Glossary of Grapes


Barbera is a red wine grape found primarily in Italy 's Piedmont region. These grapes are characterized by a high level of acidity (meaning brightness and crispness), deep ruby color, full body, and low tannin levels; flavors are berrylike. It is the most successful grape variety in Italy 's Piedmont region, where it makes such wines as Barbera d' Asti, Barbera di Monferato and Barbera di Alba. A few California wineries still produce it as a varietal, but those numbers are dwindling. Its main attribute as a blending wine is its ability to maintain a naturally high acidity even in hot climates.

This is one of two strains of the red, Sangiovese grape. It's bigger and more rare than its cousin, Sangiovese Piccolo. Brunello is the grape behind Brunello di Montalcino, a luscious and long-aging red wine from Italy 's Tuscany region. This strain of Sangiovese is the only grape permitted for Brunello di Montalcino, the rare, costly Tuscan red that at its best is loaded with luscious black and red fruits and chewy tannins. < top >

The somewhat leaner sister of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc is often grown in the same places and is usually blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The one noteworthy exception to this is the Loire Valley of France where cabernet franc alone makes the well known wines Chinon and Bourgeuil. Cabernet franc often has a unique violet aroma and a slightly spicy flavor.< top >

Arguably the greatest of the black grapes, cabernet sauvignon is, along with merlot, the famous grape of Bordeaux, and is also grown in other renowned wine regions throughout the world including California, Washington state, Italy, Australia, and Chile. While it grows well in many countries, in specific appellations it is capable of rendering wines of uncommon depth, richness, concentration and longevity. Bordeaux has used the grape consistently since the 18th century, always blending it with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and sometimes a soupcon of Petite Verdot and Malbec. The Bordeaux model is built around not only the desire to craft complex wines, but also the need to ensure that different grape varieties ripen at different intervals and to give lesser wines color, tannin, or backbone.

Cabernet sauvignon possesses what can be an impressive structure along with deep, rich cassis flavors. Wines from these grapes are medium- to full-bodied, rich and high in tannins, which help Cabernet Sauvignon wines to age better than most wines - well made Cabernet Sauvignons can be aged ten years or more. < top >


Chianti is Italy 's most famous red wine, based mainly on Sangiovese grapes but also includes other varieties. It used to be easily identified by its squat bottles covered in straw baskets. It is produced in Tuscany, in strictly delimited areas among the provinces of Florence, Siena, Arezzo and Grosseto. < top >


The famous sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France , about 90 miles northeast of Paris . Champagne is generally a blend of three grapes­--two red: pinot noir and pinot meunier, and one white: chardonnay. It is made by a labor-intensive method known as methode Champenoise in which the secondary bubble-causing fermentation takes place inside each individual bottle. Champagne is made in a variety of sweetness levels ranging from bone-dry to sweet. The vast majority of the Champagne produced each year is designated non vintage (that is, the blend may contain wines from several different vintages). The wines in a vintage Champagne come only from the year designated on the label. Vintage Champagnes are only made in top years. Prestige cuvées are each firm's top-of-the-line wine. It too will only be made in great years and the grapes will come only from the firm's best vineyards. There are two special styles of Champagne : rosé Champagne , a pink Champagne usually made by adding a small bit of red pinot noir wine to the bottle before the second fermentation, and blanc de blancs, a Champagne in which all of the wines in the blend are chardonnay. < top >


Chardonnay is arguably today's most popular grape. Able to adapt to a variety of climates, the chardonnay grape exhibits green apple and citrus notes in cooler climates, and baked pineapple and tropical fruits in hotter climates. Chardonnay wines are typically dry with a medium to high acidity and a full body. Winemakers play a particularly important role in the style of a Chardonnay wine, which can range from clean, crisp bottlings, with a hint of varietal fruit, to rich, complex, oak-aged examples that need several years of bottle aging to fully display their character.

