Grapes, Wines, and Vines
Wine grapes have been around for a long time, and we have been growing them at Bella Vista Ranch since 1964. Presently we cultivate French Colombard, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as a small patch of dominently Flame seedless table grapes with a couple of vines of Thompson seedless. We plan to add Chardonnay wine grapes in the future, and we have grown Petite Sirah and Gamay in the past.
You can learn more about wine grapes in our glossary below which discusses primarily French and California varieties, since these are the grapes that are most important in our vineyard. There are short sections on wines and another on vines as well. You will find that we do make brief mention of German, Italian, and Spanish wines and wine grapes. To learn more about wine grapes you might want to check out Robin Garr's Wine Grape Glossary or Anthony Hawkin's Wine Grape Glossary. They are sources for some (but not all) of the information in our glossary.
For the most part, green-skinned grapes are used to make white wines, and black-, red-, or purple-skinned grapes are used to make red wines. The so-called "classic" wine grapes are the most highly regarded. Most of the classic white-wine grapes come from France and include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Viognier grapes. Gewurztraminer (German), Pinot Grigio (Italian), and Riesling (German) are classic white grapes from other European countries. Most of the classic red grapes also come from France and include Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Nebbiolo (Italian), Petit Sirah (California), Sangiovese (Italian), Tempranillo (Spanish), and Zinfandel (California) are the classic, non-French reds. Although the highest quality wines are generally considered to come from Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, many consider wines from Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese grapes to run very close seconds.
Airen - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Alicante Bouschet - Red French wine grape grown in Southern France and widespread in the Central Valley of California as well. It is usually used in hearty jug wines.
Aligoté - White French wine grape from Burgundy. Although generally considered unimpressive, it is used to a certain extent in some white Burgundy wines.
Barbera - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Bobal - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Cabernet Franc - Red French wine grape, often used in Bordeaux blends to add acidity and aroma. Usually blended, it is becoming increasingly trendy as a varietal. Genetic research indicates that it is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon (below).
Cabernet Sauvignon - Classic red French wine grape that is most prominent in Bordeaux wine blends, and as a stand-alone varietal in California. The grape is little, very thick-skinned with good fruit, lots of tannins, and enough acid so that it ages well. Generally, 5 to 10 years of bottle aging are required for it to reach peak flavor. It prefers a slightly warmer climate than most wine grapes and can be injured by December and January frosts. Because California tends to get cooler growing areas than France, California cabernets tend to be more delicate and fruitier. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known as Petit Cabernet, Vidure and Petit Vidure; and recent genetic research indicates that it descends from the unexpected parents of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Campbell - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Charbono - Red California wine grape that is thought to be a corruption of Charbonneau, a French synonym for the Douce Noir grape of Savoie, France. Both the Charbono and Charbonneau probably descend from the Dolcetto grape of Italy.
Chardonnay - Classic white French wine grape grown in Burgundy where it is the principle grape of Champagne and Chablis wines. However, a "glass of Chardonnay" in the U.S. is almost synonymous with a generic "glass of white wine." White Burgundy must be Chardonnay unless it says so. Chardonnay takes oak well, which is unusual for white wines, and California Chardonnays are typically aged in oak barrels. Thus, it can be quite versatile, and may be just about any flavor depending on the duration of barrel aging and whether it is aged in stainless steel or full oak barrels. Chardonnay also ages well in the bottle, though it will not age as long as reds. It likes cool climate, has a good acid balance, and is naturally higher in alcohol than most wines.
Carignan - Red French wine grape from the Languedoc region in Southern France that is the most widely planted grape in France and the third most widely planted worldwide, behind the Spanish Airen and Garanacha (Grenache). Once lightly regarded, but coming into its own. It has a red-fruit character that is sometimes peppery like Syrah.
Catawba - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Chasselas - White Swiss wine grape that produces reasonably dry wines.
Chenin Blanc - Classic white French wine grape that is most common in the Loire Valley. It makes white wines that are dry and slightly sweet.
Cinsaut (Cinsault) - Red French wine grape with a dark color. It is grown extensively in Languedoc, and is also crossed with Pinot Noir in the South African grape variety called "Pinotage".
Colombard - see French Colombard.
Concord - Imporant red wine grape (Vitis labrusca) that is native to the eastern United States. It was first bred by Ephraim Bell in Concord, Massachusetts in 1843 and introduced in 1854. It has since supplanted Catawba, which dates back to 1802, as the most popular grape in the Eastern United States. Concord produces old-fashioned, country-style red wines, as well as jams and jellies. It has an aroma and flavor that wine tasters call "foxy." Although a number of labrusca varities exist (see below), Concord is certainly the best known. Fredonia and Sunbelt are Concord varieties grown, respectively, in New York and the Gulf Coast. Niagara is a popular labrusca grape, first bred in 1882, that descends from Concord. It ripens about one week earlier than Concord.
