Wine and Travel Learn About Wine Winery Notes Wine Reviews
Varietal Wines

What are They?

Varietal wines are typically more expensive and of higher quality than generic wines. They are named after the single variety of grape that makes up at least 75% of the wine. Most high-quality wines are closer to 100%.

Red Varietal Wines
Barbera (Bar-BARE-ah): Medium-bodied with fruity flavors and strong red color.

Cabernet Franc (Cab-Air-nay FrahN): Often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux to add bouquet.

Cabernet Sauvignon: (Cab-air-nay So-veen-Yo): Most popular red wine grape used in many American and "foreign" red blends, or as a 100% varietal. Its high tannin content makes it ideal for aging, to produce great reds. Medium- to full-bodied with deep red color. Plum, black pepper and berry-like aromas and flavors.

Charbono (Shar-BOE-noe): Simple, robust red wine.

Gamay Beaujolais(Gam-may Boe-zho-lay): Light, fruity and slightly sweet wine. It should be consumed within one or two years of its harvest. The French drink it chilled.

Grenache (Grey-NAHSH): Used in red blends. Often used to produce rose wines.

Merlot (Mare-LOW): Used in red blends. Full-bodied, smooth and mellow with spice, plum and cherry flavors.

Nebbiolo (Nay-BYOH-low): Intense aromas and flavors of black fruit.

Pinot Meunier (Pee-noe moe-Nyah): Often used in Champangne. Infrequently seen as a varietal alone.

Pinot Noir (Pee-noe-Nwahr): Cherry red color, complex, light, to medium-bodied with light tannin. Velvety texture, cherry flavors.

Petite Syrah (Peh-tee See-rah): Rich, dark color, aromatic, high in tannin.

Sangiovese (Sahn-joe-VAY-zeh): Hearty, dry, with flavors of black cherry.

Shiraz (Shee-rahz): Also known as Syrah (see below).

Syrah (See-rah): Rich, dark color, aromatic, high in tannin. Age-worthy wine.

Valpolicella (Vahl-poe-lee-CHEL-ah): Light-bodied, robust, ranges from sweet to dry.

Verdicchio (Veht-DEEY-yo): Tart and suffused with an appealing bitter-almond quality.

White Zinfandel (Zin-fahn-DELL: Semi-sweet to sweet. Fruity, floral, spicy in aroma and taste. Made into a "Blush" or "Rose" from the Zinfandel grape, but fermented without the red skins.

Zinfandel (Zin-fahn-DELL): Medium- to full-bodied. Fruity and spicy, flavors and scents of black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, currant and cinnamon.

White Varietal Wines
Chardonnay (Shar-doe-nay): Most popular and well-known white wine grape, with its origin in Burgundy, produces a dry, complex wine, medium- to full-bodied, and varies from green apple to pineapple and tropical aromas and flavors. When aged in oak, it may produce typical flavors of vanilla and spice.

Chenin Blanc (Shey-naN BlaN): Light-bodied wine, ranging from dry to semi-sweet, with flavors of honeydew and melon.

French Colombard (Cole-um-bar): Inexpensive, slightly sweet wine. Should be drunk young.

Fume Blanc (Foo-may-BlahN): Dry Sauvignon Blanc like white wine, invented by Robert Mondavi in the 1970s.

Gewuerztraminer (Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur): Floral aroma. Ranges from semi-sweet to dry, with some spice (Gewuerz). Alsace-grown shows more characteristics of Gewuerztraminer than grown in any other wine region.

Mueller-Thurgau (Mew-lehr Toor-gow): Slightly lighter than Riesling. Aromatic, semi-sweet to dry.

Muscadet (Moos-cah-day): Light, dry white with cantaloup aromas.

Muscat (Moos-caht): Sweet, fruity. Musky and grapefruit aromas.

Pinot Blanc (Pee-noe-BlahN): Slightly fruity, medium-bodied.

Pinot Gris (Pee-noe Gree): Dry, crisp and acidic with musky aroma. (French name for Pinot Grigio - see below).

Pinot Grigio (Pee-noe Gree-joe): Italian name for Pinot Gris (see above).

Riesling (REESE-ling): Slightly sweet and acidic. Floral aroma and flavor of apples.

Sauvignon Blanc (So-veen-yawn Blahn): Light-bodied, medium dry, fragrant, crisp, fruity and grassy in aroma and flavor.

Scheurebe (SHOY-ray-beh): Cross between Sylvaner and Riesling.

Semillon (Say-mee-yoN): Medium-bodied, grassy, ranging from dry to sweet, sometimes slightly musky.

Viognier (Vee-ohn-yay): Light with floral scent. Enjoy when young.

White Riesling (reese-ling): Also known as Johannesburg Riesling (see Riesling above).