Our Varietals

Bourboulenc

Small in production but very useful for the wines of the Rhone and Languedoc. Its most beneficial property is its ability to retain acidity in the warmer areas of the South of France. Though usually only 20-30% of the blends in which it is found the acidity combined with nice aromatics and flavors of citrus and hints of smoke make it a welcome addition.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Considered to be the most popular grape in the world. In France it is most well known for being a key grape in Left bank Bordeaux. This is also where the grape was born, the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Despite its popularity, among French vineyards, it is really only found in the Southern third of the country (There’s a tiny bit in the Loire). It is a powerful, high structure grape. High tannin, acid and phenolics allow for long lived wines with great power and nobility. It is also known for its deep color.

Carignan

Originally from Spain where it is called Mazuelo. It is a very old variety that made its way to many parts of Europe so long ago that each country named it. A challenging grape, it is very late to harvest making it only suitable for warmer climates. It is also well attached to the vines making it necessary to hand harvest. This red grape is high in acid and tannin to the point that it is often hard to drink on its own but makes an excellent companion in a blended wine.

Chardonnay

Without a doubt the most popular White grape varietal, Chardonnay is planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. Its flexibility in respect to the use of oak or steel and its malleability to its terroir make it the most versatile of wine grapes. Its light, elegant character makes it appealing to almost all wine drinkers. It originates in the Burgundy area of France, we think from the town of Chardonnay in northern Macon. It is also the most planted white grape in France that is used for wine.

We have several producers who vinify excellent examples of this grape, each one uniquely their own.

Chenanson

A lovely red grape found exclusively in France last I checked. It is mostly used in blends and is the offspring of Grenache and Jurancon Noir. It is deeply colored and lends itself to creating fruity, lush wines.

We only work with one wine which uses the grape but we love it.

Cinsault

This dark red berry most likely comes from the heart of Southern France. It produces bright, fruity and very aromatic wines. While it can make excellent red wine it has truly come to shine as a predominant grape in many Roses from Provence and the Languedoc. In the Rhone it acts as a strong supporting player in the blends of its most famous appellations.

Clairette

One of the older white varietals found in the South of France it has seen an increase in popularity in the last decade as it works well on its own or in blends. The name actually translates as “light white”, probably referring to the white hairs on its leaves. Most suited to warmer climates where its long growing season won’t be a problem. It is excellent in the south of France where it can easily stand up to the Mistral and grow in some of the poorest soil found there. The grape produces a fresh, crisp white wine with nice minerality.

Colombard

Originally from the Cognac region of France this white grape has become popular for its freshness, lightly floral character and its high production. Interestingly this grape was one of the most planted in California before Chardonnay became popular.

Counoise

Originally a gift to Pope Urbain V who was residing in Avignon from a Vice Legate of Spain this varietal is most well-known for its use in Chateauneuf du Pape. It I most often used to add spice and acidity to a blend.

Gamay

The Gamay grape is thought to have appeared first in the village of the Gamay, south of Beaune, in the 1360s. While it is a descendant of Pinot Noir, Gamay ripens two weeks earlier and is less difficult to cultivate. It also produces a strong, fruitier wine in a much larger abundance. Gamay is a very vigorous vine which tends not to root very deeply on alkaline soils resulting in pronounced hydrological stress on the vines over the growing season with a correspondingly high level of acidity in the grapes. The acidity is softened through carbonic maceration, a process that also allows the vibrant youthful fruit expressions reminiscent of bright crushed strawberries and raspberries, as well as deep floral notes of lilac and violets.

 

Grenache

This famous red grape probably originates from Spain (Garnacha) but possibly from Sardinia in Italy (Cannonou). Certainly one of the most prominent grapes in Europe it is the second most widely planted in France after Merlot. On its own, it is known for its dark color, high alcohol and ripeness of flavor. It displays notes of Black cherry, pepper and licorice and is most prominently used in the Rhone valley, the predominant grape in Chateauneuf du Pape.

This grape is by far the most prominent among our selections

Grenache Blanc

A subset of the Grenache grape, this white varietal is known for its high alcohol and richness. It makes a fantastic base for a blend but without other varietals the alcohol can become unbalanced. It often exhibits bright green apple, peach and mineral notes.

Malbec

Originally from Cahors in the South of France and popularized by its use in Bordeaux. For most of its life it was referred to as Cot. It is now more famous for its production in Argentina. A dark, inky red varietal, often referred to as “the black wine”, it exhibits lots of dark fruit flavors, as you might expect. Lots of ripe blueberry, blackberry and black raspberry and supple tannins.

Marsanne

Born in the Commune of Marsanne in the Rhone Valley, this luscious grape generally has a medium body and low acid with an aromatic temperament lending itself to notes of honeysuckle and almond paste.

One of the most impressive white grapes found in the Rhone it was unfortunately unknown when Chateauneuf du Pape set its rules and so cannot be found in the esteemed wine.

Melon de Bourgogne

Supposedly born in the 13th century this Burgundian native can no longer be found in Burgundy. It is planted almost exclusively in the area of Muscadet in the western Loire Valley. The grape has an excellent ability to resist frost and so is held in high esteem the further north you go. It is generally crisp and mineral with marine notes. It is decidedly the best wine for pairing with Oysters.