Corvina - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Criolla - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Delaware - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Diamond - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Dolcetto - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Eastern U.S. (mainly New York) Grapes - Although the European grape, Vitis vinfera typically does not do well in the Eastern United States, the region does have several of its own native grape species. Not only are these native grapes quite hardy to cold and infestations, but they also yield very flavorful fruit for wines, jams, jellies, and table grapes. In fact, wines in the Eastern U.S. have been produced for over 200 years, and several commercial varities of native wine grapes have been bred.
Vitis labrusca is the best-known of the native American grapes, and many of the wine grapes grown in the Eastern United States are based on this species. Although the pink-skinned
Catawba, introduced in 1802, was one of the first labrusca hybrids to be grown on a commercial scale, the
Concord (red), introduced in 1854, must be considered the classic labrusca grape (please see the separate discussion on the Concord grape). The
Ives (red) and
Niagara (white) are labrusca varieties closely related to the Concord. Other well known labrusca hybrids include
Campbell (red) and
Diamond (white). The
Norton (white) is a cross between Vitis labrusca and the southwestern Summer Grape Vitis aestivalis, whereas the
Delaware (white) is a labrusca-
Vitis rotundifolia, which is better known as the Muscadine grape, is another native American species that is used for growing wine grapes. Whereas Vitis labrusca can be described as the native grape of the northeast, Vitis rotundifolia is the native grape of the southeast. The Scuppernong (golden) is a Muscadine variety that was first introduced in 1809 as an alternative to the Catawba (above). Wines made from Muscadine grapes lack the "foxy" taste of labrusca wines, yet have a characteristic taste all their own which is described as "musky". Scuppernong (golden) is the best-known muscadine variety, but Carlos (golden), Cowart (black), Fry (golden), and Noble (black) are also very popular.
Vitis riparia is yet a third variety of native American grape that is cultivated. Although it is sometimes used for wines, jams, and jellies, its main use is as root stck for Vitis vinifera (European grape) varieties.
Vitis rupestris is a fourth variety of native American grape. It is used primarily in developing hybrid varieties.
Many French Hybrids, the so-called "Seibel" grapes, are also raised in the Eastern United States. Another interesting hybrid is the dark-skinned Marechal Foch, which is a Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris cross with a Gamay clone known as the Goldriesling. The Marechal Foch, due to its cold tolerance, is widely grown as a wine grape throughout the New England area of the United States.
French Colombard - White French wine grape grown extensively in the Central Valley of California where it is used primarily to make fruity jug wines. It is still grown in the Bordeaux region of France where it is used in blends known as Bordeaux Blanc. It is also used in France, along with Ugni Blanc (St. Emillion) to make brandy.
French Hybrids (Seibel) - Seibel is the common name for a number of Vitis vinifera hybrids that have been introduced over the years in a quest to develop climate tolerant grape varieties that are resistent to rot, mildew and phylloxera. Some of these, notably the bunch rot resistant Chambourcin, were widely planted in France in the 1970s. However, stringent European Union rules forbidding the blending of hybrids in traditional wine varieties have led to their disappearance from most European vineyards. Nonetheless, several hybrids have found acceptance as wine grapes in the Eastern United States, Canada and England, including the dark-skinned Chambourcin (Noir), Chancellor (Seibel 7053), Chelois, and Vignoles (Ravat 51). Widespread light-skinned hybrids include Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and Villard Blanc. Seyval Blanc is in fact so widely planted in parts of the Eastern United States that it is sometimes referred to as "Indiana Chardonnay". It is also quite widespread in England.
Gamay - Red French wine grape used in Beaujolais, a light, fresh, fruity red wine from the Beaujolais region of Southern Burgundy. It is a source of some confusion as the grape grown in California that is known as "Gamay Beaujolais" is actually a clone of Pinot Noir, whereas the California grape known as "Napa Gamay" is probably Valdiguié. Gamay grapes ripen earlier than most other grapes in France.
Garnacha - The Spanish name for the French Grenache grape. Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines as well.
Gewurztraminer - Please see the discussion under German Wines.
Grenache - Black-skinned French and Spanish wine grape that is the second most widely planted grape in the world. It is widespread in the Languedoc and Rhone regions, as well as California, but it is in Garnacha, Spain, where it is called Garnacha, that it is particularly abundant. It is in fact the second most widely planted grape in Spain, second only to the white Airen. Grenache wines tend to hearty and peppery. 'White Grenache' is made by removing the grape skins from the juice before the fermentation process is complete.
Ives - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Johannisburg Riesling - Please see the discussion under German Wines.
