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Varietal Guide


 
M

Macabeo (white)
(Mah-cah-BEH-oh)
Widely planted in northern Spain and around the Mediterranean vineyards of Roussillon and Languedoc, where it's known as Maccabeu, needing low yields for quality.

Malbec (red)
(Mahl-bek)
Responsible for the so-called ancient 'black wine of Cahors' in south-west France, Malbec is also a minor partner among the five main red varieties that make up the Bordeaux blend. While it can be harsh and rustically tannic in France (usually needing Merlot to soften it), it is the red grape par excellence of Argentina, where it makes a softer, juicier style of red, especially from old vines, with raspberry, mulberry and game-like undertones. It's also grown in Chile, Australia and California.

Malvasia/Malmsey (white)
(Mahl-va-SEE-ah) / Mahl-z)
Like Muscat, this is an ancient, Mediterranean-based variety, whose heartland is Italy, where it makes anything from dry white and red wines to the rich, sweet, fragrant whites of the islands, notably Sardinia, Lipari close to Sicily. Malvasia Istriana, from Friuli is particularly good and, as a sub-variety, like Malvasia di Candia, it is often blended to improve Italian basic whites. As a red variety, Malvasia Nera is blended with Negroamaro in Puglia. It's common in Spain and Portugal and in Madeira, it is responsible for the rich Madeira wine known as Malmsey.

Marsanne (white)
(Mahr-SAHN)
This is a quintessential northern Rh�ne grape variety with a faintly nutty character usually blended with the zippier Roussanneto make the dry whites of Crozes Hermitage, St.Joseph, C�tes du Rh�ne and at its best, the rare white Hermitage. It is becoming increasingly popular in the south of France as a blender and it's long been grown in Australia's Goulburn Valley. With the popularity of Rh�ne varieties in California, it's being tried out with some success here too.

Mavrodaphne (red)
(Mahv-roh-DAHF-nee)
One of the leading red varietals in Greece, this grape produces a wine that is full bodied, and one that is usually transformed into a fortified, port-esque wine with 15 to 16 percent alcohol.

Mavrud (red)
(Mahv-RHUD)
Balkan vine best known for the sturdy reds of Assenovgrad Mavrud in Bulgaria, where the grapes are small-berried and low-yielding.

Melnik (red)
(Mehl-NEEK)
Bulgaria's other quality near-native variety capable of producing good ageworthy, almost Rh�ne-like reds when produced from low-yields and aged in oak.

Melon de Bourgogne/Muscadet (white)
(Meh-lohn De Bor-GOW-nyah) (Moos-cah-day)
Known better as Muscadet, its region of production in the western Loire close to Nantes, Melon is synonymous with the rather neutral, acidic dry white Loire Valley wine which reached its zenith in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is not a particularly distinguished variety, but, when genuinely made sur lie, i.e. left on its lees for added zippy complexity, it can be transformed into a bracing summer white with a sort of sea-salty freshness, making it the perfect accompaniment to shellfish.

Merlot (red)
(MARE-low)
For long considered the junior partner in the great Bordeaux duo of grape varieties, Merlot has achieved growing popularity in the last decade of the 20th century thanks to the cult worship of certain Merlot-based Pomerols and Saint Emilions in Bordeaux as well as a growing taste for its lusciously plummy and flavoursome early-drinking delights in countries such as Chile and California. With its soft texture, deliciously plummy fruit flavour and mellow tannins, Merlot is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking to damp, cool, clay soils rather than the warmer gravels of the Médoc, plantings of the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot outnumber those of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and they are also growing extensively in the south of France. Merlot ripens earlier and more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its popularity in France and in northern Italy. It is widely planted in eastern Europe, but outside France, it is at its most serious in California, where it has become one of the 'hottest' varieties. It is also extensively grown in Chile, where it produces excellent value, supple-textured reds, and, increasingly in Australia and New Zealand.

Mondeuse (red)
(Mohn-duhz)
A peppery red variety grown in the high altitude vineyards of Savoie, also known as Refosco in north-east Italy's Friuli region.

Montepulciano (red)
(Mohn-ta-pool-TSHA-no)
Best known for the rustic reds of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, this deep-coloured variety, the main ingredient in Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, is widely planted in central Italy, and often used as a blender with Sangiovese.

