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Varietal Guide


 
C

Cabernet Franc (red)
(Cab-air-nay FrahNK)
If Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are, respectively, Bordeaux's king and queen, Cabernet Francis its prince. Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, it's acts both as great blender with its special fragrance and at the same time as a form of insurance policy. On the cooler, clay soils of the Right Bank, it forms the backbone of many of the supple delicious, blackcurrant and red berry fruit St Emilions and Pomerols, most notably Cheval Blanc. Outside Bordeaux it's the major red grape of the Loire, where it's more herbaceous in style, as it tends to be in north-east Italy. The name used for it in the middle Loire is Breton. It's also grown in California, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Cabernet Sauvignon (red)
(Cab-air-nay So-veen-yawN)
Famous, fabulous and fabled, Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Francand petit verdot. Cabernet can be herbaceous when a little unripe with capsicum notes, becoming blackcurranty or cassis-like often with cedary, musky and spicy qualities. It's deep-coloured and its assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class, the best of which come from Bordeaux and California and parts of Tuscany and Australia. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.

Canaiolo (red)
(Can-nah-YOH-lo)
Grown widely throughout central Italy but best known as a minor blending partner to Sangiovese in Chianti, although no longer a compulsory ingredient.

Cannonau (red)
(Cah-noh-NAH-oh)
An Italian red grape widely grown in Sardinia that produces wines that can be dry or sweet and also fortified, as well as some rosés. Most of the wines have at least 13.5 percent alcohol, and one year of oak aging.

Carignan (red)
(Cah-reen-yawN)
The most widely planted grape variety in France, this workhorse red grape abounds as a bush vine in the vineyards of southern France, where it is mostly used as a blender in Languedoc's major appellations of Corbi�res and Minervois. At low yields, and vinified by carbonic maceration, it is capable of producing good, if rustic, reds. In Catalonia in Spain, it is known as Cari�ena, and in Rioja, as Mazuelo. As Carignano del Sulcis, it makes attractively herby wine in Sardinia and is widely planted in California and South America.

Carmen�re (red)
(Car-men-air)
Variety which died out in Bordeaux after phylloxera but has since been revived in Chile, where it is also known as Grande Vidure.

Catarratto (white)
(Cah-tah-RAH-toe)
An Italian grape, widely planted in Sicily, where it is a component of Marsala.

Catawba (red)
(Cah-TAW-bah)
A native American Varietal, which happens to also be a hybrid, this grape used to be the most widely planted varietal in the United States for a centruy. It is still widely grown in Ohio and New York State, where it is second only to Aurora as the most widely planted red varietal. It produces a wine with a pronounced grapy flavor, and is also used to make a sparkling version.

Chancellor (red)
(Chans-slur)
The modern name for a Fench-American Hybrid, the grape produces a full bodied wine, mostly in the Eastern United States.

Chardonnay (white)
(Shar-doe-nay)
Chardonnay is the most popular of all white grape varieties, albeit not the most widely planted variety in the world (a dubious honour belonging to Spain's Airén). Why so popular? As the grape of white burgundy it produces a variety of flavours and styles according to where it's grown and how it's made, from minerally, unoaked Chablis to the grand and complex, nutty dry whites of Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet in the C�te de Beaune and the fleshpots of Pouilly Fuissé further south. Along with Pinot Noir, it is also the major grape variety in Champagne. Because of its versatility, it's spread like a bush fire throughout Europe and the New World, with brilliant, opulently and exotically flavoured whites in California, Australia and New Zealand. As winemakers lavish increasing attention on it, it does increasingly well in Chile and South Africa. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American, and while barrel-fermented Chardonnays tend to be the richest, most complex and long-lived dry whites, the trend to unoaked Chardonnay is catching on as a backlash to the hefty, overwooded styles. Despite talk of Chardonnay fatigue, its wonderful flavours, richness and versatility ensure that it is here to stay.
 