Macabeo - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Malbec - Red French wine grape used as a minor component in Bordeaux blends, where its intense color and extract add to the wine's body. It is also used as the primary grape in the inky red wines of Cahors, and in some Argentine reds.
Malvasia - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Marechal Foch - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Marsanne - White French wine grape of the Rhone that is increasingly planted in California.
Merlot - Red French wine grape that is used in most Bordeaux wine blends. Recently, it is grown as a varietal in its own right, especially in California, and increasingly Washington. It produces mild wines. Because Merlot requires particular soil conditions, and is susceptible to disease and fungus, it is fairly difficult to grow.
Mission - Black-skinned wine grape brought to California from Mexico in the late 1700s by the mission padres, and elsewhere in the New World by the conquistadores. It is the same grape as the Criolla of Mexico, the Criolla Grande of Chile, and the Pais of Argentina, all of which probably descend from a bland grape on the island of Sardenia that is known as the Monica. Although the Monica is not grown on the Spanish mainland today, it is argued by some that the Monica originated there. Until the 1840s, the Mission was virtually the only grape used in California winemaking. Bland by todays standards, Mission wines were rapidly replaced in the 1860s by wines made from French, Italian and German grapes.
Monastrell - The Spanish name for the French Mourvèdre grape. Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines as well.
Mourvèdre - Black-skinned French wine grape, originally from Spain, that does well in hot climates. It is widely grown in Southern France, Languedoc and the Rhone, also in Spain (where it is known as Monastrell and is the second most widely planted black-skinned grape after Garnacha), Italy, and increasingly in California. It produces robust, deep red wines, and is often used to add color to light-colored blends. It tends to impart earthy aromas to the wine which are described as "tree bark".
Muscadelle - White French wine grape of the Bordeaux region that produces dry wines.
Muscadet - White French wine grape of the Loire Valley that produces dry wines.
Moscatel - The Spanish name for the French Muscat grape. Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines as well.
Moscato - The Italian name for the French Muscat grape. Please see the discussion under Italian Wines as well.
Muscat - An aromatic red grape, of ancient Greek origin, that is considered to be the ancestor of most European wine grapes. It is the same grape as the Spanish Moscatel, and the Italian Moscato. The Muscat (Moscatel) probably entered France through Spain, and is considered to be even older than the Spanish Malvasia, another grape of ancient Greek origin. Muscat wines are often sweet and always fruity with a characteristic aroma described as "musky".
Nebbiolo - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Niagara - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Norton - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Palomino - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Pedro Ximenez - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Petit Verdot - French red wine grape grown in Bordeaux that is fine quality but tends to be a minor player in Bordeaux blends. It is not to be confused with Petit Vidure which is actually an alias from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Petite Sirah - Red California wine grape, not to be confused with the French Syrah. It is probably the same as the Durif grape of the Rhone which is a cross between the Syrah and a minor French grape called the Peloursin. Petite Syrah makes a dark red wine that ages well.
Pinot Blanc - Classic white French wine grape that produces dry, medium-bodied wines, somewhat similar to Chardonnay.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio - French and Italian names, respectively, for the same white-wine grape. It typically produces dry and acidic wines, often with a light musky aroma, that go well with seafood and fish. Common in Alsace, Northeastern Italy, and increasingly Oregon where it takes the French name.
Pinot Meunier - Relatively uncommon White French wine grape used both as a varietal and in Champagne wine blends.
Pinot Noir - Red French wine grape from the Burgundy region. It is thin-skinned and difficult to grow due to a susceptibility to rot. Pinot Noir produces pale-colored wines. It is the main grape in most red Burgundy wine blends and is used to a certain extent in Champagne.
Pinotage - Red wine grape, widely grown in California and South Africa, that is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes of the Rhone region. It makes fruity, dark red wines with an odd earthy character.
Raisin Grapes - Please see the discussion under Table Grapes.
Riesling - Please see the discussion under German Wines.
Roussanne - White French wine grape of the Rhone region that is often grown with and blended with Marsanne. It is somewhat supplanting the latter because it is considered more productive and easier to grow.
Sangiovese - Please see the discussion under Italian Wines.
Sauvignon Blanc - Classic white French wine grape native to the Loire and Bordeaux regions (where it is usually blended with Sémillon). Also widely planted in California, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. The wine comes in an extreme variety of styles from light to very dark red, depending largely on the amount of sunlight the grape clusters are exposed to as a result of leaf pruning. In short, shaded grapes result in a "green" or "grassy" tasting wine, whereas grapes exposed to sunlight produce a "citric" style. The wine is sometimes called Fumé Blanc when aged in oak barrels.
Scuppernong - Please see the discussion under Eastern U.S. Grapes.
Seibel - Please see the discussion under French Hybrids.