Moschofilero (white)
(Mo-scho-FEE-lair-oh)
Moschofilero's home ground is the Arcadian plateau (650m above sea level) in the central Peloponnese. In this 'cool' region, harvest starts late, usually during the first 10 days of October. Moschofilero is a blanc-de-gris variety capable of producing several styles of wine: fruit-forward whites that are light and dry, as well as high in acidity, dry and off-dry rosé wines with a insistent rose petal perfume and, more recently, sparkling wines. In Greece, there is a strong demand for Mantinia, the appellation where this variety thrives, and it has become highly fashionable thanks to its vibrancy and inherent fruitiness. Alcohol levels are low, about 11.5% abv, and reach 12% only in exceptionally ripe years.

Mourv�dre/Monastrell (red)
(Moor-VED'rr) / (Mo-nass-strel)
Increasingly popular as the world wakes up to its qualities, this robust, thick-skinned Mediterranean variety with its funky, animal-like character is most widely planted in Spain where it's known as Monastrell. It's at its intense, blackberryish best where it gets lots of sunshine, often close to the sea, hence its ascendancy in Bandol on Provence's Mediterranean shoreline. On the back of the Rh�ne revival in California and Australia, it performs well in blends with other Mediterranean varieties, especially Grenache and Syrah.

M�ller-Thurgau (white)
(MEW-lehr Toor-gow)
A marvel of commercial engineering but never a high quality grape, this Germanic crossing of what is thought to be Silvaner with Riesling or chasselas has Dr. Hermann M�ller to thank for its dubious notoriety, which plumbs the depths in today's liebfraumilch. It is an early-ripening grape favoured in cool, northern climates, where it can produce floral, sweet-pea like aromas. It can produce decent wine in Italy's Alto-Adige, eastern Europe and in England and it formed the basis for the modern New Zealand table wine industry back in the 1970s.

Muscadelle (white)
(Mus-CAH-del)
The least of the Bordeaux trio of Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle, this grape nevertheless adds a certain fragrant quality to the dry and sweet whites of Bordeaux and is responsible for the wonderfully sticky, malty, fortified Tokays of north-east Victoria.

Muscat (white)
(Moos-caht)
There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat � Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its perfume and grapey character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, Italy's south and Australia's north-east Victoria and sparkling wines, notably Asti Spumante, Moscato Bianco and Clairette de Die. Muscat is widely grown in Spain, eastern Europe, Greece, Austria, Portugal and the New World.

 


N

Nebbiolo (red)
(Nay-BYOH-low)
Arguably Italy's greatest red grape variety, responsible in north-west Italy for the great reds of barolo and barbaresco, whose range of fabulous violet and rose-like perfumes and flavours of truffle, fennel, liquorice and tar, make it one of the world's most distinctive grape varieties. Named for the Italian nebbia, meaning fog, because of the mists which enshroud the limetstone hills of Monforte around Alba, nebbiolo is a tricky grape variety to grow and is structured by good acidity and plenty of tannin. Small quantities are grown in California and Australia, where it has yet to show the pedigree of its Italian counterpart.

Negroamaro (red)
 (Neg-ro-ah-MAHR-oh)
Puglia's main red grape variety producing ripe sometimes raisiny, chocolatey Mediterranean reds, best known in the DOC wines of Salice Salentino and Copertino

Nero d'Avola (red)
(Nair-OH Dah-VOH-lah)
Good quality red grape variety, almost indigenous to Sicily producing intense, ageworthy reds, especially when blended and matured in small oak casks.

Nielluccio (red)
(Nee-ell-OOH-chee-oh)
Deep-coloured Corsican vine, producing average to good quality wine, especially when matured in oak casks and blended with the island's other major red grape, Sciacarello.


 

 

O

Optima (white)
(OP-tee-mah)
A recent grape variety grown in Germany which combines Riesling, Sylvaner and Muller-Thurgau. Good ripening time and grows in a wide range of soils, but tends to produce mediocre wines. Consumed maily in Germany.


 

P

Palomino (white)
(Pahl-oh-MEE-no)
Palomino is the sherry grape grown in the vineyards of Jerez in southern Spain, where it performs best in Jerez' white, chalk-like albariza soils. It is low in acidity and fruit sugar which makes it ideal for the production of sherry. Although not particularly notable as a table wine, once it has undergone the sherry process of fortification and ageing in oak casks, it takes on distinctive characters as it matures. There is a fair amount grown in California and Australia.

Parellada (white)
(Pahr-ah-DEL-ah)
Appley Catalan variety mostly used in the production of cava, but also used to make a refreshing dry white in the Pened�s region.

