Grape Tips: Eight wine grapes you should know - THEGRAPE

Grape Tips Tuesday: 8 Grape Varietals You Should Know

This Week In Wine 101: 8 Grape Varietals You Should Know

Every so often while shopping for a bottle of wine, whether online, at a local wine shop, or at a liquor or grocery store, we come across wine grape varietals we’ve not heard of or experienced. While this may peak your curiosities, it may raise some questions like:

  • Where do these wines and grapes come from?
  • What flavors can I expect to taste in these wines?
  • What are the prices and where can I find the best bargains for these wines?


Well, we’d like to share 8 wine grape varietals that you may encounter that we believe you should know: Tempranillo, Malbec, Muscat/Moscato, Sangiovese, Chablis, Garnacha/Grenache, Port and Sherry. So where do these varietals come from? Let’ start with Tempranillo.



Tempranillo (pronounced tem-pran-ee-yo) is a thick, dark skinned grape from Spain. The region of Rioja in Spain is known for cultivating this grape and all its glory. The main flavors and aromas associated with this varietal are a combination of black currants, strawberry, cherry, plum, and earthy or mineral flavors. This is a fruit driven wine with balanced tannins that won’t overwhelm, and a body weight somewhere between medium and full-bodied. It can be produced as a single varietal, table wine, or combined with other varietals to make a blend. In Portugal, Tempranillo is used to make delicious port wine. Looking for some Tempranillo wines to try? Check out these bottles:

Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza 2012 or 2013 ($13+)

Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Rioja Reserva 2008 or 2009 ($18+)

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001 ($30+)

Vina Herminia Rioja Reserva ($18+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Malbec (pronounced mal-beck) is a dark purple grape that originated in the region of Bordeaux in France. Now grown all over the world, it really shines in Argentina and has become their most prominent varietal, with good acidity, bold tannins and balanced alcohol levels. Malbec wines tend to range from medium to full-bodied and are on the dry side. This varietal showcases a medley of dark fruits like, plum, blackberry, and black cherry and is often described as having a robust jam-like nature that packs a punch. Atop of that are subtle traces of tobacco, smoke, earth, white or black pepper and leather. Malbec’s amaze because of the variety of flavor layers people experience. You can enjoy Malbec as is or with a meal. This bold beauty won’t disappoint. Here are some great bargains to buy:

Amalaya Malbec Red Blend 2013 ($15+)

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2013 ($18+)

Catena Malbec 2013 ($18+)

Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2014 ($16+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Moscato or Muscat is one of the oldest wine grapes in the world and is believed to have originated somewhere in the Middle East, although now, it is grown worldwide. It is a grape that encompasses hundreds of varietals that come in an array of colors – ranging from deep, dark purple that looks almost black, to bright red or white/green. Like its grapes, Muscat produces white, pink/blush or red wines and can be morphed into flat, sparkling or dessert wines. It also partners well with other varietals. Muscat possesses fresh, fruity and floral bouquets with musky, dry, sweet, citrus or crisp fruit flavors. Consider it the ‘chameleon’ of wines. Here are some bargain wine bottles to buy:

Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato 2015 ($10+)

Caposaldo Sparkling Sweet Peach Moscato ($10+)

Ruffino Moscato d’Asti 2014 ($12+)

Stella Rosa Pink ($12+)

Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2105 ($11+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Sangiovese hails from Italy and is a dark purple shade known for its solid tannins, high acidity and well-balanced character. Sangiovese is extremely fluid and blends well with other varietals, while showcasing red fruit, like strawberry and red cherries, and displaying soft tannins with layered flavors. It is the main grape used to produce Chianti, and is used to make ‘Super Tuscan’ wines and other blends, like Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino. California, Washington and Australia produce nice blends with this grape.