Sémillon - Classic white French wine grape that is native to Bordeaux where it is used primarily in blends with Sauvignon Blanc. It is increasingly seen as a varietal in the United States and Australia, where it makes soft, medium-bodied, sometimes pleasantly musky white wines.
St. Emillion - A name used in the Cognac region of France for a grape that is the same as the French Ugni Blanc and Italian Trebianno.
Syrah (Sirah) - Red French wine grape allegedly introduced to the Rhone region from Shiraz, Persia by the 14th-Century crusader Gaspard de Sterimberg. It is blended in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and also used as a stand alone in many Rhone red wines. It makes tannic wines that age well and have a characteristic fragrance.
Table Grapes - The most popular table grape in the United States is the Thompson Seedless or Sultanina, a green-skinned vinifera grape that originated in the Middle East. The Thompson is also used for making golden raisins, which are called Sultanas. The black raisins that are commonly seen in the grocery store are Malagas, and these come from a seed-bearing, green-skinned vinifera grape known as the Muscat of Alexandria which, as the name implies, also originated in the Middle East. A popular red-skinned variety, also of the vinifera family, is the Flame or Tokay Seedless. All three of these grapes are widely grown in the Central Valley of California, whereas the Himrod and Interlaken are red seedless varieties more suited to the colder climate of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern United States.
Tempranillo - Please see the discussion under Spanish Wines.
Trebbiano - The Italian name for the French Ugni Blanc grape. Please see the discussion under Italian Wines as well.
Ugni Blanc - White French wine grape. It is also the most widely planted white grape in Italy where it is called Trebbiano and used to make sherry. In the Cognac region of France it goes by the local name of St. Emillion and is used to make a fortified wine called Cognac Brandy.
Viognier - Long a seldom-seen White French wine grape used only in the rather rare Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet wines, it is gaining considerable attention as a varietal in California and Southern France. It produces a light, lean wine with a very characteristic floral scent. It does not age well and is best consumed early.
Zinfandel - California red-wine grape that is very similar to the southern Italian Primitivo grape. In fact, it is thought that both grapes may go back to an earlier Balkan progenitor probably identical to the Vranac grape of Montenegro. It is also thought to the same grape as the "Black Peter" which was widely grown in California in the late 1800s. Zinfandel makes a fruity red wine with lots of tannins and full of scents. California vintners produce Rosé wines from Zinfandel by removing the grape skins from the juice halfway through fermentation process, and 'White Zinfandel' by earlier removal of the skins. The same method is used for 'White Grenache'.
The subject of wines can get pretty complicated, so we have included a section on wine vintages, and another on which wines to serve with which foods. In the glossary below, you can learn about some of the different wines that we enjoy.
Banyuls - A red French dessert wine from the Rousillon district in the Pyrenees which is made from Grenache.
Basque and Bearnaise Wines - see Jurançon and Madiran wines.
Beaujolais - Light, fruity red wine from the Beaujolais region in Southern Burgundy. Nouveau Beaujolais are made ready for serving less than one year after the grapes are picked by a process called "carbonic maceration" in which the uncrushed grapes are put into the wine barrel and carbon dioxide is pumped through them to speed up the fermentation and aging process.
Bordeaux - Red table wine from the Bordeaux region of Southwestern France which includes the Medoc, Saint Emillion and Pomeral districts (which produce red wines); and the Sauternes and Graves districts (which produce whites). Red Bordeaux wine is made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other minor grapes such as Malbec, Petite Verdot, and Carmenere. The best known white Bordeaux wines are Sauternes and a French Colombard wine called Bordeaux Blanc.
Brandy - A distilled liquor made from grape juice. Possibly, the finest brandys are produced in the Cognac district of France from the St. Emillion grape, which is actually a local variety of the Ugni Blanc.
Brut - A French adjective meaning "very dry" (unsweet), which is used in specific reference to Champagne. Three grades of sweetness exist: Brut Nature, which means that no liquor or sweetening agents are added after the sediment is removed; Brut, which means dry; and Extra Brut, which is slightly sweeter than brut.
Burgundy - A region in southern France where Chardonnay is the principle white grape, and Gamay and Pinot Noir the principle reds. The main districts that produce red wines are the Cote d'Or, Macon and Beaujolais; and the main district that produces white wines is the Chablis. In the United States Burgundy is often used as a generic term for dark red wines, particularly those made from Pinot Noir grapes. However, both red and white wines are produced in Burgundy, and some wines made from the Aligote grape are known as 'White Burgundy'.
Chablis - White wine made from Chardonnay grapes in the Chardonnay region of northern Burgundy, where the clay/limestone soil is unique and gives Chablis wines a distinct mineral taste. Chablis has long been used as a generic term for "white wine" by makers of cheap American jug wines.
