-NAY soh-veen-YOHN): Much of the world’s Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in France, followed closely by Chile and then the United States. Cabernet Sauvignon holds the distinction of being the most planted wine grape in the world. Flavors of black currant, cedar, herb and plum.
  • Carménère (kahr-mehn-YEHR): Predominantly grown in Chile, this red grape faced extinction in the 1800s from the phylloxera infestation, but was saved by chance when it was mistaken for Merlot and accidentally planted in Chile. Flavors of plum, celery, black pepper and blackberry.
  • Chardonnay (shahr-doh-NAY): This white varietal is grown many places throughout the world, but is most largely concentrated in France and the United States. Chardonnay is the world’s most planted white wine grape. Flavors of apple, pineapple, butter, nut and pear.
  • Chenin Blanc (sheh-NIHN blahn): This white grape originated in France but now finds its greatest success in South Africa. Depending on the region and country in which it’s grown, the wine it produces can have very different characteristics. For instance, the South African wine Chenin can be described as “light and zesty,” while in Anjou, France, Chenin Blanc is used to create a noble rot dessert wine. Flavors of apple, pineapple, tangerine and honeydew before oak aging.
  • Colombard (cull-OHM-bard): This white grape is originally from the South of France, where it was traditionally used as a blend in the making of Cognac and Armagnac. Its high acidity makes it good for blending, and today it is often used in Californian “jug wines.” Flavors of lime, peach, nectarine and guava.
  • Cortese (cor-tay-ZAY): This white grape comes from Southeastern Piedmont, Italy, and is predominantly associated with the DOCG wine Cortese di Gavi from the province of Alessandria, which indicates a specific Italian origin "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita." Flavors of apple, peach and honeydew.
  • Corvina (kor-VEE-nah): This red grows primarily in Northeastern Italy. It ripens late in the season, and its thick skin lends it to slow air drying. The grapes are traditionally dried on straw mats, then turned into raisin wines like Recioto della Valpolicella. Flavors of cherry liqueur, black fig, carob, cinnamon and plum sauce.
  • Dolcetto (dole-CHEHT-toh): This grape originated in Italy’s Piedmont region, but has since found its way to Australia and the United States. Today, there are seven Dolcetto DOCs and one DOCG. Flavors of blackberry, chocolate, licorice, strawberry and almond.
  • Fiano (fee-AH-noh): Grown throughout Southern Italy for hundreds of years, Fiano can be used to produce everything from dry whites to luscious dessert wines. Flavors of apricot, lime, spice and pine nut.
  • Gamay (gah-MAY): The vast majority of this red wine grape is grown in France, with its next largest grower being Switzerland. Seventy percent of France’s Gamay growth is in the Beaujolais region. Flavors of huckleberry, raspberry, violet, potting soil and banana.
  • Garró (gawr-OH): A traditional Catalan grape variety that was recovered from near extinction by Torres.
  • Gewürztraminer (geh-VERTS-trah-MEE-nehr): This white variety is grown primarily in France and the former Soviet Republic of Moldova. Often known for its sweetness, Gewürztraminer pairs well with Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisine. Flavors of spice, ginger, jasmine, lychee, nut and orange.
  • Glera (gluh-AIR-uh): This white grape is well known in Italy where it was until recently called Prosecco. In 2009, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene was promoted to the status of DOCG and the title “Prosecco” was designated to include only the authentic wines of the Veneto region, not the grapes. Prosecco is characterized by flavors of yellow apple, pear, white peach and apricot.
  • Grenache (greh-NAHSH) (known as Garnacha in Spain): Largely grown in France and Spain, wines made from this red often do well with extended aging—up to 15 or 20 years. In France and Italy, it produces lighter wines, while in Spain, Australia and the United States, it produces fruitier, higher alcohol wines. Flavors of dried strawberry, grilled plum, ruby red grapefruit, leather and licorice.
