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Varietal Guide


 
 
S

Sagrantino (red)
(Sah-gran-TEE-noh)
Big, powerful, sturdy red grape variety best known for the DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco in Umbria.

Sangiovese (red)
(Sahn-joe-VAY-zeh)
Meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the Chianti grape par excellence, and responsible in Tuscany too, for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobilo de Montpulciano. A fussy grape to grow, it can produce lively, almost fizzing young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours and great finesse. Ongoing colonel selection in Chianti Classic designed to reverse the rush to plant productive clones is helping the process of improving Sangiovese-based wines in Italy. Sangiovese is widespread in Argentina thanks to the influx of Italian immigrants and has become fashionable in California and, to a more limited extent, in Australia.

Saperavi (red)
(Sah-PUHR-ah-VEE)
Deep-coloured Russian red grape with good acidity which can age extremely well in bottle, and widely planted throughout the ex-Soviet Union republics.

Sauvignon Blanc (white)
(So-VEEN-YAWN BlahNK)
While it may lack the dimensions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon's greatest attributes lie in its fabulous array of aromatic qualities, which vary according to growing location and its treatment in the cellar. It divides into two clear styles characterised by the fragrant, zingy fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, and the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is a component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. It can do well in cooler areas within Europe, including parts of Austria and Hungary. In New Zealand's Marlborough, it produces a stunning array of pungently, assertive characters, from the green grass, green bean, tinned pea and asparagus flavours to the more tropical, ripe spectrum of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit and mango. The Sauvignon cause has also been taken up to good and affordable effect by Chile and South Africa, whose cooler spots are proving ideal for this wonderfully zingy, fresh grape variety.

Savagnin (white)
(Sah-vah-nyan)
Rustic grape of Jura producing whites with a distinctive 'terroir' character whose apogee is reached in the sherry-like (but unfortified) Vin Jaune of Jura and Ch�teau-Chalon.

Scheurebe (white)
(SHOY-ray-buh)
Underrated German grape variety not unlike French Sauvignon Blanc in its ability to produce catty, grapefruit-like whites, mostly dry, but occasionally, notably in Austria, opulently rich and sweet.

Schiava (red)
(Skee-AH-vah)
An interesting red grape native to Italy's Alto Adige region, it produces wines that are light in color and tannin, and that are fresh, fragrant, and early maturing. It can be used for straight red wine, or rosés.

Semillon (white)
(Say-MEE-yoN)
Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented. It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where its susceptibility to noble rot concentrates the fruit sugars and acids in the grapes to produce some of the most luscious, sweet wines in the world, most notably that of Chateau d'Yquem, a blend of four-fifths semillon, one-fifth Sauvignon Blanc. On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia's most individual dry whites, in particular those from the Hunter Valley, which develop a buttered toast character with age, while the richer, fuller-bodied, lemony Bares Valley Semillons can also be excellent. Generally, its richness and body is often used to complement the aromatic Sauvignon, although in cool, maritime climates such as New Zealand, it can develop pungently grassy characteristics. Semillon, often spelt with the accent dropped outside France, is also widespread in South and North America, and it's planted in eastern Europe and South Africa too, where it never quite scales the heights achieved in France and Australia.

Seyval Blanc (white)
(Say-vahl BlahNK)
A french-american hybrid, and widely planted in the United States, this grape is increasingly being marketed as a varietal wine. The grape produces a fresh, crisp wine that reminds some of a mild Sauvignon Blanc. A number of producers are however using oak aging to produce a richer, longer-lived wine.

Shiraz/Syrah (red)
(SHEE-RAZ) / (SEE-RAH)
Syrah is a quintessentially Mediterranean-climate variety, a big cropper resistant to pests and diseases, producing dark, inky, aromatic reds with black fruit flavours and peppery, spicy characteristics. It is the great red grape of the northern Rh�ne where it reaches its apogee in the deep-hued, muscular, long-lived wines of Hermitage and C�te R�tie. It is a component of southern Rh�ne reds and the fastest growing grape in Franc's Languedoc region, where it has been introduced as an improving variety. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, where it forms the backbone of Grange, Australia's most famous red, and is grown with increasing confidence in South Africa and Argentina.

