Did you know that there are about 10,000 grape varietals used to make wine?
That’s a lot of choice for the average wine drinker! However, with all these different varieties only six are considered ‘noble‘ or principal grape varieties. These are varietals we see all over the world on wine labels everywhere. The scientific name is Vitus vinifera. You may also hear them referred to as the European grape varietals, as they originated in Europe. However, there are many, many more
These are the Commonly Recognized 6 International (Noble) Grape Varieties:
Plus, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) also recognizes Shiraz/Syrah as a core noble varietal. These noble grapes are distinctive in character and flavour, and recognizable no matter where they’ve been grown. They’re also known as “noble” as they have established a reputation for producing outstanding wines time and time again.
Noble (International) White Grape Varieties
#1 International White Grape Variety: Chardonnay
One of the most well-known grapes in the world and a native of France, Chardonnay is planted and grown with ease in a number of different climates and soils. The grapes produce a drier style of wine with a tremendous amount of flavour range. Cooler climate Chardonnays possess flavours of green fruit, citrus, and high acidity, like the classic wines of France, Chablis and Champagne. Warmer climate Chardonnays possess more stone fruit and tropical fruit flavours (think peach, pineapple and banana), which are common characteristics in New World Chardonnays from California.
#2 White Noble Grape Variety: Sauvignon Blanc
Like Chardonnay grapes, Sauvignon Blanc has little difficulty adapting to different climate and soil regions, and can be found growing in both cooler and warmer climates. Also a native of France, Sauvignon Blanc grapes produce fruity, light to medium-bodied, dry wines that are refreshing with high acidity. New Zealand is a popular producer of Sauvignon Blanc wines as well as Sancerre and Pouilly Fume in France.
#3 International White Grape Variety: Riesling
Originating from the Rhine region of Germany, Riesling is a grape with tremendous range. It can be used to make dry, semi-sweet or sweet wines, with light to medium-body, still or sparkling and abound with flavour. Common flavour characteristics include stone fruits, citrus, and florals. Riesling is known as being “terroir-expressive,” meaning the characteristics of the wine are greatly influenced by the region in which its grown.
Noble (International) Black Grape Varieties
#1 Black Noble Grape Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Another widely planted grape, Cabernet Sauvignon is a super versatile grape that like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, will grow in a number of different climates and soils. Cabernet Sauvignon is a big, bold varietal that results in a dark red wine with lots of tannins, acidity and powerful aromas, and are medium to full-bodied. Typical flavours found in Cabernet Sauvignons include blackcurrant, black cherry, bell pepper, and mint. Because of the high levels of tannins, oak is often used to soften the tannic structure, or Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with other varietals to add softness and balance.
#2 International Black Grape Variety: Merlot
A popular grape, Merlot is a softer alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. A full-bodied wine with low to medium tannins, Merlot is a super fruity wine, with lots of strawberry, plum, blackberry, and black cherry on the nose. As previously mentioned, Merlot is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a lovely wine with bigger tannins, acidity and fragrant fruit aromas.
#2 Black Noble Grape Variety: Pinot Noir
Also dubbed the “heartbreak grape,” Pinot Noir is a more difficult grape to grow. Another native of France, Pinot Noir produces a wine with a much lighter body and colour as well as low to medium tannins and high acidity, at least compared to its companions on the noble grape list. Pinot Noir is often used in Champagne production.
Bonus: International Black Grape: Syrah/Shiraz
Known in France as Syrah and Shiraz in Australia, these grapes produce rich, powerful, peppery wines that are deep red, full-bodied with medium to high tannins. Common flavours include cherry, blackberry, black pepper, cloves, and mint. Many wines undergo an oak barrel treatment to add vanilla and more spice. Of course, wine characteristics are shaped by their growing region, as seen in the difference between French grown grapes and Australian grown grapes.