It is an amazing, versatile grape that grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world. In Burgundy, it is used for all of that appellations exquisite whites, such as Montrachet, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuisse, and true Chablis; in Champagne, it is the sole player in Blanc de Blancs Champagnes and an integral part of nearly all of Champagne's sparkling wines. Among the many other countries that have caught Chardonnay fever, Australia and the United States have been the most consistent in fashioning top notch offerings.< top >


This native of the Loire valley has two personalities: at home it is the basis of such famous, long lived wines as Vouvray and Anjou , Quarts de Chaume and Saumur, but on other soils it becomes just a very good blending grape. It is South Africa 's most-planted grape, although there it is called Steen, and in both South Africa and in California it is currently used primarily as a blending grape for generic table wines. It can yield a pleasant enough wine, with subtle melon, peach, spice and citrus notes. The great Loire whites vary from dry and fresh to sweet, depending on the vintage and the producer. In South Africa , Chenin Blanc is used for fortified wines and spirits as well as table wines.< top >


Almost exclusive to the Piedmont of Italy, this varietal produces soft, round, fruity wines that are fragrant with licorice and almonds. It is best drunk within three years. It's used as a safety net for producers of Piedmont 's Nebbiolo and Barbera wines, which take much longer to age. There are seven DOC's: Acqui, Alba, Asti , Dinao d' Alba, Dogliani, Langhe Monregalesi and Ovada. < top >


The king of jug wine white grapes, French Colombard is the second most widely planted white variety in California . Virtually all of it goes into jug wines; its value is that it produces an abundant crop, averaging 11 tons per acre, and it makes clean and simple wines with firm acidity. < top >


Gamay is the classic red grape of the Beaujolais region of France , and also grown in California , gamay possesses a super fruity, grapey flavor not unlike melted black cherry Jello. The wine is often at its best served slightly chilled. < top >


Gewurztraminer is a white grape that produces distinctive wines with dramatic, unmistakable flavors, ranging from dry to sweet. Smells and flavors of litchi nuts, gingerbread, vanilla, grapefruit, and honeysuckle come out of this varietal. The world's most prestigious gewürztraminers come from the Alsace region of France . At its best, is produces a floral and refreshing wine with crisp acidity that pairs well with spicy dishes. When left for late harvest, it's uncommonly rich and complex, yielding a tremendous dessert wine. Gewurztraminer is also popular in Eastern Europe , New Zealand , and the Pacific Northwest . < top >


Drought and heat resistant, Grenache yields a fruity, spicy, medium-bodied wine with supple tannins. The second most widely planted grape in the world, Grenache is widespread in the southern Rhone Valley . It figures strongly in the blend of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (although there are some pure varietals), and it is used on its own for the rose wines of Tavel and Lirac; it is also used in France 's sweet Banyuls wine. Grenache is also important in Spain , where it's known as Garnacha Tinta; it is especially noteworthy in Rioja and Priorat. Grenache used to be more popular in Australia , but has now been surpassed by Syrah, although a few Barossa Valley producers are making wines with Grenache similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In California , it's a workhorse-blending grape, although occasionally old vines are found and its grapes are made into a varietal wine, which at its best can be quite good.
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A fortified wine from the island of Madeira which belongs to Portugal but is located off the west African coast. Historically famous, the wine drunk by the founding fathers of the United States to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence is reported to have been Madeira . The very best Madeiras are made from four white grapes: sercial, verdelho, bual, and malmsey, which give the four styles of Madeira their names. Thus, starting with the driest style and moving to the sweetest, the styles of Madeira are sercial, verdelho, bual, and malmsey. Madeira 's toffee-caramel-like character comes as a result of heating the wine, a process called estufagem. This is either carried out naturally (the wine is left in hot attics for up to 20 years) or the wine is placed in containers that are then heated to an average temperature of 105°F for three to six months. < top >


Malbec is a black, mellow grape variety originally grown in the Loire Valley and Cahors . Long known as one of the six grapes used in the blending of Bordeaux wine, it is increasingly celebrated as an Argentinean varietal wine. Called Auxerrois in Cahors, Cot in the Loire , the grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost killed off 75% of the crop. However, Malbec continued to be popular in Cahors where it was mixed with Merlot and Tannat to make dark, full-bodied wines. < top >

Argentina is markedly successful with this varietal. The Argentian-grown Malbec is a softer, less-tannic driven variety than the wines of Cahors. The best examples of these wines come from the Argentinean region of Mendoza. In the United States, Malbec is used almost exclusively as a blending grape, and an insignificant one at that, but a few wineries use it, the most obvious reason being that it is considered part of the Bordeaux cepage or blend . < top >


