Wine Education


There are thousands of grape varieties grown for winemaking throughout the world.

A handful are considered “Noble Grapes”. Meaning that even when grown outside of their indigenous homelands, they stay true to their varietal characteristics.

Below are seven very significant noble grapes also known as International Varieties along with flavor descriptors, origin, and where they are best grown. We’ll get up to 18 total before moving on to other significant but less known varietals.

The majority of white wines are made from “white grapes” which range in color from light green to amber yellow. White wine can also be made from “black grapes” because the free run juice from the grapes is clear. It’s the skin of the grapes that give color thus red wine can only be made from black grapes!

White Varietals:

Riesling: Citrus fruit, lime, stone fruit, peach and apricot, flowers, minerals, beeswax, gasoline and petrol notes with age. Riesling is considered one of the most aromatic wines.
Acidity Level: High
Sugar: Dry to very sweet
Alcohol: Low to medium
Origin: Germany
Notable growing regions: Germany, Alsace, Italy, Austria, Australia, Washington, New York, and Canada.

Sauvignon Blanc: Cut grass, vegetal aromas, asparagus, green pepper, fruit notes of honeydew, grapefruit, lemon, lime, gooseberry, and green fig, and don’t forget the mineral scent of “cat pee”. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Acidity Level: High
Sugar: Dry
Alcohol: Medium
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Loire, Bordeaux, New Zealand, California, Washington, Italy, Chile, South Africa, and Canada.

Chardonnay: Apple, pear, lemon, pineapple, melon, citrus, honey, butter, vanilla.
Acidity Level: Grown in a cool climate the acidity is medium to high. In a warm climate it has low to medium acidity. Chardonnay can be extremely diverse ranging from unoaked to rich and buttery. Malolactic Fermention is often used in Chardonnay to express a richer, creamier and oiler texture and mouthfeel.
Sugar: Dry
Alcohol: Medium to High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Burgundy, Champagne, South America, Australia, California, and Washington.

Chenin Blanc: Apple (including over ripe apple), orange citrus, nectarine, orange blossom.
Acidity Level: Medium Plus to High
Sugar: Dry to Sweet
Alcohol: Medium Plus
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Loire Valley, South Africa, Argentina, California, and Washington.

Gewurztraminer: Lychee, pink grapefruit, floral notes, and spices.
Acidity Level: Low
Sugar: Dry to Off Dry
Alcohol: High
Origin: Germany
Notable growing regions: Alsace, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, California, Washington, and Oregon.

Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio): Citrus fruit, orange, lemon, lime, crisp apple, pear, and honeysuckle.
Acidity Level: Medium to High
Sugar: Dry
Alcohol: Medium
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, Alsace, Burgundy, Loire, Italy, California, Oregon, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and Germany.

Semillon: Apricot, green apple, pear, lemon, papaya, lanolin, and honey.
Acidity Level: Medium
Sugar: Dry to Dessert Wine
Alcohol: Medium
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, California, and Washington.

Viognier: Peach, apricot, pineapple, orange, spice, floral aromas, and minerality.
Acidity Level: Low to Medium
Sugar: Dry
Alcohol: Medium Plus to High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, Australia, California, and Washington.

Red Varietals:

Pinot Noir: Cherry, strawberry, plum, raspberry, leather, mushrooms, gamey.
Acidity Level: High
Tannins: Low to Medium
Alcohol: Medium
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Burgundy, Champagne, Oregon, California, New Zealand and Chile.

Merlot: Black fruit, plum, black cherry, strawberry, figs, baking spices, clove, nutmeg, vegetal, chocolate, and coffee.
Acidity: Medium
Tannin: Low to Medium
Alcohol: Medium
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Bordeaux (Right and Left Bank), Italy, California, Washington, Australia, South Africa, and Chile.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Black Currant, Cassis, blackberry, black cherry, mint, eucalyptus, green bell pepper, with oak aging, smoke, tobacco, vanilla.
Acidity Level: Medium to Medium Plus
Tannin: High
Alcohol: High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Bordeaux (left bank), California, Washington, Australia, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Chile.

Syrah/Shiraz: Black fruits, black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, black pepper, violets, rosemary, clove, leather, herbaceous mint notes, spice.
Acidity: Medium
Tannin: Medium to High
Alcohol: Medium to High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, Australia, California, Washington.

Grenache Noir: Raspberry, strawberry, red and black cherry, anise, and earthy character.
Acidity Level: Medium
Tannin: Low to Medium
Alcohol: Medium Plus to High
Origin: Spain
Notable growing regions: France, Spain, Italy, Australia, California, and Washington.

Malbec: Raspberry, black plum, blueberry, black cherry, blackberry, pepper, coffee, and tobacco.
Acidity Level: Medium
Tannin: Medium
Alcohol: Medium Plus to High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: Argentina, France, Chile, and Washington.

Mourvedre: Blueberry, plum, over ripe strawberry, white and black pepper, and roasted meat.
Acidity Level: Medium Plus
Tannin: High
Alcohol: High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, Spain, Washington, California, and Australia.

Petit Verdot: Black plum, black cherry, fig, olive and violets.
Acidity Level: Medium
Tannin: High
Alcohol: Medium Plus to High
Origin: France
Notable growing regions: France, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Sangiovese: Tart cherry, dried strawberry, red plum, tomato, dried spices, and floral.
Acidity Level: High
Tannin: High
Alcohol: Medium Plus
Origin: Italy
Notable growing regions: Italy, Corsica, Argentina, California, Washington, Australia, Chile, and Romania.

Shelly Fitzgerald, CS, CSW |Wine Education Specialist| Columbia Winery
Shelly Fitzgerald, CS, CSW |Wine Education Specialist| Columbia Winery

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