Niner Sangiovese 2013 ($20+)

K vinters Guido Sangiovese 2012 ($45)

Luna Vineyards Sangiovese 2013 ($17+)

Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese 2015 ($10+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Chablis comes from the northern part of France in the region of Burgundy. French Chablis is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and is noted for having fresh refined aromas with green apple, tart-like, acidic flavors combined with hints of flint or wet stone. Chablis’ tend to have a dry disposition with features reflecting France’s terroir. It is used as an aperitif to build an appetite and pairs well with seafood dishes. Unlike most white wines, Chablis ages quite nicely. Premier Cru wines can age for several years, while Grand Cru Chablis can age for up to 8 years, and sometimes a little longer. Here is a list of Chablis wines to try:

Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 2014 ($22+)

Christian Moreau Chablis 2014 ($29+)

Brocard Vau de Vey Premier Cru Chablis 2014 ($39+)

Louis Jadot Chablis 2014 ($22+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Garnacha (pronounced Gar-nacha) was birthed in Spain, and, along with Tempranillo, is one of the major varietals cultivated in the region of Rioja. It’s also grown in the south of France, in both the Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon regions, where it’s known as Grenache (pronounced Gren-aash). Today Garnacha/Grenache is grown all over the world though some profess that Spain and France produce the best examples of this varietal, of course this is entirely up to the taster. It is noted for having sweet berry fruit flavors with undercurrents of tar, coffee, leather and spices. Garnacha/Grenache is most often light in color and weight and should be enjoyed while young. However, when blended with other varietals it may offer longevity and deeper shades of red. It can be produced into a white, red, rosado or rosé wine. Try these wines to get a taste of its features and qualities:

Clarendon Hills Blewitt Springs Grenache 2010 ($35+)

Beckmen Estate Grenache 2014 ($23+)

Quivira Grenache ($38)

Austin Hope Grenache ($25+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.


Port/Vinho de Porto

Port wine, a fortified wine, is made from a blend of varietals. While there are a number of wine grape varietals used to produce port wine, there are five varietals most often used in the production of Port wine: Tempranillo, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. One of the main regions for producing Port wine is Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Although, the majority of Port wines are red, there are ‘White Port’ wines too. There are several different shades of port wine: brawny, butterscotch/tawny, red, ruby, or white. Port wines contain high amounts of alcohol, usually between 16% and 22%, and are rich in flavor and have far more body weight than flat wines. Ports are fortified by adding Brandy during its fermentation process to kill off any remaining yeasts –causing it to have a sweeter disposition. Ports can be semi-dry, dry or rich and sweet. If you’re looking to experience some nice Port wines, consider the following bargain bottles:

NV Premium Reserva Fonseca Bin 27 Port ($15+)

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($49+)

Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port ($21+)

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny ($45+)

NV Fonseca 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30+)

Note: Most of these wines can be found online or locally at Total Wine.



Fortified wine (meaning brandy is added to the wine to add alcohol content)

Though both Port and Sherry wines share many similarities, the two wines take different paths in their final stages of production. Sherry is a fortified wine like Port, however it originated in Andalusia, Spain. Three towns make up what is known as the Sherry Triangle: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez de la Frontera, and El Puerto de Santa María. The two main wine grape varietals used to make Sherry are, Palomino and Pedro Ximénez. There are five different styles that Sherry is expressed as. The first two, Manzanilla and Fino, are light in color and dry in taste. The next two, Amontillado and Oloroso, are darker in color and heavier in weight (mouth feel), and can vary from dry to semi-dry. The last, Cream Sherry, is sweet in nature and dark in color. Unlike Port, Brandy is added to Sherry wine after fermentation. Expect dry, rich sweet flavors of nuttiness, dried or caramelized fruits. Try these bottles of Sherry with your friends or dinner party guests.

NV Don Benigno Fino Sherry – $10

NV Osborne Medium Amontillado Sherry & NV Vinicola Soto ‘Jose de Soto’ Cream Sherry ($13+)

NV Harveys Reserve Rare Cream Sherry & NV A.R. Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa Sherry ($17+)

NV Bodegas Los Infantes Orleans Borbon Fenicio Oloroso Seco Sherry & NV Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry ($20+)


The good news is these wines and grape varietals can be found almost anywhere – in grocery stores, specialty wine shops, liquor store, and mention the endless wine merchants and retailers online that sell more than a small selection of wines. So the next time you’re shopping for a good wine, try one of the following grape varietals listed above. Each of these wine or grape varietals is expressed differently from region to regions but its good to broaden your palate by tasting different wines and styles. Perhaps you’ll find another varietal or two to add to your collection or share amongst friends. At the grape we’re committed to making wine simpler and more fun. Thank you for reading this article. We’d love to hear about your experiences with any or all of the wine grape varietals above. You can share in the comments below or at Enjoy!


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