Champagne - Sparkling white wine, specifically the type made in the French region of the same name using a traditional process in which the wine gains its sparkle by a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is made only from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes. Some U.S. wineries still appropriate the name for their sparkling wines, a practice illegal in Europe. But, as with Chablis and Burgundy, this practice is dying out. Sparkling wines come in a variety of sweetnesses which are described as "brut".
There are four methods for making sparkling wine:
- Champagnoise: Primary fermentation in the barrel is used to produce the base wine, followed by blending and sweetening, afterwhich the wine is bottled. A second fermentation proceeds in the bottle, during which sediment moves to the neck of the bottle where it is removed with a pipet using a process called 'degorgement'. The bottles are then topped off, sugar added, and corked.
- Bottle transfer: After primary barrel fermentation, the base wine is transfered to bottles in which it ferments a second time. The wine is then removed from the sediment by transferring it to a second bottle, which is corked after sweetening.
- Charmat: After primary barrel fermentation, the base wine is transferred to a tank where it undergoes the second fermentation. The base is then filtered, sweetened and bottled.
- Injection: Carbon dioxide gas is injected into the finished wine.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape - A complex, dry red wine from the Rhone region that is made from a blend of up to 13 grapes and boasts a heritage that reaches back to the Fourteenth Century sojourn of the Catholic Popes in nearby Avignon (hence, "new castle of the Popes"). Grenache, Cinsaut, Syrah, and Mourvèdre are the main components of the complex blend with Grenache usually dominating over the other three.
Claret - Old synonym, particularly British, for red Bordeaux.
Cognac - Please see the discussion on Brandy.
Collioure - Dry red wine from the Banyuls in Southwestern France produced from a belnd of dominently Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes.
Corbières - Red wines from the Languedoc of southern France, a region located to the east of Bearn and the Basque country where Jurançon and Madiran wines are made. The wines of Corbières are blends of dominently Carignane, Grenache and Cinsaut sometimes blended with other minor components which may include Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Dessert Wines - Most dessert wines are "fortified" white wines in which barrel fermentation is interrupted before all of the natural grape sugars in the base wine have been converted to alcohol. The base is then "fortified" by adding brandy (liquor distilled from fermented grape juice) to reach a desired alcohol content. Thus, dessert wines have higher sugar contents than other wines.
Port is a fortified dessert wine that is unusual in that it is made from red grapes. Classic red Port is made in Portugal from a complex blend of many local grapes that usually includes the Souza, Tinta Cao, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Barroca and Touriga grapes. Madeira is essentially a light-brown Port produced on the Portuguese Island of Madeira, and Malmsey is Madeira made from Malvasia grapes. Marsala is a fortified wine made from the Catarralto grape of Sicily. It is usually used only as a cooking wine. Vin Doux Naturel, or V.D.N., is the French generic name for a family of fortified wines produced from Muscat grapes. Although Sherry represents another family of fortified wines, Sherry is not as sweet as the classic dessert wines and is generally considered an "apertif" to be drunk before dinner.
In addition to fortified wines, there is another class of dessert wines in which Noble Rot (Botrytis) is used to concentrate the natural sugars in the grape while it is still on the vine and produce a sweeter than usual wine. Examples of botrytized white wines include French Sauternes made from the Sémillon grape, Hungarian Tokay from the Furmint grape, and Sicilian Muscatel made from the Moscato (Muscat) grape. Banyuls is a red dessert wine made in the Lanquedoc-Roussillon region of France from Grenache grapes.
- Banyuls Beaujolais Bordeaux Burgundy Chablis Champagne Chateauneuf-du-Pape Claret Collioure Corbières Jurançon Madiran Pouilly-Fuissé Pouilly-Fumé Rosé Sauternes Vin Gris Vin du Pays Vouvray
Fumé Blanc - A synonym in the United States, invented by Robert Mondavi during the 1970s as a marketing ploy, for a white wine made from Sauvigon Blanc grapes. It originally denoted a dry style, but any past distinction between Fumé and Sauvignon is now lost. It can be considered a subset of Sauvignon Blanc in which barrel fermentation produces an oaky wine. Grand Fumé is the American version, and Pouilly Fumé is the French version. (made with the same grapes).
German Wines - Germany is famous for its white wines, the best known of which is Liebfraumilch from the Rhine Valley. Liebfraumilch must be at least 51% Riesling with the remainder made up of various grapes such as Muller-Thurgau, Kerner, and Silvaner. The valleys of the Moselle and Saar are also important wine-producing areas.
