varieties

varieties
introduction

Grape varieties not only have their own characteristics, conferring various tastes to the wines, but they do differ on each soil they grow on. Simple as mixing ingredients in a cocktail, winemakers tend to assemble the right grapes, on the right soil, in the right proportion to achieve the perfect balance in colour, tannins, acidity and flavours.

red wine grapes

cabernet sauvignon

  • Dominant in Medoc and left bank of Gironde
  • Small berries with thick and dark skins
  • Wines produced are deep coloured and high in tannins
  • Aromas of black fruits (plums, blackcurrant), spice, cigar box

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carbernet sauvignon

This is the classic Bordeaux variety, dominant in the Medoc but found throughout the region. It grows particularly well on the well-drained gravel soils found on the left bank of the Gironde. Cabernet Sauvignon is notable for its relatively small sized berries and thick, dark skins which mean that its wines are deep coloured and high in tannin. The thick skins also make the ripe grapes resistant to rain and rot.

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines tend to have aromas of black fruits such as plums and blackcurrants with notes of spice and cigar box. Cabernet Sauvignon also makes top quality wines in many other regions such as Tuscany, California’s Napa Valley and parts of Australia.

merlot

  • Dominant in Saint-Emilion and right bank of Gironde
  • Early ripening and maturing grapes
  • Wines produced are less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Aromas of red berries, cherries

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merlot

Merlot is more widely planted in Bordeaux than Cabernet Sauvignon and is the dominant grape variety of the right bank, where it excels in the appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. In general the wines are less tannic than those where Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant and tend to be earlier maturing. Merlot also tends to ripen earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be an advantage where the conditions are cooler and damper than those of the Medoc.

cabernet franc

  • Dominant in the right bank of Gironde
  • Low in tannin and acidity because of thin skin
  • Aromas of raspberry, violet, tobacco

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cabernet franc

This is another early ripening variety which is one reason it is often planted in Bordeaux’s cooler right bank. It tends to be lower in tannin and acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon and is most often found blended with Merlot. The grape achieves its greatest success at Chateau Cheval Blanc where it makes up nearly 60% of the blend and performs particularly well on the mixture of gravel, clay and sand found in those vineyards. Wines with a large proportion of Cabernet Franc can show herbaceous characters particularly when young.

white wine grapes

sauvignon blanc

  • Dominant grape variety in production of dry white Bordeaux
  • Also used in Sauternes
  • Aromas of citrus, freshly cut grass, grapefruit

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sauvignon blanc

The most important grape in the production of dry white wines in Bordeaux as well as being used in sweet wines such as Sauternes and Barsac. Dry white wines with a high proportion of Sauvignon Blanc have herbaceous aromas of freshly cut grass and citrus fruit with high levels of acidity. While there are many examples of dry white Bordeaux made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc many of the best are blended with Semillon. Oak ageing can also add additional complexity and character.

semillon

  • Dominant in sweet white wines in Sauternes and Barsac
  • Thin-skinned grapes reactive to noble rot (botrytis cinerea)
  • Noble rot concentrates sugar in the grapes
  • Aromas are honeyed and colour varies from deep gold to brownish

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semillon

Semillon is a major component along with Sauvignon Blanc in most of the best dry Bordeaux whites but it achieves true distinction in the region’s renowned sweet white wines. The thin skins of the grapes mean that when ripe they are particularly susceptible to botrytis cinerea or noble rot which will occur prior to harvest in the right climate conditions. This has the effect of concentrating the sugar in the grapes and gives the wine a particular honeyed character with sweetness and balancing acidity.

muscadelle

  • Small proportion used in sweet wines (5%)
  • Brings some freshness to the wines

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muscadelle

This is the least planted of the white grapes of Bordeaux. The addition of just 5% to a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is enough to give an additional aromatic lift to sweet wines. A few producers of dry white wine also use a small quantity of Muscadelle in their blends.

champagne grape varieties

chardonnay

  • Aromas of citrus, grapefruit, very floral
  • Blanc de Blancs is made from 100% Chardonnay
  • Brings complexity and help long maturity in a Champagne blend

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chardonnay

In Champagne Chardonnay gives acidity, a light body and floral and citrus characters. This is a grape variety which is sufficiently resilient to withstand the cold winters and short growing season in Champagne. Chardonnay occurs throughout the Champagne appellation but is most common in the Cote des Blancs where it probably achieves the best results. Blanc de Blancs Champagnes from top vintages can be incredibly long lived and develop great complexity with maturity.

pinot noir

  • In a Champagne blend, it gives structure and body
  • Aromas of red berries and cherries

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pinot noir

This is the variety responsible for the body, length and structure within a Champagne blend. When young it contributes aromas of red fruits – strawberries, raspberries and red cherry – which become more complex with age. The most important area within Champagne for Pinot Noir is the Montagne de Reims.

pinot meunier

  • Rare outside Champagne
  • Brings acidity and fruit aromas
  • Helps long ageing in blends

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pinot meunier

This is the most easily overlooked of the three permitted varieties, partly due to the fact that it rare outside Champagne. This is an early ripening variety which is well suited to Champagne’s cool climate. Pinot Meunier brings pronounced fruitiness and high acidity to a blend, with the ability to mature relatively quickly. It is often omitted from Prestige Cuvées and vintage wines intended for long ageing.