Grenache, also known as Grenache Noir, is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world, grown in Spain, the south of France and California. The berries are a blue/black color, have a spicy, red fruit flavor (blackberry, cherry, currant and raisin) and are soft on the palate. Grenache lends itself to a relatively high alcohol content which is why it is often used for blending with other varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault.
Malbec is a thin-skinned grape and one of the traditional Bordeaux varieties with a taste similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but slightly more full bodied and fruity. The berry ripens mid-season, is an opaque purple color and carries ample tannin, with anise and plum-like flavor components to add complexity. The wines produced are rich, inky and juicy. Malbec is grown in France, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, New York’s Long Island and California.
Mourvèdre is used to make both strong, dark red wines and rosés. Mourvèdre originated in Spain where it is known as Mataro, but now is grown in many regions around the world including California. Because of Mourvèdre’s dark thick-skinned berries it produces tannic and darkly colored wines. It is most successful in Rhone-style blends, however, it occasionally stands alone unblended. Mourvèdre gained popularity in California in the late 1990’s thanks in part to the Central Coast Rhone Rangers.
Syrah comes from the northern Rhone Valley of France, primarily from the Hermitage and Côte-Rotie districts. Syrah is known for its firm tannins as well as its flavors and aromas of blackberry and currant. Syrah can produce heavy and powerful red wines easily paired with spicy foods. With its minerality and tannins, it is often the base wine in the Rhone blends with Grenache and Mourvedre (GSM). Syrah is grown primarily in Australia and South Africa (where it is known as Shiraz), California, and France.
Zinfandel (known as Zin for short) is a dark purple skinned variety that has been grown in California for over 100 years. It is genetically identical to Primitivo, a grape grown in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. However, the real source of both Zinfandel and Primitivo seems to be Croatia. The grapes have an intense fruitiness and a luscious texture and are often described as jammy. Zinfandel can produce a wide range of wine styles including sweet white zinfandel, light-bodied red wines, full-bodied dry red wines and late harvest dessert wines. Occasionally Zinfandel is combined with Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon for a very successful blend.
Grenache Blanc is a relative of the more widely known Grenache Noir and a native of Northern Spain. It is a significant component of the white blends of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone and its presence in California has increased dramatically in the last few years. Grenache Blanc first appeared in California at nearby Tablas Creek as part of their imported cuttings from Chateau Beaucastel. Grenache Blanc grows well in climates with hot days and cool nights which help produce straw colored wines with deep richness and crisp acids. Although it’s often used as a blending component, it’s weight and acidity can produce wines more than capable of standing alone.
Viognier is traditionally grown in France’s northern Rhone Valley and in California. Viognier has earned a reputation as a difficult grape to grow given its early ripening and unpredictable yields, but it has also earned the distinction of show opener as it is often the first varietal to be harvested each year. The grapes ripen into a deep yellow and produce a golden wine that is typically lower in acidity and well known for its aromatics of peach and apricots. Viognier is often the base wine used in the white Rhone blends combined with Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.