The list of German white wine grapes is much smaller than that of France and includes Riesling, Traminer, Kerner, Silvaner (Sylvaner), and Muller-Thurgau. Riesling is the most widely grown, and wine conoisseur Jancis Robinson has gone so far as say , "To me, the Riesling grape makes the greatest white wines in the world." Kerner is also an interesting grape since it first appeared in 1969 and has since replaced Sylvaner as the third most widespread grape grown in Germany. It is a cross between Riesling and Trollinger, the latter being the German name for the red Schiava Grossa grape from the Trento-Aldo region of Italy. Johannisburg Riesling is a variety of Riesling that is widely grown in California, and Gewurztraminer is a pink-skinned variety of the green-skinned Traminer grape.
Some French and Italian grapes (with local German names) that are grown in Germany include
Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder),
Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder),
Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder),
and the Italian
Schiava Grossa (Trollinger).
Although Spatburgunder and Trollinger are red grapes, German red wines are sometimes described as "white wines with color" and tend to be sweetish and dull.
Italian Wines - Italy ranks next to France in European wine production. Although some Italian wines are named after the grapes they are made from, many are named for the areas where the wines are produced. Among the most famous Italian reds are Chianti wines of Tuscany made from the Sangiovese grape. Valpolicella and Bardolino are wines from Veneto, Lombardy which are blends of Corvina grapes with some Rondinella, a bland grape, and some Molinara, a fairly tart grape, generally thrown in. Other noteworthy reds are Dolcetto and Barbera, from grapes of the same name; and Barolo, Gattinara, and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo grape. Without question, Nebbiolo is the king of Italian grapes and ranks with Cabernet Sauvignon of France and the Tempranillo grape of Spain.
The most widespread white-wine grape in Italy is the Trebbiano, which is the same as the French Ugni Blanc. It is used primarily to make sherry. The second most widely planted grape is the Catarrato Bianco of Sicily which is blended with the Sicilian Grillo and Inzolia to make a dry desert wine called Marsala. Another dry desert wine from Sicily is Muscatel which is made from the Moscato grape, the same grape as the French Muscat. Vermouth is an herb-flavored Moscato (Muscat) wine from Turin. Both the Moscato and the Spanish Malvasia, which is widely planted in Italy as well, are of ancient Greek origin, and the Moscato is considered to be the ancestor of most European wine grapes. Other widespread white grapes are Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) and Verdicchio. A popular Italian white wine is Soave, which is made from the white Garganega grape of Lombardy blended with minor Trebbiano and sometimes Chardonnay.
Frizzante and Petillant are sparkling Italian white wines that are cousins to French champagne but not as bubbly. Probably the most popular sparkling Italian wine is Asti Spumante which is produced in Lombardy from a variety of Moscato called Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc).
Jurançon - Dry, aromatic white wine from the Pyrenees of Southwestern France. It is made from a blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, both grapes being closely related varieties of the white Basque grape known as Manseng. Some blends contain a little Petit Courbu; and two nearly extinct white Basque grapes, Camaralet and Lauzet, are allowed in Jurançon blends as well.
Liebfraumilch - Please see the discussion under German Wines.
Madeira - Please see the discussion on Dessert Wines.
Madiran - Robust red wines from the Languedoc region of France that are dominently Tannat (a widespread Basque grape that is high in tannin) blended with Bouchy (the Basque name for Cabernet Franc), some Cabernet Sauvignon, and some Pinenc (a red Basque grape also known as Fer). Madirans tend to age well.
Malmsey - Please see the discussion on Dessert Wines.
Marsala - Please see the discussion on Dessert Wines.
Port - Please see the discussion on Dessert Wines.
Pouilly-Fuissé - Chardonnay-based, white wine from the Burgundy region of France.
Pouilly-Fumé - White wine from the Loire Valley that is produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Because it is dry, very lean, and tart, it makes an excellent seafood wine. Fumé Blanc and Grand Fumé are the California versions.
Rioja - A region in northernmost Spain which produces red and white wines that some connoisseurs believe equal the finest French Bordeaux. Red Riojas are blends of Tempranillo and Garnacha, whereas White Rioja is made dominantly of the Macabeo grape.
Rosé - Pink wine, traditionally made from red grapes in which the skins are removed from the fermenting juice before they have had enough time to impart significant color. Some inexpensive wines labeled Rosé are also made by blending red and white juice. Rosé wines are sometimes labeled "Vin Gris" (literally "gray wine") and "Blush". White Zinfandel and White Grenache are Rosé wines that are very popular in California today.
Sauternes - French dessert wine (white) from the Bordeaux region of France made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes that are harvested late and usually affected by botrytis. It is not to be confused with a cheap, very sweet jug wine in the United States called "Sauterne" under a naming convention that has now largely disappeared.
Sherry - An appetizer wine that is not as sweet as typical dessert wines. It differs from dinner wines in that oxidation is an important part of the wine-making process and leads to enhancement instead of spoilage. Most Spanish Sherry is made by interrupting the initial fermentation in the barrel before all of the natural grape sugars have been used up. Grape brandy (i.e., liquor distilled from grape juice) is then added to bring the base wine up to a desired alcohol content. The unfermented sugar remains in the sherry to give it extra sweetness.
