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What are grape varieties? Definition of a grape variety

If you are at all interested in the world of wine, you cannot escape the notion of grape variety. Present on everyone's lips during a wine tasting, this term nevertheless sometimes remains difficult to understand for young enthusiasts. The Château de Berne then offers you a definition of the grape variety .

What is a varietal ?

When someone refers to the grape variety of a wine, they are here mentioning the type of grape that was used to make it. Indeed, there are a multitude of vine varieties, and each has its own specificities which make the wine original.

There are then grape varieties intended for the production of wine , but also grape varieties intended for table grapes. Each of them is distinguished by their foliage, the size of the berries, as well as the color of the grapes and their aromas. This is how we recognize red grape varieties (or black grape varieties) and white grape varieties . What are more commonly called black grapes and white grapes.

The distribution of different grape varieties around the world can be uneven. This is explained by the climatic and geological needs specific to each grape variety. Indeed, while some appreciate the warmth of the Mediterranean climate, other grape varieties thrive more easily on humid and cool terroirs, for example.

What are the differences between each grape variety?

The grape varieties are distinguished by their characteristics, and in particular their influence on wine production. We then recognize a vine variety based on several criteria.

The shape and color of the grape variety

The first differentiating element of grape varieties is obviously the color of the berries . If the red grape variety has bluish grapes, the white grape variety vines have white grapes.

But the difference does not end there, and depending on the type of grape, the skin can be more or less thick, with a more or less intense color. During the maceration of the grape skins with the grape juice, the pigments and tannins contained in the skin film will be transferred into the juice, giving a very characteristic color, as well as aromas and a typical style depending on the grape variety (mineral , fruity, tannic, colorful, pale, acidic...).

Furthermore, grape varieties are also distinguished by the shape of their foliage and the size of their berries .

The terroir conducive to the development of the grape variety

The environment is essential for a vine plant, and will guarantee the development of buds, then grape seeds. Thus, certain grape varieties are hungry for sun, others for humidity. Some prefer clay soils, others enjoy chalky, limestone, granite soil... Finally, some are more sensitive to wind, others to high heat... Thus, a vine cultivated on a suitable terroir allows a certain development of the vine , and a good yield.

The terroir must therefore be considered by the winegrower when choosing the grape varieties he wishes to cultivate. A grape variety planted on an unsuitable terroir can harm grape production, which may never ripen if the weather is too cold for it, or on the contrary, burn under a sun that is too powerful for it.

What is grape variety?

The grape varieties correspond to the different grape varieties grown in the same defined geographical area . Indeed, it is entirely possible to find grape varieties with the same terroir requirements, and therefore to cultivate them in the same wine-growing regions. A winemaker is then free to think about his grape varieties as he sees fit, according to his expectations and the blends he wishes to make.

Attention ! To obtain an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) , a winegrower must respect the grape variety mapping defined by the specifications for his wine-growing region. In fact, the appellations define a precise list of grape varieties authorized for each geographical area.

The main wine grape varieties in France

It is impossible to succinctly list the names of the grape varieties grown in France, as there are so many of them. There are more than 200, but we find the main grape varieties , of which here is an exhaustive list:

  • Chardonnay , a white grape variety that adapts easily to any type of climate and produces excellent dry white wines and Champagne;
  • Sauvignon blanc , a very expressive grape variety particularly cultivated in the Loire Valley;
  • Chenin blanc , a more delicate Loire grape variety;
  • Gewurztraminer , the flagship grape variety of Alsace wines;
  • Viognier , a vine variety very present in the Rhône valley and renowned for its excellent white wines;
  • Riesling , a grape variety from Alsace, whose white wines are emblematic of the region;
  • Muscat , an aromatic grape variety producing sweet wines;
  • Pinot noir , a red grape variety grown all over the world, and which makes Burgundy wines so successful;
  • Cabernet Sauvignon , a tannic black grape variety, typical of Bordeaux;
  • Merlot , a red grape variety that produces fruity and light wines;
  • Grenache noir , the most widely planted black grape variety in the world, and very present in Provence;
  • Syrah , a grape variety that makes Côte Rôtie famous, but which is also widely found in Provence.

You are now informed about the different characteristics of wine grape varieties . All you have to do is practice wine tasting to become a wine grape variety in the blink of an eye.


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