Are you looking for that perfect bottle for a romantic evening? Or maybe you’re hosting a dinner party and need some guidance on what to buy? Or maybe you’d like to expand your wine palette and are looking for expert advice? At Beverage SuperStore we have you covered. Our staff is up to date on the latest trends, and our selection is the best around.

10% Discount on a Case of any Wine in the store!  Mix and Match same size bottles to create a custom case.

If you have further questions regarding our products, our Wine Manager will be happy to help you.


Wine 101

Wine has been a source of pleasure to mankind since the beginning of civilization. No one knows who made the first wines or enjoyed their effects, but wines are woven through the tapestry of human history like few other products. Few regions of the world remain untouched by its many virtues.

Wine has played many roles. It is used in religious ceremonies. It is used as medicine, an antiseptic and a water purifier. It can transform meals into feasts. Wine can comfort and give you courage. What is wine? Simply put, wine is the naturally fermented juice of fresh fruit or berries. Wine is primarily an agricultural product. With little assistance from humans, nature converts grapes by a chemical process, into an alcoholic beverage. Using a few skilled techniques, wines of immense variety are bottled and transported around the world.

Today, we know more about wines than ever before. We have learned how to cultivate the highest quality grapes to produce the finest wines, and how to pair them with foods to show both at their very best. Over time, we have learned or perhaps rediscovered, wine as a principle source of nourishment and the benefits it can bring when consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. In enjoying wine, we connect with history and with those before us who have participated in one of mankind’s earliest and simplest pleasures. Educating ourselves about wine and its proper use can only help us to enjoy it to the fullest, and to make it part of a gracious way of life.

Different Wine Grape Varieties

Most wine is grape wine. The wine grape variety numbers in the thousands, but there is one simple fact that all wine experts agree upon: grape variety (or blend of varieties), is, by far, the most influential factor determining the flavor and character of a wine. It is important to understand the characteristics of the grapes. Wine characteristics vary greatly depending on the grape. Although Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel are all red grapes, individually their personalities are quite diverse. Even when grown in different appellations and vinified using different techniques, a varietal wine always displays certain qualities, which are inherent in the grape’s personality. Muscat is probably the only grape that produces wine with the aroma of the grape itself. Sweet Muscats should always be spicy with flavors of raisins and oranges. Sauvignon Blanc a touch herbal. Sharp, tangy, gooseberry is the predominant flavor with undertones of grass, nettles, elderflower and asparagus. Zinfandel is zesty, with pepper and raspberry flavor. Cabernet Sauvignon is marked by plum, currant and black cherry flavors and with a hint of mint and cedar. Understanding what a grape should be as a wine is fundamental, and knowing what a grape can achieve at its greatest is the real meaning of fine-wine appreciation.

Here are a few descriptions of the most well known and widely produced grape varieties.


ChardonnayChenin BlancGruner VeltinerMuscatPinot BlancPinot Gris / Pinot GrigioRieslingSauvignon BlancSemillonViognier

This is a classic with grape grown around the world. As Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of reds, so is Chardonnay the king of white wines, for it makes consistently excellent, rich and complex whites. This is an amazingly versatile grape that grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world. In Burgundy, it is used for the exquisite whites, such as Montrachet, Meursault and Pouilly-Fuisse, and true Chablis; in Champagne it turns into Blanc de Blanc.

Chardonnay was introduced to California in the 1930s but didn’t become popular until the 1970s. Areas such as Carneros, Monterey, Russian River, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Valley, all closer to cooler maritime influences, are now producing wines far superior to those made a decade ago.

Though there is a Maconnais village called Chardonnay, no one agrees on the grape’s origin–it may even be Middle Eastern.

Chardonnay takes oak well, and many higher priced Chardonnays are typically fermented and/or aged in oak barrels. When Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels, it may pick up vanilla overtones in its aromas and flavor. When well made, Chardonnay offers bold, ripe, rich and intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, peach, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch and hazelnut flavors.

Winemakers build more complexity into this easy-to-manipulate wine using common vinification techniques: barrel fermentation, sur lie aging during which the wine is left on its natural sediment, and malolactic fermentation which reduces crispness and brings out a rich, buttery taste. This usually shortens the life of the wine as far as aging is concerned. No other white table wine benefits as much from oak aging or barrel fermentation.  Chardonnay also ages well in the bottle, though it will not age as long as many red wines.