Silvaner (white)
(Sill-VAH-ner)
A relatively elegant German variety than Riesling with pronounced acidity reaching its best expression in Franconia, and known as sylvaner in Alsace, where it is one of the lesser varietals.

Saptburgunder (red)
(SHPAT-boor-gun-der)
The German name for Pinot Noir, it is the country's most widely planted red varietal, with most of the vines in the Baden region.

St. Laurent (red)
(San Law-rahn)
Not dissimilar to Pinot Noir, this is one of Austria's best red grape varieties and grown too in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


 

T

Tannat (red)
(Tah-nah)
Deep-hued, intense, spicy red known best for the wines of Madiran in south-west France, but also the foundation of Uruguay's best reds and grown in Argentina.

Tempranillo (red)
(Temp-rah-NEEL-yo)
Spain's most important quality red variety, forming the backbone of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, where it's known as Tinto Fino (other synonyms include Ull de Llebre, Tinta del Pais, Tinta de Toro, Cencibel and, in Portugal, Aragon�s and Tinta Roriz). Capable of making juicy young reds as well as serious, well-structured, fine, oak-aged reds with vanilla, tobacco spice and strawberry flavours, usually blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, but sometimes made on its own. One of the major red varieties of Argentina and grown also in Languedoc-Roussillon, California and Australia.

Teroldego(red)
(Tay-rohl-DEH-go)
A red variety from Trentino, aka Teroldego Rotaliano, which is deep-hued and capable of producing lively, juicy, Italian Beaujolais-style rosso.

Tinta Barroca (red)
(Teen-toe Bah-ro-cah)
This is a robust Portuguese variety, aka Tinta Barocca, used as a blender in port but also popular in South Africa and known in Australia too.

Tinto Cao (red)
(Teen-toe Kah-oh)
One of the rarest, high quality port grapes grown in the Douro Valley, highly prized for its spicy character.

Tocai Friulano (white)
(Toh-KYE Fr'yoo-LAH-noe)
No relation to the Hungary's Tokaji or Alsace's tokay Pinot gris, tocai friulano, also known as Sauvignon vert or Sauvignonasse, is at its best in the hills of Friuli, where it makes a refreshingly crisp, nutty dry white style.

Torrontés (white)
(Tohr-ROHN-tayss)
Fragrant, grapey, Muscat-like Spanish variety common in Argentina, to which it may have been originally transported from Galicia.

Touriga Francesa (red)
(Too-REE-gah Fran-SAY-sah)
This scented red is one of the five main grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley to make port and also good in the Tr�s-os-Montes region of Portugal.

Touriga Nacional (red)
(Too-REE-gah Nah-CEE-oh-nal)
Although not widely known as a varietal, this rare, small-berried, dark-skinned Portuguese variety is nevertheless the highest quality grape that goes into the Douro Valley melting pot to produce port (the others are mainly Touriga Francesa, Tinto C�o, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). Still in Portugal, it' also one of the major grapes of D�o and is grown in Australia, where it's known simply as Touriga.

Trebbiano (white)
(Treb-YAH-no)
The most widely planted white variety in Italy, quantity does not however bring quality in its wake. It's an insipid variety, known in France as Ugni Blanc, where its use as the basis for brandy (as in Mexico too) speaks volumes. There are a handful of producers however, most notably in Lugana and Abruzzo, who, thanks to low-yields and careful winemaking, manage to squeeze some Chardonnay-like character out of this ubiquitous vine. Widely planted too in Argentina, South Africa and Australia.


 

U

Ugni-blanc (white)
(Oo-nyee Blahnk)
Known as Trebbiano (see above) and Saint Emilion, a grape grown extensively in France - mainly used in Cognac and Gascony - as well as Italy and the New World.


 

V

Verdejo (white)
(Vehr-day-oh)
One of Spain's higher quality white varietiers grown around Rueda where it is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc to add body and richness to Sauvignon's aromatic lift.

Verdelho (white)
(Vehr-DAY-lho)
Portuguese variety grown in Madeira where it makes a fortified style between Sercial and Bual and grown as a still wine grape in Australia, especially Western Australia.