  • Grüner Veltliner (GROO-nehr vehlt-LEE-nehr): This white wine grape grows almost exclusively in Austria, with small parcels going to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and elsewhere. Grüner Veltliner is known for its high acidity, which makes it age well—but it is also used to produce a sparkling wine. Flavors of yellow apple, green pear, green bean, chervil and white pepper.
  • Malbec (mahl-BEHK): The vast majority of Malbec is grown in Argentina, but this red wine grape originated in Southwest France, where it was one of the six traditional main varieties to make up Bordeaux. After many of France’s Malbec vines were crippled by phylloxera, they were mostly killed off by the great frost of 1956, then replaced with the heartier, more desirable grape Merlot. The grape flourishes in the higher, drier climates of Argentina, and has since become an international star. Flavors of red plum, blueberry, cocoa powder, vanilla and tobacco.
  • Merlot (mehr-LOH): The majority of Merlot is grown in its native France, with the United States coming in at a distant second, followed by Spain and Italy. The best Merlot is said to grow in vineyards with struggling hillside vines. Flavors of raspberry, chocolate, sugar plum, black cherry and cedar.
  • Montepulciano (mon-TA-pull-CHEE-AH-no): This red wine grape is grown almost exclusively in Italy where it is the second most planted red grape after Sangiovese. When aged in oak, Montepulciano takes on deep, rich, black fruit flavors and is best when aged at least four years. Unaged, the wine is much brighter and ready to consume in its youth. When aged, flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, prune, licorice, and oaky flavors of cocoa, vanilla and mocha. Unaged, flavors include sour cherry, red plum, cranberry and raspberry jam.
  • Mourvèdre (moohr-veh-DRAH) (also known as Monastrell in Spain): This red grape varietal originated in Spain and the majority of it is still grown there today. It has such high tannin levels that the French nicknamed it “Etrangle-Chien”—the dog strangler. Flavors of blackberry, black pepper, cocoa, sweet tobacco and roasted meat.
  • Nebbiolo (nehb-bee-YOH-loh): Predominantly grown in Italy, followed by a distant second in Mexico and third in Argentina, this red wine grape is best known for the Italian wine region names Barolo and Barbaresco. Flavors of rose, cherry, leather, clay and anise.
  • Negroamaro (NEH-groh-ah-MAHR-oh): This red wine grape is native to Puglia, Southern Italy, where it grows almost exclusively at the very tip of the boot heel. Negroamaro is often used in blends. Flavors of black cherry, black plum, blackberry, prune and dried herb.
  • Pais (pah-EE-sah): This red wine grape is most widely grown in Chile, where it was believed to have been introduced in the 16th century. In the 21st century, the planting of Pais was replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon. It has long been used in inexpensive "jug wines," but has recently began making a comeback. Flavors of cherry, strawberry and red currant.
  • Parellada (perry-YAH-da): This white grape originated in Catalonia, Spain, and is one of three traditional varieties that are used in the making of Cava.
  • Petite Sirah (Peh-TEET sear-AH): Also known as Durif, this red wine grape was originally discovered in France, but is now grown predominantly in the United States. Petite Sirah is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin, a nearly extinct varietal found in the French Alps. Flavors of sugar plum, blueberry, dark chocolate, black pepper and black tea.
  • Petit Verdot (puh-TEE vehr-DOH): This red wine grape got its start in Bordeaux, France and today is closely divided between Spain, France, Australia and the United States, with the majority in Spain. The name is believed to translate as “little green ones,” because of the grape’s late ripening. In France, this late ripening made it unpopular, but it has found much success in the warmer climates of Spain, Australia and California. Flavors of plum, blackberry, blueberry and black cherry.
  • Pinotage (pee-NO-taj): This red wine grape got its start in South Africa in 1925 when the scientist Abraham Perold crossed the French grapes Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. Today, it is South Africa’s second most planted grape. Flavors of black cherry, tobacco, blackberry, fig and menthol.
  • Pinot Blanc (PEE-noh blahn): This white wine grape is found predominantly in Alsace, France, as well as in Italy, Germany and Austria. Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. Flavors of green apple, citrus, dried fruit, pear and apricot.