Because Chardonnay is also an inexhaustible producer that can easily yield 4 to 5 tons of high-quality grapes per acre, it is a cash cow for producers in every country where it’s grown. Many North and South American Chardonnays are very showy, well oaked and pleasing on release, but they fall short of the richness, depth and concentration needed to age. It evolves rather quickly, often losing intensity and concentration within a year or two. Many vintners who recognize this flaw, are now sharply reducing crop yields, holding tonnage down to 2 to 3 tons per acre to achieve greater concentration. The disadvantage to this approach is that the smaller crop will lead to significantly less wine to sell, resulting in higher prices as well.

This is a native of the Loire valley in France and also grown in northern California. It has two personalities. From France’s prime locales, it’s the foundation of such famous, long-lived whites as Vouvray, Quarts de Chaume and Saumer, but on other soils it becomes just a very good blending grape. It is South Africa’s most-planted grape, with about thirty percent of her vineyards producing Chenin Blanc and there it is called Steen. Both in South Africa and in California it is used primarily as a blending grape for generic table wines.
It can yield a pleasant enough wine, with subtle melon, peach, spice and citrus notes. The great Loire whites vary from dry and fresh to sweet, depending on the vintage and the producer. The lively fruit and mouth-watering acidity make this the perfect oyster wine .

Also known as Veltliner. The most widely planted grape in Austria, it can be found to a lesser extent in some other parts of eastern Europe. It achieves its qualitative pinnacle in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions along the Danube River west of Vienna. Gruner, as it’s called for short, shows distinct white pepper, tobacco, lentil and citrus flavors and aromas, along with high acidity, making it an excellent partner for food. Gruner is singularly unique in its flavor profile, and though it rarely has the finesse and breeding of the best Austrian Rieslings (though it can come close when grown on granite soils), it is similar in body and texture.

Also known as Moscato in Italy, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – its full name, and Moscatel in Iberia, this grape has become wildly popular in recent years because of it’s freshness, purity of fruit, and lively frizzante – a low level carbonation. Probably the only grape that produces wine with the aroma of the grape itself, Muscats have flavors of raisins, peaches and oranges. Muscat Blanc is marked by strong spice and floral notes and can be used in blending to increase complexity and flavor, a frequent function in California. This grape can turn into anything from the low-alcohol, sweet and frothy Spumante and Muscat de Canelli to bone-dry wines like Muscat d’Alsace. In addition, it produces fortified wine such as Beaumes de Venise and is often blended with a little red juice to make a delightful Rose.

Pinot Blac is sometimes referred to as a poor man’s Chardonnay because of its similar flavor and texture profile. In Alsace, Burgundy, Germany, Italy and California it can make a terrific wine. With wine making expertise, it can be intense, concentrated and complex, with ripe pear, spice, citrus and honey notes. Pinot Blanc can age, but is best drunk early while its fruit still shines through. It is related to the Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are in fact the same white grape. Pinot Gris is known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and as Ruländer in southern Germany, producing quite a lot of undistinguished dry white wine and Collio’s outstanding whites. As Pinot Gris, it used to be grown in Burgundy and the Loire, though it has been supplanted, but it comes into its own in Alsace, where it’s known as Tokay. It is rapidly gaining a foothold in Oregon, where the climate resembles Alsace, delivering clean, crisp flavors of white peaches and floral blossoms. When good, this varietal is soft, gently perfumed and has more color than most whites.

The Riesling grape is believed to be indigenous to Austria and Germany, and has been planted there for almost 1,000 years. One of the world’s greatest white wine grapes, Riesling does best in cool climates and is very resistant to frost.  It is planted very widely in the northern European growing regions but is less popular in other areas of the world. Because the variety excels in cooler climates, its tendency is to ripen slowly makes it an excellent source for sweet wines made from grapes attacked by the noble rot Botrytis cinerea, which withers the grapes’ skin and concentrates their natural sugar levels.
Riesling is considered on of the ‘noble’ grape varieties for wine making. It is best known for producing the wines of Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Rheingau wines, but it also achieves brilliance in Alsace and Austria.

Riesling has the ability to produce wines that range from bone dry to very sweet but are usually made in medium dry to semi-sweet styles. Its high acidity and distinctive floral, citrus, peach, honeysuckle and mineral accents have won dry Riesling many fans. The wines from Germany’s Mosel region are perhaps the most genuine expression of the grape, offering lime, pie crust, apple, slate and honeysuckle characteristics on a light-bodied and racy frame.