Pedro Ximénez (white)
(PEH-dro Hee-MEH-nez)
The counterpart to Palomino in the Jerez region of Spain, PX, as it's nicknamed, produces dark, sweet, raisiny fortified wines and is used as a blender to sweeten Oloroso sherry.

Periquita (red)
(Pay-reh-KEE-tah)
This is widely grown in southern Portugal, aka Castel�o Franc�s, where it makes fruity reds sometimes with a gamey edge to them.

Petit and Gros Manseng (white)
(Peh-tee/Ghro Mohn-SEN)
Vine varieties from Juran�on in south-western France making assertive, grapefruity dry whites and, in the case of the superior petit manseng, luscious sweet whites following raisining (passerillage) on the vine.

Petit Verdot (red)
(Peh-tee Vehr-doe)
This high quality Bordeaux variety deserves to be better known as well as more popular but it doesn't always get ripe, especially in marginal climates. It is thick-skinned and produces richly concentrated, intense red wines which are usually added in small proportions to Médoc reds. It's grown in small quantities in California's Napa Valley and is currently viewed in parts of Australia, notably the Riverland, as a variety with the potential to produce premium reds.

Petite Sirah (red)
(Peh-teet See-rah)
Not related, despite the name, to the more noble Syrah, this is grown mainly in California and South America, where it produces sturdy, robust, faintly spicy reds. No longer thought to be the same grape as France's (and Australia's) Durif.

Picpoul (white)
(Peek-pool)
Another ancient Languedoc white variety, aka Piquepoul, which in the lively dry whites of Picpoul de Pinet, goes down a treat with the locally farmed oysters and mussels.

Pigato (white)
(Pee-GAH-toe)
An Italian varietla cultivated around the Liguria region. The wines tend to be full bodied, and dry white wines.

Pinotage (red)
(Pee-noe-tahj)
Red South African variety developed by Professor A.I.Perold in 1924 as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir and then largely ignored for half a century. Revival began in the late 1980s thanks largely to Beyers Truter whose championing of the variety led to international recognition with Kanonkop. It comes in a plethora of styles according to growing conditions, vineyard management and winemaking. With an assortment of plum, cherry, blackberry and banana flavours, it takes to oak barrels and can age well.

Pinot Blanc (white)
(Pee-noe BlahNK)
Pinot Blanc is most commonly associated with the full-bodied dry white wines of Alsace which can be neutral, but can also be quite apple and pear-like in character and act as a very good accompaniment to fish and shellfish. It is also grown in Burgundy, although not many producers admit to having it. Perhaps because of its neutral character, it is also extensively used in Alsace as a base for sparkling Crémant d'Alsace. Outside France, it is popular in Italy as Pinot Bianco, Austria as Weissburgunder and grown in parts of Eastern Europe as well as Oregon and California, where Chalone make a speciality of it.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris (white)
(Pee-noe Gree-joe) / (Pee-noe Gree)
Pinot Gris, aka Tokay Pinot Gris in Alsace, is a slightly spicier and more expressive version of its stablemate, Pinot Blanc, and actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is one of the chief dry white varieties in Alsace, but also produces some deliciously sweet, ageworthy, late-harvest styles. It is the same grape as northern Italy's Pinot Grigio, Germany's Grauburgunder or Rul�nder and Hungary's Sz�rkebar�t and is becoming moderately fashionable in New Zealand.

Pinot Meunier (red)
(Pee-noe Muh-n'yay)
Not particularly well-known as a varietal, this relative of Burgundy's Pinot Noir is best known as the third main blending variety in Champagne, where it is more dependable than Pinot Noir because of its ability to ripen on slopes which Pinot Noir would have trouble coping with as well. It is generally thought to add suppleness and youthful fruit to the Champagne blend. Meunier is also grown in Germany an Australia and to a lesser degree in California.

Pinot Noir (red)
(Pee-noe Nwahr)
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing limestone hills of Burgundy's C�te d'Or. This thin-skinned grape is a notoriously temperamental variety, which has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils. There's no other grape like Pinot Noir with its wonderfully heady perfumes, and thrillingly pure, sweet, red berry flavours of raspberry, loganberry, mulberry, cherry and strawberry. It takes well to French oak and, in bottle, develops truffley and gamey undertones. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is one of the major grape varities in Champagne, and plantings of Pinot in the region are even more extensive than those in Burgundy itself. Despite its fickle nature, it is a tribute to its desirability among consumers and producers and it has inspired growers all over Europe and the New World.