Chasselas (white)
(Shah-s'lah)
Not well-regarded in Alsace but more esteemed in Savoie and in Switzerland, and also widely grown in central Europe.

Chenin Blanc (white)
(Shay-naN BlaNK)
The versatile Chenin Blanc's pretensions to classic grape status are mainly realised in the Loire Valley, where its floral aroma, apple and pear-like flavour and acidity contribute to long-lived dry styles and luscious sweet whites around Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Vouvray and Layon, and, on occasions, full-flavoured sparkling wines. Considered more of a workhorse variety in the New World, it is South Africa's most widely planted grape variety (known as Steen), widely planted in California, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, and occasionally produces quality dry whites when barrel-fermented.

Cinsaut (red)
(SaN-so)
Southern Rh�ne variety, aka Cinsault, used in Ch�teauneuf-du-Pape and the Midi, also popular in South Africa and an ingredient in Lebanon's Ch�teau Musar.

Clairette (white)
(Clair-et)
Ancient Languedoc grape used in many of southern France's regions, but usually needing the acidity of grenache, picpoul or Ugni Blanc to bring it to life.

Colombard (white)
(Cohl-um-bahrd)
Probably because of its association with Armagnac and Cognac, for which it is distilled in south-west France, Colombard has no status at all within the grape variety world. When produced at reasonable cropping levels, it can make a more than acceptable, commercial dry white style such as vin de pays des C�tes de Gascogne. It is produced to make neutral, commercial wines in South Africa, California and Australia, and some say the best colombard in the world is made by Joe Grilli's Primo Estate in the Adelaide Plains.

Cortese(white)
(Cor-TAY-zeh)
Piedmontese dry white with crisp Alpine acidity probably best appreciated in the wines of Gavi and also forming part of Verona's Bianco di Custoza.

Corvina (red)
(Cohr-VEE-nah)
Late-ripening quality component of Valpolicella and the powerful Veronese speciality reds, Amarone and Recioto.

 

D

Dolcetto (red)
(Dohl-CHET-toe)
Not sweet despite the sweet-sounding nomenclature, this is an everyday north-west Italian variety whose low acidity and tannins make it perfect for lapping up risotto and pasta in the Beaujolais mould. Made for drinking young, it's alive with vibrant plummy, liquorice-like fruitiness, although some of the best Piemontese producers make a more serious, richer style which can improve with age for as long as five years. Also found in limited quantities in Argentina and Australia.

Dornfelder (red)
(DORN-fell-DER)
Colourful, early-ripening red producing fruity, appealing reds in Germany and grown to a limited extent in England.

 

E

Ehrenfelser (white)
(AIR-en-fell-zer)
Hybrid white wine grape made in Germany by crossing Riesling and Sylvaner. Advantageous for a better ripening over a wider range of sites, but has low acidity and does not age as well as Riesling.

Elbling (red/white)
(Ell-bling)
Ancient grape, also known as Kleinberger, grown in France, Germany and Luxembourg. Used to make highly acidic but mainly low-strength wine.

Ezerjo (white)
(Ez-AIR-ho)
Widely grown in Hungary and also Yugoslavia. It produces full-bodied, refreshing wine of the same name.
 

F

Fern�o Pires (white)
(Fur-nay-yo Pee-air-ess)
Quality Portuguese variety grown throughout Portugal but especially in Ribatejo and Bairrada where it's known as Maria Gomes.

Freisa (red)
(FRAY-zah)
Another light Piedmontese variety with a slight raspberryish tang produced as a still or sparkling red.

Furmint (white)
(FOOR-mint)
Susceptible to raisining and noble rot (known as asz� in Hungary's Tokaji), this full-bodied, high acid quality grape is the major partner in the blend with H�rslevel� which makes up Tokaji, the rich, long-lived wines of the Tokaj region in Hungary, now undergoing a revival thanks to western investments. It can produce a good, fiery dry white too. It's also grown in Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Romania.

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