Verdicchio (white)
(Vehr-DEEK-yo)
High quality grape from the eponymous DOC in the Marche region of Italy with good body and faintly spicy flavours, and best from the Jesi zone.

Vermentino (white)
(Vair-men-TEE-no)
Distinctively perfumed Mediterranean white with good acid retention grown in Italy mainly in Sardinia and Liguria, and known in Provence, Languedoc and Corsica as Rolle.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano (white)
(Vehr-NAHCH-ya dee Sahn Jee-mee-NYAH-noe)
This dry white variety's main claim to fame is that it's grown around the picturesque, turreted medieval town of San Gimignano, where it occasionally justifies its promotion to DOCG status.

Vidal Blanc (white)
(Vee-dahl BlahNK)
A French-American hybrid descened from Ugni Blanc that produces attractive wines that may be crisp and dry or semisweet. Another variation is a supersweet and think ice-wine that is mainly produced in the Niagara Peninsula of Canada made from frozen grapes.

Vignoles (red/white)
(Vee-NYOLE)
A French-American hybrid that can be white or red depending on the cross hybrid used, this variety is mostly planted in New York State and produces red wines that are lively and acidic, while the whites can be off-dry to sweet and honeyed.

Viognier (white)
(Vee-OHN-yay)
The 'hottest' of the Rh�ne Valley trio, which includes Marsanne and Roussanne, Viognier is one of those relatively rare varieties which have been 'discovered' and now everyone wants a slice of the action. Rippling out from the small appellation of Condrieu and the even tinier one of Ch�teau Grillet, the aromatic, powerful viognier with its hallmark blossom scents and apricot and peach-like flavours, has become the darling of Californians, and, latterly Argentina, Australia and the South of France too. It makes powerfully rich, dry whites made for drinking young, offering a delicious alternative style to Chardonnay.


 

W

Welschriesling (white)
(Velsh-REECE-ling)
The 'poor man's Riesling', Welschriesling is actually not related to the superior rhine Riesling of Germany at all. It is at its best in Austria, where it can make sumptuously sweet dessert whites. As a Central European grape variety, it goes under a sheaf of pseudonyms, such as olsazriesling (in Hungary) laski Riesling (in Slovenia) and Riesling italico (in Italy). Germany's attempt to distance it from rhine Riesling has resulted in a change of name for all pretenders to rizling.


 

X

Xarel-lo (white)
(Zah-RAY-loh)
Earthy, undistinguished Catalan variety normally used as a blender in cava along with Parellada and Macabeo.

Xinomavro (red)
(Zee-NOH-mahv-roe)
Xinomavro is, quite possibly, the greatest of Greece's red grapes and, quite definitely, a wine lover's wine. Fickle and inconsistent, it is capable of producing great wines only on specific sites and in vintages warm enough to ripen its low-tannin, high-acid grapes. The grape is, so far, unique to the central Macedonian 'Xinomavro triangle' of Naoussa, Goumenissa and Amyndeo. The longest-lived wines come from Naoussa. Here, its tough, tannic, high-acid structure resembles Barolo. Merlot is now often grown alongside Xinomavro, and various new blends have emerged. Xinomavro and its blends are food wines, ideally paired with rich dishes.


 

Z

Zibibbo (white)
(Zi-BEE-boh)
One of the most ancient varieties still around, this grape is thought to have been drank by Cleopatra. It is mostly used for blending in Australia, South Africa, Greece, and Spain (for use in Sherries). In Italy, it is used to make still wines that are sweet and made in the style of Marsala, except the stil wines do not have the added distilled spirits as in Marsala.

Zinfandel (red)

(Zin-fahn-DELL)
Responsible for the blush wine craze of the late 1980s, Zinfandel is a near-native grape of California, where at its best, it produces powerfully-constructed, brambly, spicy reds for the most part best drunk young or relatively young. Known as Primitivo, it also flourishes in Puglia, around Manduria, producing similarly big, albeit more savoury, reds. Like South Africa's Pinotage, it has recently undergone a major revival in California, so much so that Italy, ironically, has recently won the right to the use of the name Zinfandel for Primitivo.
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