Portugieser (red)
(Por-tschu-GHEE-zer)
Portugieser is a red Austrian and German wine grape found primarily in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and wine regions of Lower Austria. Producers usually make a simple light red wine, which is characterized by a fresh, tart and light body. It is also frequently vinified as a rosé.

Primitivo (red)
(Pree-mee-TEE-voh)
A red grape grown in the Apulia region of Italy. These wines are intensly flavored, and contain at least 14 percent alcohol.  Some dessert wines are produced from the varietal, which some experts believe to be identical to the Zinfandel grape of California.

Prosecco (white)
(Pro-SEH-co)
An Italian grape cultivated in the Veneto region for the wine bearing the same name. The wines are fizzante, or slightly sparkling, still, or spumante, fully sparkling. They tend to be crisp, dry and amabile. 


 

 

R

Raboso (red)
(Rah-BO-so)
A red varietal, native to the Veneto region of Italy. The grapes produce a austere, tannic wine.

Reichensteiner (white)
(RIKE-in-stine-ehr)
Three-way crossing by the late Dr Helmut Becker with Germany's M�ller-Thurgau, France's madeleine angevine and Italy's calabrese, also planted in England and New Zealand.

Refosco (red)
(Reh-FOSS-coh)
An Italian red varietal that is produced in the Friuli region. It is considered to be similar to Mondeuse in France and produces sturdy, full bodied wines.

Riesling (white)
(REESE-ling)
The one true classic non-French grape, Riesling is the most versatile, scented white variety in the range of wines it produces from dry to lusciously sweet. Yet it's revival always seems to be just around the next corner. This is as much because of its tarnished reputation due to Liebfraumilch and the array of wanna-be Rieslings which have arrogated the good name of Rhine Riesling (Olasz, Welsch, Laski, Riesling Italico) as for the steely acidity which generally makes for more demanding wines than those produced from Sauvignon or Chardonnay. The late-ripening Riesling's heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces wines rich in crisp, lime and appley flavours and honeyed richness. Its classification from dry to sweet gives it an entirely different cultural slant from its French counterparts, with the perfumed, sweet styles ranging from auslese to trockenbeerenauslese in great demand. Fine, dry Riesling is not only increasingly fashionable in Germany, but in Alsace and Austria too, where, in the Wachau in particular, some of the world's greatest dry Rieslings are produced. As a cool climate variety par excellence, Riesling has not adapted as well as the other to classics to the New World, but there are a handful of regions where it has been shown to do well, most notably the Eden and Clare Valleys in South Australia, Mount Barker in Western Australia, New Zealand's South Island, Washington State, and cooler spots in California and the Cape's Constantia.

Rkatsiteli (white)
(Ruh-KAT-see-TEL-ee)
Widely planted Russian variety grown in most of the ex-Soviet wine producing republics, especially Georgia.

Robola (white)
(Roh-boh-lah)
Robola is grown on the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos, but the finest examples come from Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands. The finest grapes are produced at high altitude (500m above sea level), on the plateau of the picturesque Omala valley, where the soil is predominantly limestone. Robola produces full-flavoured, crisp whites whose alcohol ranges from 13% to 14% abv.

Roditis (white)
(Roh-DEET-tis)
Roditis has a number of clones, the most aromatic being Migdali and Alepou, both of which have a pinkish skin. This grape is a crowd pleaser and, as such, is widely planted all over Greece, forming the backbone of the Patras appellation in the northwestern Peloponnese. Two emerging sub-regions have staked their claim as the best sites for Roditis: one lies on the slopes of Panachaiko Mountain, the other is in Egialia, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. Roditis is also grown in Attica and in Beotia, while the Macedonian hillsides, northeast of Thessaloniki, are making a reputation as a new venue for the vines. The northwest version is spicier than the southern, and is making a convincing case for a tightly structured 'northern style', in contrast to the more generous wines produced in the warmer climate of the Peloponnese.

Roussanne (white)
(Roo-SAHN)
A white wine grape cultivated in the Northern Rhone valley and used in the white versions of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In practice, this grape has been widely replaced by the sturdier and more productive Marsanne, whose wines tend to be heavier and less elegant than Roussanne, but the varietal is making a comeback in California, New Zealand, and South Africa as its own varietal wine.

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