Marsanne is popular in the Rhone (along with Grenache Blanc, Roussane and Viognier) and Australia , especially in Victoria , which now has some of the world's oldest Marsanne vineyards. At its best, Marsanne can be a full-bodied, moderately intense wine with spice, pear and citrus notes.< top >


Meritage is a word used to distinguish wines that are made in the style of Bordeaux but without infringing on that region's legally protected appellation. The result of a contest to coin a new word that would serve as its own brand rather than trading on a European place name, it is a combination of "merit" and "heritage," and is pronounced to rhyme with the latter word. Without a brand name like Meritage, a wine would have to be labeled "Red Table Wine" (or "White Table Wine") or given a proprietary name unique to the winery. While it is most common in the U.S. , Meritage can be used to describe wine made all over the world. < top >


Merlot is the red-wine success of the 1990s: its popularity has soared along with its acreage, and it seems wine lovers can't get enough of it. The most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, merlot, a red grape, is also grown in most of the same places as cabernet sauvignon. And in fact, the two are often blended. Because merlot in general has somewhat less tannin than cabernet sauvignon, it often feels softer on the palate. Its flavors often run to mocha and boysenberry.

Merlot excels in the Pomerol and St.-Émilion, two regions in the so-called " Right Bank " of Bordeaux , France . It is also grown in Argentina , Australia , Chile , France (Langedouc-Rousillon), Italy and the United States . Several styles of Merlot have emerged in California . One is a Cabernet-style Merlot, which includes a high percentage (up to 25 percent) of Cabernet blended into the Merlot. A second style is less reliant on Cabernet, so it yields a softer, suppler, medium-weight, less tannic wine that features more herb, cherry and chocolate flavors. A third style is a very light and simple wine; this type's sales are fueling Merlot's overall growth. < top >


As long as the weather is warm, the red grape Mourvedre ably tolerates a wide variety of soils. It is popular across the south of France , especially in Provence , where it is responsible for the greatness of Bandol, and many a fine red Cotes-du-Rhone. It is often blended in Chateauneuf-du-Pape; Languedoc makes it as a varietal. Spain uses it in many areas, including Valencia . In the United States , Mourvedre remains a minor factor for now, pursued by a few wineries that specialize in Rhone-style wines. The wine it produces can be quite pleasing, with medium weight, spicy cherry and berry flavors and moderate tannins. It ages well.< top >


Muscat is a legacy of the ancient world. Today, it is known primarily as Muscat , Muscat Blanc, or Muscat Canelli. It produces spicy, floral wines that often do something most other wines don't: they actually taste like grapes. This grape can be produced as a varietal or used in blending, its primary function in California . Moscato in Italy , Moscatel in Iberia , this grape can turn into anything from the low-alcohol, sweet and frothy Moscato d' Asti and Muscat de Canelli to bone-dry wines like Muscat d' Alsace. Muscat also produces fortified wine such as Beaume de Venise. < top >


This is the great red variety of Italy 's Piedmont region. At its best in Barolo and Barbaresco , Nebbiolo produces strong, long-aging wines with depth and character. Nebbiolo is struggling to gain a small foothold in California . So far, the Nebbiolo wines from California have been light and uncomplicated, bearing little resemblance to their Italian cousins. < top >


Petite Sirah has long been favored as a blending grape in France and California, where it offers otherwise simple, light-colored wines greater color, depth, intensity, and tannin. Petite Sirah is actually related to Durif, a minor French varietal, and is not a true Syrah. As tastes change, Petite Sirah, with its ripe berry flavors and crisp, chewy tannins, has begun to fall out of favor. Moreover, the dense, inky examples of Petite Sirah that show so much promise early in their lives fail more often than not to improve with age, only becoming more tannic and earthy. As a supporting player, the Petite Sirah grape often shines with Zinfandel.< top >


