Grape Guide

Don’t know your Cabernet Sauvignon from your Sauvignon Blanc? Here’s a quick run-down of the major international grape varieties you’ve probably heard of, as well as a few local ones that may be less familiar.

Starting with the whites…


  • The ultimate team player. Thriving in a variety of conditions, it wears many faces by producing wine ranging from the cool-climate, steely and austere (apple/citrus), to the hot-temp, full-bodied and high alcohol style (banana/mango). Relaxed with or without oak. To top it off, it is a key constituent of Champagne

Sauvignon Blanc

  • New Zealand’s calling card on the international stage, producing a high-acid wine with a distinctive nose of green pepper, grass and gooseberry. More reserved in France’s Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume) and Bordeaux, it is often fermented in oak – and very different in style to most New World offerings


  • Often unloved, this hugely aromatic grape can produce wines that last a lifetime. Versatile and tough due to its late ripening, it is top dog in Germany and France’s Alsace region. Made in multiple dry, off-dry and sweet styles, its mineral, petrol-like nose is a stand-out

Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)

  • One of the four Grand Cru varietals in Alsace, the full-bodied, oily, spicy style is copied, but not often matched, throughout the New World. In NE Italy it takes on a different form though, picked early to retain acidity and neutral fruit, leading to a refreshing early-drinker


  • Offering the weight of a warm-climate Chardonnay and the fruit character of an aromatic grape like SB or Riesling, Viognier is becoming increasingly fashionable. The finest examples come from small enclaves in the Northern Rhone region of France

Chenin Blanc

  • The most planted berry in South Africa and widely grown throughout the Loire Valley, it can produce dry, sweet and sparkling wine, as well as integrate with oak. Tends to be fuller in body and displays personality ranging from green to exotic fruit


  • The new kid on the block in the dry, fruity white wine market thrives in Galicia, the Atlantic Ocean-facing region of northern Spain. Its naturally high acidity and crisp, citrus and green fruit flavour makes it an appealing drink-young proposition. Can also take oak, adding a different dimension


  • This low-acid and somewhat neutral varietal comes alive in the albariza soil of Jerez in southern Spain to produce Sherry. When aged oxidatively under the influence of the unique flor layer of yeast, in its dry style it produces wine with a distinctive nutty, savoury and salty character

And here’s some of the black grapes…

Pinot Noir

  • When made well, this temperamental thin-skinned grape produces wonderfully perfumed wines of red fruit and exotic spice when young, then develops savoury and vegetal character when aged. No other wine is more expensive than Pinot from the Grand Cru sites of Burgundy in France. Another major component of Champagne

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Versatile and hardy, “Cab Sav” is planted the world over having originally made its name on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. High in acid, tannin and alcohol, it has a trademark blackcurrant note on the nose, along with cedar and herbaceous cues. It blends brilliantly with other heavyweights such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc


  • As smooth as Elgar’s Nimrod, in serious mode this grape delivers wine of rich body, concentrated fruit and velvety tannins, but can also be made in an early-drinking, red fruit-led style. Heavily produced from the tiny Pomerol AOC in Bordeaux (home of the famous Chateau Petrus) to the Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand

Syrah (Shiraz)

  • In most guises, Syrah carries a notable black pepper aroma to accompany the black fruit. Tough as nails in the hot climates of the Northern Rhone and South Australia’s Barossa Valley and Coonawarra, this earthy and deep wine is usually a real keeper

Grenache (Garnacha)

  • These thick-skinned berries love the sunshine. The most widely-planted black grape in Spain, and a major contributor to the output of the Southern Rhone in France, its high alcohol and full body balances nicely with red fruit and soft tannin character


  • Tuscany in Italy, with its beautiful rolling countryside, plays host to this heavyweight grape that is the star attraction in Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. In more recent years, it has been – controversially, for some – blended with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to create the uber-priced “Super Tuscans”


  • The go-to grape of the Rioja region of Northern Spain, with its red fruit character (esp. ripe strawberries), is now being experimented with throughout the New World. In Portugal it is known as Tinta Roriz, and is blended with Touriga Nacional (+ others) to make Port


  • Seeming only to work in Piedmont in the foothills of the Italian alps, it is the varietal responsible for the world-famous Barolo. Pale in colour but high in acidity, tannin and alcohol, it loves oak so produces wine that is truly long-lived and ethereal