  • Pinot Grigio (PEE-noh GREE-joh) / Pinot Gris (pee-NOH gree): Predominantly grown in Italy, the United States and Germany, the same white wine grape makes up both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. Gris is the fruitier French style of the two, while Grigio is the drier Italian style. Flavors of lemon, melon, yellow apple, nectarine and peach.
  • Pinot Noir (pee-NOH nwahr): Originally found in Burgundy, this red wine grape is now grown in several countries, with its highest volumes in France and the United States. Flavors of cranberry, cherry, raspberry, clove and mushroom.
  • Primitivo (pree-mee-TEE-voh): Found predominantly in Southern Italy, this grape is known as Zinfandel in the United States. Flavors of blackberry, strawberry, peach preserves, five spice and sweet tobacco.
  • Querol (care-OH): This Catalan grape variety was rediscovered by the Torres family and wine estate after an ad was placed in a newspaper. Today, Querol is planted at their Grans Muralles Estate in DO Conca de Barberà, and is the only production of this variety in the world.
  • Riesling (REEZ-ling): This white wine grape originates in Germany, where the majority of it is still grown today—followed from a distance by the United States, Australia and several other countries. Riesling is typically made in both sweet and dry styles. Flavors of lime, green apple, beeswax, jasmine and petroleum.
  • Roussanne (roo-SAHN): The majority of this white wine grape is found in the Rhone Valley of France, which is thought to be where it originated. The grape is named for the French “roux,” or reddish-brown, the color of the ripened grape. Flavors of spiced pear, apricot and honey.
  • Sangiovese (sahn-joh-VEH-zeh): This red wine grape is grown predominantly in Italy, where it is more widely planted than any other grape. Because Sangiovese easily mutates to adapt to its environment, there are many variations of the grape throughout its native country. Flavors of red currant, toasted tomato, raspberry, potpourri and clay.
  • Sauvignon Blanc (soh-veen-YOHN blahn): This white wine grape originates in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is still predominantly grown today—followed in a close second by New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and Moldova. The barrel-aged version of this wine was made famous in the 1970s when Robert Mondavi renamed it Fumé Blanc (foo-MAY blanh) in order to overcome Sauvignon Blanc’s lack of popularity in California. Flavors of gooseberry, green melon, grapefruit, white peach and passion fruit.
  • Sémillon (seh-mee-YOHN): The majority of this white wine grape can be found in France—where it is the third most planted white grape variety, behind Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay—and Australia. Sémillon is often found in white Bordeaux blends, and barrel-aged and dessert wine varieties. Flavors of lemon, beeswax, yellow peach, chamomile and saline.
  • Shiraz (sheh-RAHZ): This is the name given to the red wine grape Syrah (see-RAH) when grown in Australia, where it is the most planted grape varietal. Flavors of blackberry, blueberry and sweet tobacco.
  • Syrah (see-RAH): This red wine grape is predominantly grown in France, followed in a close second by Australia, where it’s known as Shiraz (sheh-RAHZ). Flavors of savory plum, olive and green peppercorn.
  • Tempranillo (TEMP-rah-NEE-oh): This red wine grape is mostly grown in Spain where it is the most popular varietal. Flavors of cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco and dill.
  • Vermentino (vehr-mehn-TEE-noh): The majority of this white wine grape is grown in France and Italy, and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Flavors of lime, grapefruit, green apple, almond and daffodil.
  • Viognier (vee-OWN-yay): This white wine grape originated in Southern France where it's predominantly grown, followed by Australia and the United States. Flavors of tangerine, peach, mango, honeysuckle and rose.
  • Zinfandel (ZIN-fahn-dehl): This red wine grape is grown predominantly in the United States, followed by Southern Italy, where it’s known as Primitivo. Zinfandel/Primitivo are genetically identical to the Croatian varietal Tribidrag. Flavors of blackberry, strawberry, peach preserves, five spice and sweet tobacco.