Now believed to be related to Pinot Noir and not Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc was once extensively referred to as the poor man's Chardonnay because of the two grapes similar characteristics. Presently, Pinot Blanc is used in Champagne , Burgundy , Alsace , Germany , Italy , and California , where it can make terrific wines. When well made, Pinot Blanc is intense, concentrated and complex, with ripe pear, spice, citrus, and honey notes. It can age well, but is best early on while its fruit shines through. While some pinot blanc can be found interspersed with chardonnay in the vineyards of Burgundy , the grape is more renowned in Alsace . In North America , California boasts several top producers of pinot blanc, though the grape is not widely grown.
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Like pinot blanc, one of the white grapes of the pinot family, and like riesling and gewürztraminer, pinot grigio loves cold climates. The most renowned pinot grigios come from the northernmost regions of Italy, especially those regions that border the Alps, as well as Alsace, where it is known as pinot gris or, confusingly, as "tokay." In the U.S. , Oregon is emerging as the top state for delicious lively pinot gris' with light almond, lemon and vanilla flavors. The low acidity of this white varietal helps produce rich, lightly perfumed wines that are often more colorful than other whites. < top >


Pinot Noir is one of the most renowned red grapes in the world for its silky texture and mesmerizing earthy flavors. Lighter in body, color and tannins than most of its red wine counterparts, Pinot Noir is usually described with adjectives. Supple. Round. Beautiful. It lacks the firm edge of other red wines but make up for it with finesse. Pinot noir, like riesling, requires a cold climate and in fact, its ancestral home is the cool Burgundy region of France . The grape, which is very difficult to grow and make into wine, is also grown in Oregon and California , but rarely elsewhere. This grape is a sponge for the land in which they are grown, picking up flavors of whatever is nearby such as cedar, pristine forest and wild mushrooms. It is also one of the three accepted grapes used to produce Champagne . < top >

Pinot Noir is the most fickle of all grapes to grow; it reacts strongly to environmental changes such as heat and cold spells, and it is notoriously fussy to work with once picked, since its skins are easily bruised and broken. Even after fermentation, Pinot Noir can hide its weaknesses and strengths, making it a most difficult wine to evaluate out of barrel. In the bottle, too, it is often a chameleon, showing poorly one day, brilliantly the next. < top >


Pinotage is a red hybrid grape, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (formerly called Hermitage). Created in South Africa in 1925 by A I Peroldt, a professor at Stellenbosch University , this grape has gained its greatest acclaim in South Africa . At its best it produces big, plummy wines with a lot of character. < top >


The famous fortified sweet wine from the Duoro Valley of Portugal. Port, a blended wine, is made with up to five red grape varieties: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Touriga Francesa, and the most highly regarded: Touriga Nacional. All Port can be divided into two main categories: wood-aged Ports and bottle-aged Ports. Within these categories are numerous styles. The best known style of wood-aged Port is Tawny Port , the best known style of bottle-aged Port is Vintage Port. Predominantly wood-aged Ports are ready to drink right after they're bottled and shipped. They should be consumed within a year and a half to two years after bottling. These Ports do not need to be decanted. Predominantly bottle-aged Ports, on the other hand, start out in barrels for a brief period of time but then mature and age for a longer, and sometimes very long, period inside a bottle. As a result these Ports usually throw a sediment. Vintage Port , for example, always needs to be decanted. Port-style wines are also made in California from a variety of grapes including zinfandel, petite sirah, and cabernet sauvignon. < top >


The renowned white grape of Germany , Austria and the Alsace region of France , is also popular in Washington state, New York state, and certain parts of California and Australia . Rieslings are high in acidity with a light body and relatively low alcohol level. They can be distinguished by their floral perfume, but after that they vary widely. In Germany 's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area, the wines are delicate and subtle, with very low-alcohol, while in the Pfalz they become spicy, exuberant and full-bodied. In Alsace , the result is more often than not bone-dry. Because Riesling is one of the grapes susceptible to Botrytis cinerea, it also produces luscious late-harvest dessert wines. In addition to Germany and Alsace , Australia , Austria , and New Zealand also produce some compelling Rieslings. < top >


Sangiovese is best known for providing the backbone for many superb Italian red wines, including Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as the so-called SuperTuscan blends. Sangiovese is distinctive for its supple texture and medium-to-full-bodied spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavors. When blended with a grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese gives the resulting wine a smoother texture and more supple tannins. < top >


On its own or in a blend, this white varietal can age. With Sauvignon Blanc, its traditional partner and life long friend, Semillon is the foundation of Sauternes and most of the great dry whites found in Graves and Pessac-Leognan; these are rich, honeyed wines. Semillon is one of the grapes susceptible to Botrytis cinerea. Australia 's Hunter Valley uses it solo to make a full-bodied white that used to be known as Hunter Riesling, Chablis or White Burgundy. In South Africa , this grape was once so prevalent that it was just called "wine grape," but production there has declined drastically in recent years. < top >