This "fortified" mixture is called mosto and undergoes a second fermentation in the barrel in Spanish sherries by growing a spongy yeast-based film called flor on the surface of the mosto. In some non-Spanish Sherries, this second fermentation is accomplished by baking the base wine, or by agitating the base wine followed by aeration. The final flavor of Sherry varies widely and depends on the type of second fermentation, how long the second fermentation lasts, and how the sherry is aged.
When the flor process is used, most barrels develop a film of flor that is thick enough to seal the underlying mosto and ferment it in the absence of air. This produces pale-brown, high-alcohol Fino-type Sherries that include Fino, Manzanilla, and Amontillado. Those barrels in which an inadequate flor develop are used to produce darker, typically sweeter, lower alcohol, Oloroso-type Sherries that include Oloroso, Amaroso, and a British variety called Cream Sherry.
Although a wide variety of grapes are used to make Sherry, the Palomino is the classic grape for Spanish Sherries. Airen grapes are used to produce much of the grape brandy used to fortify Sherries, and wines made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez grapes are added to some Amoroso Sherries as sweetening agents.
Spanish Wines - Tepranillo is the classic red wine grape of Spain and ranks with Cabernet Sauvignon of France and the Nebbiolo grape of Italy. It is the primary grape of Rioja, the classic Spanish red wine, which is generally a blend or Tepranillo with some Garnacha - the same black-skinned grape as the French Grenache - added in. Other widespead Spanish red wine grapes include Monastrell - the same black-skinned grape as the French Mourvèdre, and Bobal - a widely grown Spanish grape used primarily to add color to wine blends. The black-skinned Criolla is not particularly widespread, but is important because it is the probable ancestor of the Mission grape of California.
The Airen is the most widely planted white grape in the world and makes up about one-third of the vineyards in Spain where it is used primarily to make brandy. Most of the other white grapes of Spain are used to make Sherry, the classic white wine of Spain. These grapes include the
Pedro Ximenez - the grape of Andalusia (Moorish Spain), and
Moscatel, which is the same grape as the French Muscat and Italian Moscato.
Macabeo is the white grape of the Rioja region and is used to make white Rioja, a white wine which can be considered the Spanish chardonnay. Another common white grape which is generally associated with Italy, but actually originated in Spain, is the
Tokay - Please see the discussion on Dessert Wines.
Vin Gris - Blush wine (see "Rosé").
Vin du Pays - Literally, "wine of the country," a category of French wines considered lower in status than so-called "Appellation Controllée". Because it is considered less "desirable," Vin du Pays may offer particularly good values if well chosen.
Vouvray - White table wine from the Loire Valley made from a blend of dominently Chenin Blanc grapes. It ranges from dry through slightly sweet and also makes spectacular dessert wines.
White Zinfandel, White Grenache, etc. - "Blush" wines, usually from California, that are simple and often slightly sweet. They are made by removing the skins of red grapes from the juice before the skins impart significant color.
The grapevine has been cultivated by mankind for centuries because of several special qualities that distinguish it from other plants. For one, grapevines thrive on rocky hillsides in gravelly soil where other plants will not grow. Also, grapevines need less water than other plants and sometimes send roots down as deep as 10 feet into the ground to survive where other plants would dry out and die. And most important, grapevines store carbohydrates (in essence energy) in the berry as glucose and fructose sugars, whereas most fruit-bearing plants store energy as starches and sucrose (common table sugar). Because fermentation converts glucose and fructose sugars directly into alcohol, whereas starches and other sugars require conversion first to simpler compounds, grapes are one of the easiest fruits to make wine from. It is the latter property that has particularly endeared the grape to civilization.
Despite its hardiness, the grapevine is susceptible to a variety of ailments. Below we discuss those species of vines that are most important to the growing of wine grapes, some of the things that grapevines need to grow, and some of the diseases and infestations that plague them.
Botrytis or "Noble Rot" - A mold that appears on late-harvested (i.e., fully ripe) grapes under favorable weather conditions (misty mornings followed by warm afternoons) and causes them to dry out and shrink so that the natural grape sugars become highly concentrated. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes with botrytis are used to make Sauternes and other desert wines. Under unfavorable conditions the mold may attack less-than-ripe grapes to cause "grey rot", also called "black rot", which robs the grape of much of its flavor and color. Densely bunched grapes such as Sémillon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir are particularly susceptible.