In other regions, Riesling struggles to maintain its share of vineyard plantings, but it can be found (often under synonyms such as White Riesling, Rhine Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling) in California, Oregon, Washington, New York’s Finger Lakes region, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Riesling deserves another try. Look for the resurgence of this fine varietal, especially out of Canada.

This grape is very easy to identify in a blind tasting. But what is difficult is finding the right words to describe it. It is another white with a notable aroma, this one with a herbaceous or musky nose. The pure varietal is found mainly in the Loire, at Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. As part of a blend, the grape is all over Bordeaux, in Pessac-Leognan, Graves and the Medoc whites; it also shows up in Sauternes. New Zealand has had overwhelming triumph with Sauvignon Blanc, producing its own perfumed, fruity style, dominated by a distinct grapefruit/citrus character. It is also rather well-extracted due to a very long growing seasonfrom it’s maritime climate.

Sauvignon Blanc has been used for many years in France. In the United States, Robert Mondavi rescued the varietal in the 1970s by labeling it Fume Blanc, and he and others have enjoyed success with it. The key to success seems to be in taming its overt varietal intensity, which at its extreme leads to pungent grassy, vegetal and herbaceous flavors. A popular alternative to Chardonnay, it rarely sees the barrel fermentation, sur lie aging and malolactic fermentation. It is also a popular wine to produce because it is an exceptional producer and a highly lucrative wine to make.

It can be crisp and refreshing, matches well with all types of foods. It costs less to produce and grow than Chardonnay and it sells for less too. It also gets less respect from vintners than perhaps it should. Its popularity rises then diminishes, at times appearing to challenge Chardonnay and at other times appearing to be a cash-flow afterthought. Even at its very best, it does not achieve the richness, depth or complexity Chardonnay does and in the end that may be the essential difference.
It is usually best drunk young, as it does not particularly benefit from ageing. The one exception is sweet white Bordeaux, typically made with Sauvignon Blanc as a major component.

Golden and thin-skinned, it is the primary grape in White Bordeaux wines. On its own or in a blend, this white can age. However, when used to make wines on its own, Semillon is mild and has a lanolin or talc-like character. Even in Sauternes its usage is only assured by the intervention of the botrytis fungus. It is thus almost always used in blends with its traditional partner,Sauvignon Blanc, to make rich, honeyed wines.

Semillon is relatively disease resistant, however it is susceptible to Botrytis cinerea (bunch rot). Botrytis infects the grape during autumn causing it to shrivel and dry up. By harvest time the juice is extremely concentrated and honey sweet.

Australia’s Hunter Valley uses it alone to make a full-bodied white that has so far produced its greatest expression. In South Africa it was once so prevalent that it was just called “wine grape,” but it has declined drastically in importance there.
In the United States, Semillon enjoys only humble success as a varietal wine in California and Washington state, but it continues to become less prevalent. It can make a wonderful late-harvest wine, and those wineries that make it the center of their attention can make well balanced wines with complex fig, pear, tobacco and honey notes. When blended into Sauvignon Blanc, it adds body, flavor and texture and tempers the grassy herbal notes. It can also be found blended with Chardonnay, more to increase the volume of wine than to add anything to the package.

Viognier, the rare white grape originated in Condrieu in France’s Rhone Valley, is one of the most difficult grapes to grow but seems to be recovering worldwide in both popularity and acreage. Crucially it must be picked at optimum ripeness. When harvested too early and under-ripe the resulting wine can be thin, dilute and unbalanced, while if picked too late then the wine will lack the grape’s distinctive peach and honeysuckle aroma.

The main appeal of Viognier is its powerful, rich, and complex floral and spicy character like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. It has a distinctive and sweet aroma, but Viognier is almost exclusively made in a dry style and develops a higher alcohol content than most whites – often from 14 to 15%. It is used in the Condrieu’s rare whites, white Chateauneuf du Pape, and sometimes blended with powerful syrah in the Northern Rhone and Australia. There are a number of California wineries finding success, especially in the Central Coast.


