Popular Red & White Grapes

Lesson Objectives:

Know the basic grapes, their personalities, and optimal drinking window. Know what to buy / order in restaurant. Associate grapes to wine regions.

Common Red Grapes

These 5 red grapes can be found on most restaurant menu. Each grape has a unique character. Try every type to know which you like.

1. Cabernet Sauvignon -- The King of Red Grapes

Known as the king of red wines, it is primary grape in the French Bordeaux. Most associated aroma is blackcurrant, the longer aged one might have hints of cedar and cigar. Intensive, complex and full-bodied at its best, Cabernet Sauvignon’s high tannic backbone allows its flavor to improve with aging.

Optimal Drinking Window: 10+ years for Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe (top quality French Bordeaux). 2-6 years for less complex ones.

Recommended Regions: Bordeaux (France). Napa, Sonoma (US). Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley (Australia).

2. Merlot -- The Cab Without the Pain

Merlot is often known as the “cab without the pain”. Compared to cabernet sauvignon, it is less tannic, rounder, and medium-bodied. Commonly associated aromas are black cherries and plums. Many producers use Merlot to “round up” a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Pomerol and St Emilion (Bordeaux regions) use Merlot as their primary grapes.

Optimal Drinking Window: Many perfect for enjoyment between 2-6 years. A complex Merlot can age well for 10+ years.

Recommended Regions: Pomerol, St Emilion (Bordeaux, France). Napa, Sonoma (US).

3. Pinot Noir -- A Sexy Indulgence

If you have watched the movie “Sideways”, you will know that Pinot Noir at its best is heavenly – fruity and floral, silky in texture, delicate and aromatic with a lingering raspberry aftertaste. It is ruby and translucence in color and perfumes of raspberries, cherries, and violets. American Pinot Noir tends to be fruitier; French Burgundy is earthier and spicier. New Zealand Pinot Noir can be oaked and have sweet spice aroma.

Optimal Drinking Window: Generally enjoy young (in 6 years). Complex ones (Richbourg) can be aged for 10+ years.

Recommended Regions: Burgundy (France). Sonoma Valley, Oregon (US). Central Otago (New Zealand).

4. Syrah -- Peppery and Deep

The grape behind the French Hermitage wine. Intense, spicy, mouth-filling, and peppery. Deep dark red in color, the wine has a tannic nature. As it ages, it adopts a smoother texture and perfumes of sweet blackberry.

Optimal Drinking Window: 5-15 yrs.

Recommended Regions: Northern Rhone (France). Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley (Australia).

5. Zinfandel -- the American Workhorse Grape

There is a wide variety of red Zinfandels: off dry to dry, light-bodied to moderate-bodied, and fruity to spicy. The better red Zinfandels are richer, darker, and moderately tannic. They are also smoother in texture and perfume of spicy raspberries and blackberries.

Optimal Drinking Window: Generally, drink young (< 5 years).

Recommended Regions: Throughout US. Italy (known as Primitivo).

Common White Grapes

1. Chardonnay -- The King of Whites

Chardonnay is the cabernet sauvignon in the world of white wines. Full-bodied, rich, and complex in taste and flavor. Depending on regions, aromas range from lemon, honey, green apple, kiwi, melons to oaky and hazulnutty. The California Chardonnay, enjoying sunshine and fully ripen, are well-known for their full-bodied and buttery texture. French Chardonnay, having undergone cooler climate, are more subtle and crispy.

Optimal Drinking Window: Most are meant for early enjoyment (within 5 years). The more complex White Burgundy can be best enjoyed in its 6-10 years.

Recommended Region: Chablis, Cote de Beaune (Burgundy, France). Sonoma Valley, Carneros (US). Margaret River (Australia).

2. Sauvignon Blanc -- Aromatic and Crisp

Delightfully aromatic with a distinctly grassy, gooseberry, peach, and melon-like aromas. Dry, acidic, the best sauvignon blanc is crispy and offers a long finish. French Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume from Loire Valley, are more acidic, grassy and tangy. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, benefiting from its friendly climate, is more aromatic with hints of melons and elderflowers.

Optimal Drinking Window: Meant for early drinking. Best drink within 1-3 years of harvest.

Recommended Region: Marlborough (New Zealand). Napa Valley (US). Loire Valley (France). Casablanca Valley (Chile).

3. Riesling -- Versatile and Ageable

Though commonly associated as the German sweet wine, not all Rieslings are sweet nor from Germany. Alsace and Australia have developed distinctive Riesling. Light-bodied, clean, and crispy, Riesling has varying bouquet, ranging from apple, peaches, lime, honeysuckle, to minerally. Rieslings are highly acidic in nature which means they are great food partners and age well.

Optimal Drinking Window: Can enjoy young. Complex riesling can age for 10+ years and will gain notes of petrol as they age.

Recommended Region: Mosel (Germany). Alsace (France). Eden Valley, Clare Valley (Australia).


Please note the recommended region is only the starting point. There are a lot of good regions for each grape variety.

Proceed to Lesson 3: How to Serve Wine

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