Mildew - Of all the infestations to plague Vitis vinifera grapes, those spread by fungus are the most common. The fungus known as powdery mildew, or oidium is particularly troublesome for Pinot Noir, Merlot and Riesling, but can be kept in check by spraying with sulphur. Powdery mildew imported from the United States was wrecking havoc in European vineyards before the devastating onset of phylloxera in the late 1800s. Another troublesome fungus is downy mildew, or peronospera, which hit European vineyards soon after the phylloxera epidemic. It is a problem in the summertime in warm humid regions, such as the French wine country, but can be held in check by spraying with blue copper sulfate.
Phylloxera - A root-sucking plant louse, closely related to the common rose aphid, which is capable of devastating entire vineyards. It attacks the grapevines by entering the soil, burrowing into the roots, and sucking out the sap until the plant dies. Galls on the undersides of grape leaves are another manifestation of the pest. Once a vineyard is infected the only cure is to tear the vines out, burn them, and plant new vines grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
Phylloxera was accidentally introduced to France sometime between 1858 and 1863 on Vitis labrusca vines brought in from the eastern United States as French growers experimented with the planting of new grape varieties. It virtually wiped out the French wine industry in a few short years, reducing French wine production from almost 2 billion gallons in 1875 to about 500 million in 1887. Over a million acres of vineyards were affected. Production was restored by grafting the native French vines (Vitis vinifera) onto resistant American root stock (Vitis rupestris).
Phylloxera spread to California in the 1860s, but was not identified as such until 1873. The outbreak raged for more than twenty years, during which time wine production plummeted. Like the French before them, California growers had to destroy the infected vineyards and replace them with European vines grafted onto resistant rootstock. These measures led to a resurgence in wine grape production in the early 1900s that was cut short with the 1919 enactment of prohibition, an event which took growers another twenty years to recover from. As vineyards prospered once more in the aftermath of World War II, phylloxera again resurfaced and necessitated the replanting of many vineyards in the 1960s. Unfortunately, many growers chose lower-priced root stock that was supposed to be louse resistant but which time has proven otherwise. Consequently, several thousand acres of vineyards are in various stages of replanting today with hardier, disease-resistant roots. Yet many more still remain susceptible to infection.
If you really are interested in phylloxera then check out the Wikipedia article on it. Believe me, you will learn more there about the evil plant louse than you ever wanted to know!
Terroir - A French word, for which there is no precise English definition, that sums up the total environment which controls the growth of a grapevine. Terroir takes into account the drainage and composition of the soil and subsoil, the slope and altitude of the land, the amount of sun and shade, and all aspects of the climate including the temperature, wind, humidity, and rainfall from a country-wide scale right down to the microclimate that exists within an individual bunch of grapes. All of these elements influence how the grape, and ultimately the wine, taste. Thus, Cabernet grapes grown on well-drained limestone soils in the humid Bordeaux region of France taste different than the same grape grown on Franciscan soils (made of sandstones and other rocks) in the dry climate of the Suisun Valley of California.
Vitis labrusca - Grape species native to eastern North America. Known as the Northern Fox Grape, it is hardier than its European cousin Vitis vinifera and is fairly resistant to phylloxera and other infestations. It is not to be confused with the Lambrusco, a grape from the Emilia province of Italy with a similar sounding name. A number of lambrusca varieties, in particular the Concord, are grown as wine grapes in the Eastern United States.
Vitis riparia - Commonly known as the River Bank Grape or Fox Grape, it grows native throughout the midwest from Quebec to Texas. Sometimes cultivated varieties are used to make jams, jellies, and wines. However, the most significant agricultural usage for Vitis riparia is as root stock for vitis vinifera, since it is very resistant to cold and disease. However, Vitis rupestris is probably more popular as a root stock variety.
Vitis rotundifolia - Wild grape species known as the Muscadine which is native to the southeastern United States. The Scuppernong is a very popular Muscadine variety that is grown as white wine grape in the Eastern United States.
Vitis rupestris - Wild grape species native to the midwestern United States. The Rupestris St. George variety and hybrids of St. George with other grape species, including vinifera, are probably the most widely used rootstock to prevent phylloxera and other infestations. Other North American species that have also proven to be very phylloxera resistant are Vitis riparia and Vitis berlandieri.. The AXR 1, a rupestris-vinifera hybrid also known as Aramon Rupestris, was widely planted as rootstock in California in the 1960s due to demonstrated high productivity and lower cost than St. George. However, it has since proven to have disastrously low phylloxera resistance, and many vineyards based on AXR 1 rootstock are now in the process of being replanted. The Marechal Foch, is a Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris cross that is grown as a red wine grape in the Eastern United States.
Vitis vinifera - Grape species native to Europe that includes all of the French, and most of the California wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc. It does not thrive in the Eastern United States due primarily to the harsher climate and lower resistance to phylloxera. Vitis vinifera grapes probably descend from a grape similar to the Muscat.