Cabernet SauvignonCabernet FrancMerlotMalbecCarmenerePinot NoirBarberaBrunelloSangioveseTempanilloGrenachePetite SirahSyrah or ShirazZinfandelConcord

The acknowledged king of red wine grapes, Cabernet is the first grape to put California on the international wine scene. A remarkably steady and consistent performer throughout much of the state, in the Napa Valley it is the epitome of greatness. It does grow well in many other appellations, capable of rendering wines of uncommon depth, richness, concentration and longevity.

Long thought to be an ancient variety, recent genetic studies at U.C. Davis have determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the hybrid offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.This sometimes causes confusion for the beginner. In the US, people refer to a wine as a Cabernet or a Pinot Noir, since Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety of grape, or varietal. InEurope, wine drinkers refer to a nice Bordeaux, meaning a wine which is usually composed mainly of Cabernet Sauvignon, but is grown in the region called Bordeaux.

The berries of Cabernet Sauvignon are small, spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. They are fairly resistant to disease and spoilage and able to withstand some autumn rains with little damage. It ripens in mid to late season. These growth traits, along with its flavor appeal help to make Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular red wine varieties worldwide.

Found almost everywhere in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is just as likely to be bottled on its own as it is blended. But because Cabernet Sauvignon is fairly tannic, the wine is often blended with other grapes; usually Merlot – being less tannic – is considered an ideal partner.  At its best, unblended Cabernet produces wines of great intensity and depth and range of flavors. Its classic profile is made up of currant, plum, black cherry, cigars, green peppers, chocolate and spice. It can also be marked by herb, olive, mint, tobacco, cedar and anise. It takes well to oak barrel ageing, lending a frame of vanilla and a wisp of smoke to its own tastes. The best Cabernets start out dark purple-ruby in color, with firm acidity, a full body, great intensity, concentrated flavors and firm tannins.

Recent studies in ampelography, using DNA fingerprinting, have determined that CabernetFranc is one of the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc). Both cabernet varieties are among the five major grapes of Bordeaux. The differences betweenfranc and sauvignon become apparent when grown and fermented in close proximity. CabernetFranc vines bear thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening grapes with lower overall acidity, when put side by side to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc is being used in the U.S. to make some very interesting wines, increasingly popular as both a stand-alone varietal and blending grape. In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is used traditionally for blending, although it can rise to great heights in quality, as seen in the grand wine Cheval-Blanc. In France’s Loire Valley it’s also made into a lighter wine called Chinon. California has grown it for over 30 years, and Argentina, Long Island, Washington state and New Zealand are picking it up.

As a varietal wine, it usually benefits from small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and can be as intense and full-bodied as either of those wines. But it often drifts away from currant and berry notes into stalky green flavors that become more pronounced with age. Given its newness in the United States, Cabernet Franc may just need time to get more attention and rise in quality. Depending a great deal on vineyard practices, the flavor profile of Cabernet Franc may be both fruitier and sometimes more herbal or vegetative than Cabernet Sauvignon, although lighter in both color and tannins.

Merlot became hugely popular in the 1990s when its popularity climbed along with its acreage.Beginner wine lovers can’t drink enough of it due to its rich and soft character. It dominates Bordeaux, except for the Medoc and Graves. Though it is mainly used for the Bordeaux blend, it can stand alone. In St. Emilion and Pomerol, especially, it produces noteworthy wines, culminating in Chateau Petrus. In Italy it’s everywhere, though most of the Merlot is light, unremarkable stuff. But Ornellaia and Masseto are strong exceptions to that rule. Despite its popularity, its quality ranges only from good to very good most of the time, and there are a few stellar producers found around the world.

Just like Cabernet, there is an advantage to blending Merlot. Cabernet can give it backbone, color and tannic strength. It also marries well with oak. Merlot is relatively new in California, only dating to the early 1970s, and it is a more temperamental grape to grow, as it sets and ripens unevenly. It is becoming more clear that Washington State has a quality edge with thisgrape.

Several styles of Merlot have become known. One is a Cabernet-style Merlot, which includes a high percentage (up to 25 percent) of Cabernet, comparable currant and cherry flavors and firm tannins. The primary style is less reliant on Cabernet and is softer, more supple, medium-weight, less tannic and features more plum, black cherry and chocolate flavors. A third style is a very light and simple wine stimulating Merlot’s overall growth. Ironically, this also contributed to the decline in Merlot’s popularity following the denigration it recieved at the hands of the movie Sideways protagonist, Miles. The drop off was felt marketwide, but actually led to the overall improvement of Merlot quality, since many acres of marginal fruit were soon replanted to more successful varieties.

