Each type of wine uses a different grape variety to give it a distinct taste and color. Each grape variety offers a unique color, size, skin thickness and acidity. These characteristics are often influenced by the area in which the grapes are grown. An experienced wine maker knows how to blend and choose from the many grape varieties to produce a high quality wine.
The science, production and study of grapes for the sake of winemaking is known as viticulture. Viticulture is helpful in vinification, or winemaking.
More than 10,000 documented grape varieties exist, but very few of these are used on a commercial scale. Only three grape varieties are used for raisin production and less than one dozen are consumed as table grapes. Approximately 230 varieties, however, are used in the production of fine wines.
Although more than 200 varieties of grapes are used to make wine, the majority of the wine-consuming public focuses on only a handful. In fact, many wine experts believe that wine drinkers are so focused on Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties that they do not know about the other grape varieties that are available.
Approximately 80 grape varieties can be counted among those of most importance or interest to American consumers. There are two main types of vinification grape varieties:
- black or red grapes
- white grapes.
Wines made from single grape breeds are also known as varietal wines. However, many wines blend multiple grape varieties.
Popular Wine-Making Grapes
While there are too many wine grape varieties to name, a few that are more popular among wine makers and consumers include:
- Chardonnay: This grape makes one of the most famous wines and is the most used of the white grape family. It comes from the Burgundy and Champagne provinces of France and is usually aged in oak barrels.
- Merlot: This red grape is related to Cabernet Sauvignon and is often mixed with it for flavor. It makes a wine that is smooth, dry and rich in flavor. It is a bit harder to grow this grape variety due to its susceptibility to fungus and other mold diseases.
- Pinotage: This red grape is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes and is developed and grown in South Africa. Wines made from pinotage grapes contain lots of fruit flavoring.
- Sangiovese: This grape is used in the Tuscany region of northern Italy for Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. The Sangiovese are somewhat spicy and have excellent acid levels, as well as a smooth texture. California vintners have also attempted to plant and grow this grape.
- Shiraz or Syrah: This is a red grape known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia. Both names are often used in the United States, depending on the winery. The warmer climates will bring sweeter and riper wines, while the cooler climates produce spicier and more peppery flavors.
- Zinfindel: This is a red grape that is native to California. Many wines are made from it due to its delicious fruit flavors and spicy hues.