Semillon can make a wonderful late-harvest wine, and those wineries that focus on it can make well-balanced wines with complex fig, pear, tobacco and honey notes. When blended into Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon adds body, flavor and texture. When Sauvignon Blanc is added to Semillon, the latter gains fresh, grassy herbal notes.
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The famous white grape of the Sancerre region of France as well as New Zealand . Sauvignon blanc also grows in Bordeaux (where it is usually blended with semillon), South Africa , and in California and Washington state. This white varietal has a notable aroma, which is often characterized as herbaceous, most often described as grass, fresh herbs, hay, meadow and straw. High in acidity, its wonderfully wild, untamed flavors are often overlaid with a smokiness. In California , sauvignon blanc can also take on green fig and white melon flavors. < top >

The pure varietal is found mainly in the Loire , especially in and around Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. As part of a blend, the grape is all over Bordeaux , in Pessac-Leognan, Graves and the Medoc ; it also shows up in Sauternes. New Zealand has had striking success with Sauvignon Blanc in recent years, producing its own perfumed, fruity style that has spread to North America and back to France .< top >


The famous fortified wine from the Jerez region of southern Spain . Sherry is made by an extremely complex method of fractional blending called the solera system. The grape variety used is principally Palomino, though small amounts of Pedro Ximenez may also be included. Like Champagne and Port, Sherry is made in a variety of styles and at a variety of sweetness levels. From driest and lightest to sweetest and fullest, the styles of Sherry include manzanilla, fino, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso, and cream Sherry. The unique flavor of all of these styles is due in part to the fact that the wine is partially intentionally oxidized (exposed to oxygen). Sherry-style wines are also made in California though they usually do not go through a solera system and most are sweet. < top >


The classic red grape of the northern Rhone Valley of France and also grown throughout southern France , syrah is also the leading grape of Australia (where it is known as shiraz ). The grape seems to grow well in a number of areas and is capable of rendering rich, complex, and distinctive wines, with pronounced pepper, spice, black cherry, tar, leather and roasted nut flavors, as well as a smooth, supple texture and ripe tannins. In the south of France , it finds its way into various blends, as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the better wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon. In the late 1980s and 1990s, California vintners also became increasingly fascinated by the grape which is now grown in many parts of California . The wine often has an unmistakable whiff of white pepper along with wild gamey, boysenberry flavors.
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Tempranillo is the ubiquitous Spanish grape varietal that is responsible primarily or in part for nearly every great Spanish red, whether it is from Rioja, Priorat, or Ribera del Duero. Its greatness is almost always consummate with the skill of the winemaker and the yield per acre. < top >


The Viognier grape is native to the Rhone Valley but is now being developed in France, US, Australia and even South America . It is well known to be a challenge to grow, requiring a cooler to develop the intense and concentrated flavors and fragrances it bears. In the early 1990s, more than thirty top California producers began making Viognier to much acclaim. The wine has an opulent, lush body and dramatic honeysuckle, white melon and jasmine flavors.

On the palate, it is well rounded and mellow, despite its high acidity and alcohol content. Viognier should be drunk young and fresh. < top >


The much loved red grape of California , zinfandel is grown almost no place else in the world. In fact, its history is still a mystery, though scientists think that the grape may be related to a Croatian grape. Zinfandel has a mouthfilling, thick berryness that is sometimes described as being jammy or chewy. Much of it is vinified into white Zinfandel, a blush colored, slightly sweet wine.This White zinfandel (not a separate grape variety) is made when zinfandel grapes are fermented without their dark purple skins. < top >

It can also be used for blending with other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. It has been made in a claret style, with berry and cherry flavors, mild tannins and oak shadings. Zinfandel has also been made into a full-bodied, ultra-ripe, intensely flavored and firmly tannic wine designed to age. In addition, it is sometimes made into late harvest and Port-style wines that feature very ripe, raisiny flavors, alcohol levels above 15 percent and chewy tannins. At its best, Zinfandel can and often does produce shining wines that are ready to drink when only a couple of years old. < top >


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