Malbec thrives in well irrigated sandy soils, but is not very hardy. Increasingly Merlot and the two Cabernets are substituting for the Malbec grape particularly in Bordeaux and the Loire in various blends. In the United States Malbec is mostly used as a blending grape, and an insignificant one at that, but a few wineries use it. The most understandable reason is because it’s considered part of the Bordeaux-blend recipe.

Argentina is markedly successful with this varietal. It grows very well in the high altitude vineyards of the Andes. Its style ranges between Cabernet and Merlot. Normally softer and more approachable than Cabernet, but brighter and more crisp than Merlot, it also presents an arid, smokey/gamey taste that fits like a pair of well-worn jeans. Don’t think it’s limited to the everyday category, as producers like Nicolas Catena make a tiny amount of reserves that rival the best of Bordeaux and Napa Valley.

Also known as Grande Vidure, this grape was once widely planted in Bordeaux, But when phylloxera swept through France’s vineyards in the late 1800s, Carmenere didn’t take well to grafted rootstock and was thought lost to history. It is planted primarily in Chile and has become that countries signature grape. Carmenere, along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was imported to Chile around 1850. According to Chilean vintners, Carmenere has been mislabeled for so long that many growers and the Chilean government long considered it Merlot. It has a tangy, cedary, black currant flavor, medium body, and be tamed by the addition of a little Cabernet and Merlot.

This is the great and world-renowned red grape of the eastern French region of Burgundy and several emerging appelations of California and Oregon. It is a touchy variety. The red is lighter in color than most red wines. The best examples offer the classic black cherry, spice, raspberry and currant flavors, and an aroma that can resemble wilted roses, along with earth, tar, herb and cola notes. It can also be rather ordinary, light, simple, herbal, vegetal and occasionally weedy. It can even be downright funky, with overwhelming barnyard aromas.

In fact, Pinot Noir is the most fussy of all grapes to grow. It responds strongly to environmental changes such as heat and cold spells, and is notoriously difficult to work with once picked, since its skins are thin and easily bruised and broken, allowing the juice the freely flow. The vine itself is very slow to mature with low yields and early-ripening fruit. Even after fermentation, Pinot Noir can hide its weaknesses and strengths, making it a most difficult wine to evaluate out of barrel. In the bottle, too, it is often changes color, showing poorly one day, brilliantly the next.

There are many different clones grown, developed to suit the different climatic and soil conditions as the variety generally benefits from a cool climate rather than a hot, dry one. Today there is also a greater understanding and appreciation for varying approaches to Pinot Noir wine, even if there is less agreement about those styles–should it be rich, concentrated and loaded with flavor, or a wine of elegance, finesse and delicacy? Or can it, as in the traditional Pinot Noir, be both? Even varietal character remains under discussion. Pinot Noir can certainly be tannic, especially when it is fermented with some of its stems, a practice that many vintners around the world believe contributes to the wine’s backbone and prolonged existence. Pinot Noir can also be long-lived, but predicting with any accuracy which wines or vintages will age is often the decisive test in forecasting.

It is also of great importance in the Champagne region of North Eastern France where it is pressed immediately after picking in order to yield white juice and blended with Chardonnay to produce the famous sparkling wine of the region. In California, it excelled in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is on the brink of further progress as growers find well-suited vineyards in such diverse AVA’s as Russian River, Monterey, Carneros, and Sonoma Coast. Propelled into a period of double digit growth in 2004 from Sideways, the movie, California and Oregon have certainly benifitted  and are producing world-class Pinot Noir, as is the tiny region of Central Otago, New Zealand.

This grape is very widely planted in Italy; more so than Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Barbera is known for its lively character and low-tannins. It is the most successful grape in Italy’s Piedmont region, where it makes such wines as Barbera d’Asti, Barbera di Monferato and Barbera di Alba. Its wines are characterized by a high level of acidity (meaning brightness and crispness), deep ruby color and full body, with low tannin levels; flavors are berrylike. However, plantings have declined sharply in the United States. A few wineries still produce it as a varietal (single grape) wine, but those numbers too are dwindling. Its main quality as a blending wine is its ability to maintain a naturally high acidity even in hot climates. The wine has more promise than is currently realized and may stage a modest comeback as Italian-style wines gain popularity.