Merlot

By far the most planted grape in France. This red grape is well known for its bright, supple fruit and fresh flavored palate. It is a key component in Bordeaux, its homeland, but can be found in almost every wine growing country in the world. Its popularity took a hit after the movie Sideways but only because no one got the joke that the great Cheval Blanc is predominantly Merlot.

Mourvedre

Another Spanish transplant this rich, velvety red grape was probably introduced to France in the 16th century and its heat loving nature has made it a favorite in the south, especially the Rhone Valley and Provence. This is another high alcohol, highly concentrated varietal with powerful tannins. It lends great aromatics of black berries, chocolate and earth to the blends it is usually associated with, such as Cotes du Rhone. Mourvedre is a varietal that can give a blend the extra power it needs to last for decades.

Muscardin

A relatively minor grape found almost exclusively in small amounts in Chateauneuf du Pape. The grape has a high acidity and floral bouquet. It has never been bottled on its own as far as I know but lends itself well to blends of rich full bodied wines. The Quiot properties contain 10% of the world plantings for this grape ... its a 1/2 hectare.

Muscat Petit Grain

A well-used grape across the world, it may have more aliases than any other as each country seems to have renamed it. It likely originates in Greece and is the parent or basis for the now extremely popular Moscato. In France It is mostly used for sweet wines but can be used for dry and has even been used for blending of roses in Provence. It has a distinctly grapey flavor to it but is extremely aromatic and also shows off flavors of honeysuckle and other flowers.

Picardan

A mostly forgotten grape, it is used in extremely small quantities in Chateauneuf du Pape to add acidity. It also exhibits a slightly musky aroma

Picpoul

This white grape is known for its high acidity and can be found across Languedoc, Provence and the Southern Rhone Valley. It is most well-known for its use as Picpoul de Pinet. It has lots of lemon notes with hints of flowers. Dry and zippy, it is bound to grow in popularity in the coming years.

Pinot Noir

This grape has been around at least 2000 years and it is suggested may have be born In the Nile Valley in Egypt. It has had a meteoric rise in popularity in the last few decades but has been made into fantastic wines such as Red Burgundy for centuries. It is known as a delicate, high maintenance grape but well worth the effort. It is known for its ability to take on and clearly show the differences amongst the many terroir in which it is planted. Classic Pinot shows lots of berry fruit such as raspberry and cherry with a soft body and mild acidity. While famous for being the varietal of Red Burgundy it has been an integral part of Champagne for centuries (more is planted there than in Burgundy) and has taken on a uniquely earthy character in the Loire Valley.

Pinot Meunier

An off shoot of the Pinot Noir grape this is the third varietal found in top quality Champagne. This red grape is used to add additional fruit, richness and acidity to Champagne and is particularly valuable in the North as it is more resistant to frost.

Rolle

Best known as Vermentino, this white grape originally hailed from the Piedmont area of Italy before being planted in the south of France in the thirteenth century. One of the few grapes I know of that shows a particular affinity for being near the sea. Wonderfully fragrant though sometimes more of mineral notes than fruity. Nice acidity and comparatively low alcohol.

Roussanne

While not the easiest to grow, this aromatic white grape is known for its elegant character. It is often blended with Marsanne but is the only one of the two allowed in Chateauneuf du Pape. It usually has nice acidity, a rich palate and a bright nose with notes of honey, spring blossom and apricots.

Sauvignon Blanc

While Chardonnay is still the most popular white varietal, Sauvignon Blanc has been closing in for the last decade. Known for its potent aromatics and high acid, it is now planted all over the world. It expresses lots of citrus, green fruits, grass and gooseberry notes . Not surprisingly its birthplace in the Loire Valley has led to Sancerre being considered the greatest expression of this potent grape.

Of course Domaine Fournier is our resident expert on this grape but it can be found in some of our other selections also.

Semillon

Born in Bordeaux this white grape was planted there exclusively until fairly recently. It is used to make the famous dessert wine Sauternes and also blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make a dry Bordeaux Blanc. Though closely related to Sauvignon Blanc, when ripe this grape produces a fuller, richer more mellow character. Notes of lemon, wax and lanolin are common and occasionally a bit of smoke is noticable.

Syrah

This powerful, spicy red grape hails from the Northern Rhone where it is mostly used for varietal wine. In the Southern Rhone is more likely to be found in the classic GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. It is grown across the world, in many places referred to as Shiraz. Its character tends toward Leather, Licorice, dark chocolate and black pepper giving Rhone wines their classic spiciness and velvety mouth feel. In the Southern Rhone blends it is also used to add structure and longevity.

Terret Noir

One of the oldest varietals found in the South of France it is now rarely seen. It is a light, pale red grape with several appealing characteristics for blending, nice plum notes on the nose, high acidity a certain tartness on the palate and good tannin content.

Vaccarese

Another generally over looked grape that’s main claim to fame is its use in Chateauneuf du Pape. It is always part of a blend, used for its elegance, rustic aroma and freshness of palate.

Viognier

Famous for its aromatics, this exotic white grape has been spread across the world but only a few areas have proven truly successful. Born in the Northern Rhone, the wine it produces is bright and full bodied with a lovely mellowness. Notes of Honeysuckle, pear, apricot, violets and gingerbread.

Credits

Sources: Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes was immensely helpful in writing this compendium of grape varietals used by our producers.

Also Rhone-wines.com