Brunello, is the name that was given locally to what was believed to be an individual grape variety grown in Montalcino. In 1879 the Province determined, after a few years of controlled experiments, that Sangiovese and Brunello were the same grape variety. In Montalcino the name Brunello evolved into the designation of the wine produced with 100% Sangiovese. In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita(DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy’s best-known and most expensive wines. The particular clones of Sangiovese are unique to the Montalcino region and have developed in adaption to that area’s specific terroir. They have a wonderfully fleshy texture with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, cocoa, leather, and violets.

This red-wine grape originated in the Tuscan area of Italy. In some ways sangiovese is toChianti as cabernet sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both form the base of wines normally blended with other varietals and both by themselves share a certain distinctive elegance and complexity, when well-made. The grape is slow to mature and late-ripening. It has relatively thin skins and a tendency to rot in dampness. It does not mature well if planted above an elevation of 1,500 feet. However, vineyards with limestone soil seem to produce wines with more forceful aromas. Sangiovese is distinctive for its supple texture and medium-to full-bodied spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavors. When blended with a grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties like Merlot or Syrah, Sangiovese produces red wine of excellent quality know as Super-Tuscan.

It is a bit surprising that Sangiovese wasn’t more accepted in California given the strong role Italian settlers played in the state’s winemaking heritage, but now the grape appears to have a bright future in the state, both as a stand-alone varietal wine and for use in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and maybe even Zinfandel. Expect sweeping stylistic changes as winemakers learn more about how the grape performs in different locales as well as how it marries with different grapes. It is definitely worth watching.

The word ‘Tempanillo’ in Spanish quite literally means “early”.   But don’t be fooled. This black grape still has enough time on the vine to produce deeply colored purple and intense wines. Tempanillo is Spain ‘s major contribution to red wine. It is indigenous to the country and is seldom grown anywhere else. It is the principal grape in the red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, which are two of Spain’s most important wine regions.

In Rioja, Tempranillo it is often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and a few other minor grapes. When made in a traditional style, Tempranillo can be garnet-hued, with flavors of tea, brown sugar and vanilla. When made in a more modern style, it can display aromas and flavors of strawberries, blackberries, red and black stone fruit like plums and prunes, minerals, licorice, tobacco and leather with velvety spice accents and hints of vanilla and chocolate.  An easy drinking wine! Riojas tend to be medium-bodied wines, offering more acidity than tannin. In Ribera del Duero, wines are also divided along traditional and modern styles, and show similarities to Rioja. The more modern styled Riberas, however, can be quite powerful, offering a density and tannic structure similar to that of Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo is known throughout Spain under different names such as Cencibel, Tinto del Pais, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre and Ojo.

Also known as Garnacha Tinta in Spain. It is most often red, but also used for rose wine, and is common in France, Spain and California. This grape is very tolerant of drought and heat. It yields a fruity, spicy, medium-bodied wine with supple tannins. The second most widely planted grape in the world, Grenache is widespread in the southern Rhone. At its best when blended, (although there are some pure varietals) especially with Syrah. It is famous when blended to produce Chateauneuf-du-Pape and used on its own for the roses of Tavel and Lirac. In addition, it is used in France’s sweet Banyuls wine.

In Spain, it is especially noteworthy in Priorato, Ribero del Duero, and Campo de Borja. It is believed to be the genetic equal to the Cannonau di Sardinia – recently touted by Dr. Oz and others to be the most beneficial grape to your health. Grenache used to be popular in Australia, but has now been surpassed by Syrah; a few vineyards in the Barossa Valley in southern Australia as well as California are making wines similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Syrah and Mourvedre – GSM. It may make a comeback as a single varietal as devotees of the Rhone seek out small, older vineyards in cooler areas.

Known for its dark hue and firm tannins, Petite Sirah has often been used as a blending wine to provide color and structure, particularly to Zinfandel. On its own, Petite Sirah can make intense, peppery, age worthy wines, but few experts consider it as complex as Syrah itself. It draws the name Petite from the size of the grapes, not the body of the wine, as many beginners assume, hence the darker color. Just over 3,200 acres of grapes identified as Petite Sirah are presently planted in California. Although only a portion of these vineyards have been surveyed, recent DNA evidence from research at the University of California at Davis has confirmed most plantings to be the same grape as Durif, a minor red grape variety first grown in southern France in the late 1800s. Durif is a cross between Peloursin and Syrah.
Just to make things more confusing, in France, growers refer to different variants of Syrah as Petite and Grosse, which has to do with the yield of the vines.

Shiraz is the name of an old city in Iran ( Persia).  It is known in France and California as Syrah, and in Australia as Shiraz. It is the most widely planted red grape in Australia. Red Hermitage and Cote-Rotie in France, Penfolds Grange in Australia–the epitome of Syrah is a majestic red that can age for half a century. The grape seems to grow well in a number of areas and is capable of rendering rich, complex and distinctive wines, with pronounced pepper, spicy blackberry, plum, black cherry, tar, leather and roasted nut flavors, a smooth, supple texture and smooth tannins. In southern France it finds its way into a variety of blends such as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Roussillon. Known as Shiraz in Australia, it was long used for bread-and-butter blends, but an increasing number of high-quality wines are being made, especially from old vines in the Barossa Valley. In the new world, it is often a mixing partner with Cabernet Sauvignon.
In the United States., Syrah’s rise in quality is remarkable. It appears to have the early-drinking appeal of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel and few of the peculiarities of Merlot, and may well prove must less difficult to grow and vinify than any other red wines aside from Cabernet.
If you happen to come across a bottle of Petite Sirah, it is not related to the Syrah/Shiraz grape at all. See our description for Petite Sirah.

The origins of this tremendously versatile and popular grape are not known for certain, although it was thought to have come from Southern Italy as a cousin of Primitivo. However, recent research in Croatia and at the University of California at Davis, using DNA profiling, has proved Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crljenak. The Italian Primitivo,also originally mutated from Crljenak.

It was a popular variety with home winemakers during the American prohibition era because its thick skins allowed the grapes to ship without damage.  It later (late 1970’s and early 1980’s) became popular for the wines produced from it with forward fruit flavors and spicy overtones.  Zinfandel declined in popularity in the mid 1980’s and became unprofitable to grow until “White Zinfandel” was introduced. White Zinfandel is a blush-colored, slightly sweet wine that became a cash cow [and rescued many a struggling winery] due to it’s inexpensive production and rapid vine-to-table journey.

Real Zinfandel, the red wine, is the quintessential California wine. It’s easy-going and flexible with abundant charm. It has been used for blending with other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. It has been made in a claret style, with berry and spicy flavors, mild tannins and pretty oak shadings. It has been made into a full-bodied, ultra-ripe, intensely flavored, lively, complex and age worthy wine. Sometimes it is made into late-harvest and Port-style wines that feature very ripe, raisin-like flavors, alcohol above 15 percent and chewy tannins.

Zinfandel’s popularity among consumers fluctuates. In the 1990s Zinfandel is enjoying a miniature revolution of popularity, as winemakers took renewed interest, focusing on higher-quality vineyards in areas well suited to Zinfandel. Styles emphasizing the grape’s zesty, spicy pepper, raspberry, cherry, wild berry and plum flavors, and its complex range of tar, earth and leather notes. In the 2000s many growers fell back to soft, simple, everyday versions while alsoproducing super premium bottlings from vineyards dating back to 80 to 100 + years of age.Closer attention to viticulture and an appreciation for these older vines, which tend to produce smaller crops of uniformly higher quality, account for better balanced wines.

Called America’s original dessert wine, Concord is famous for its deep purple color and classic sweetness. Concord grape wine has an intense fruity flavor. Grown on a greater variety of soils and under a wider range of climatic conditions than any other variety of American grape. This is a variety of Vitis Labrusca,and is resistant to many of the diseases which destroy the European grape, Vitis Vinifera. Concord Grapes were the first onto which Vinifera cuttings were grafted to combat insects and disease and the first to be successfully cross-pollenated with European stock to produce hybrids. The most prominent of these hybrids are French-American. The resulting vines are hardy and produce good yields.

Its vine is vigorous and productive, ripening in early to mid-October in New York. The suitability of Concord fruit for multiple purposes gives it a large market potential. It is the most important variety for sweet juice, jelly, and preserves, and it is also used in quantity for wine production and fresh market sales. However, the Concord and its hybrids, seldom contain the elevated amount of natural sugar that pure Vinifera varieties contain. Therefore, their juice is always reinforced with added sugar, nearly always thinned with water to balance the acid.The wine made from Concord grapes makes a sweet after dinner dessert wine with a fresh fruit flavor.

Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by jenny downing