WSET® 2 Reading, Chapter 14: Other Grape Varieties and Red Wines (Class Notes)

There are many other black grape varieties that have local importance within the country they are grown in. There are a number of wines that are not recognized by their variety but rather by their geographical indication. This chapter will look at a range of local varieties from both Europe (France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal), as well as New World countries (America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa).

GAMAY

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Lying directly to the south of Burgundy sits the region of Beaujolais, which is home to the Gamay grape variety. Its moderate climate produces light and medium-bodied red wines with medium or high acidity and low tannin levels. These are usually unoaked, with pronounced red fruit aromas (strawberry, raspberry, cherry), sometimes with a hint of spice (cinnamon, pepper). They are best consumed while young and fruity, though some of the best wines from the Beaujolais Crus can improve with bottle-age.

Beaujolais Labelling Terms\As in other parts of France, there is also an appellation hierarchy within the region of Beaujolais. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the general appellations Beaujolais AC and Beaujolais Nouveau AC–the only difference being that wines labelled as Beaujolais Nouveau are a very light style of Beaujolais released in the November following the harvest. Beaujolais Villages AC is used to describe superior-quality wines that come from the granite hills to the north of the region. This group of villages accounts for about a quarter of the total production of the region. Within this region alone sits a small group of ten villages that are considered to make the best wines. They have all been awarded their own appellations. These are the Beaujolais Crus. The most commonly seen ones are Fleurie AC, Brouilly AC, Morgon AC, and Moulin-à-Vent AC.

TEMPRANILLO

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The most important region for premium Spanish reds is Rioja DOCa. The main grape for this moderate climate region is Tempranillo. This gives full or medium-bodied reds, with medium acidity, medium tannins, and red fruit flavours (strawberry). It is often blended with Garnacha (Grenache), which can be the dominant variety in inexpensive Riojas. Grenache supplies high alcohol, and some spicy notes, with light tannins.

Much of the character of traditional-style Riojas comes form the oak ageing. This softens the tannins, and gives sweet coconut and vanilla flavours to the wine. Over time, some very savoury animal and vegetal flavours can develop (meat, leather, mushroom), particularly in the Gran Reserva wines.

Ribiera del Duero DO also produces premium-quality red wines from Tempranillo, with black fruit notes (blackberry, plum) and toasty oak flavours. In Navarra DO, Tempranillo is often blended with international grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Good-quality reds are made in a range of styles in Catalunya, using Tempranillo, Garnacha, and international grape varieties.

Tempranillo and Garnacha are grown throughout Spain, and the oak-ageing techniques used in Rioja are widely adopted. There are many regions producing wine in a similar style to Rioja (soft tannins, strawberry fruit, oak flavours), but usually the hot growing conditions result in wines with less intensity or complexity.

DOURO

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High-quality red wines are made in many Portuguese regions, but the Douro DOC has the most well-established reputation. This hot region also produces sweet, fortified Port, and its dry red wines are usually produced from Port grape varieties. There are several of these, and they are usually blended, but the best is Touriga Nacional, which is sometimes used on its own. Touriga Nacional gives low yields of wines that are deep in colour, high in acid and tannin, with intense flavours of dark berry fruits and spices (blackberry, blackcurrant, pepper, liquorice). The wines are usually aged in oak.

NEBBIOLO AND BARBERA

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The most famous wines from Italy’s Piedemonte region are Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG. Both are made from Nebbiolo, which gives full-bodied wines with high tannins, alcohol and acidity. Red fruit flavours are accompanied by floral and earthy elements that can evolve with age into complex aromas of tobacco, mushroom, and tar.

Piedmonte also produces wines from the Barbera variety. These have light to medium tannins and high acidity with aromas of red fruit and black pepper. Because of the moderate tannins, Barbera is often aged in oak, which adds flavours of toast, vanilla, and sweet spice.

SANGIOVESE

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One of Italy’s most important red wines is Chianti (including Chianti Classico) DOCG from central Tuscany. Classic Chianti is dominated by the Sangiovese grape variety, although a small portion of other varieties can be added to the wine. Much basic Chianti is inexpensive and simple but better wines coming from sub-regions such as Chianti Classico DOCG are among Italy’s finest. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is made from 100% Sangiovese, which produces medium to full-bodied reds with high levels of tannin and acidity necessary for long ageing. Flavours include plum, earth, red cherries, and herbal notes (green tea).

OTHER LOCAL ITALIAN VARIETIES AND RED WINES

In north-east Italy, the main region for red wines is the Veneto, the home of Valpolicella and Valpolicella Classico DOC. These are both made from a blend of grapes, with Corvina dominating. The wines range considerably in style. Inexpensive wines typically have a light body, pale to medium ruby colour, low tannins, and high acidity, with flavours of sour red cherry. More expensive examples from vineyards in the hills behind the west of Verona have more concentration and complexity, with flavours that hint at baked fruit, including plums, dried red cherries, and prunes.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is a very complex full-bodied dry wine with high tannins, mdae from grapes that have been partially dried to concentrate their flavours. Alcohol levels are among the highest in Italy.

Abruzzo is a region in east-central Italy famous for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC made from the Montepulciano grape. Deep in colour, this wine has high levels of acidity, and medium to high levels of tannin and alcohol with typical flavours of black cherr, blackberry, and plums. Inexpensive examples are simple with jammy black fruit. (This wine should not be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, a Chianti-style red wine made from Sangiovese near the Tuscan town of Montepulciano.)

Southern Italy has long been famous for producing enormous volumes of red wine used for blending. Recent investment, however, has resulted in an increased number of high-quality wines. These are frequently a blend of local and international varieties, often labelled under the less stringent IGT regulations. Designations such as IGT Terre Siciliane allow both blending across a huge area and the grape variety(ies) to be clearly stated on the label. In Puglia, the most important black local varieties include Primitivo and Negroamaro, both of which produce wines that are medium in colour, acid, and tannins, with flavours of jammy black fruit and liquorice. Primitivo is the same variety as Zinfandel. In Campania and Basilicata, the main black grape variety is Aglianico. This makes deeply coloured, intensely flavoured and full-bodied red wines with high levels of tannin and acidity, and comple x floral and dark fruit aromas. Taurasi DOCG (Campania) is made from 100% Aglianico. Its wines are full-bodied with complex floral and dark fruit aromas and high levels of tannin and acid.)

ZINFANDEL

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Zinfandel is a very important black grape variety for premium-quality wines in California. Although much is used for off-dry fruity rosés, commonly known as White Zinfandel, it shows its best in dry red wines. These wines are rich, full-bodied, and high in alcohol, with flavours of black fruit, dried fruit, and sweet spices (blackberry, prune, raisin, clove, liquorice). The most intense, complex wines are made from old vines, with some Zinfandel vineyards planted over 100 years ago.

PINOTAGE

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Pinotage is a black grape variety that was developed specifically for the hot South African conditions. This variety is a close relative to the Pinot Noir grape variety, but prefers moderate or hot climates. Varietal Pinotage comes in a range of styles, but it is typically full-bodied, with medium tannins and red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, cherry), often accompanied by vegetal and animal notes (tar, leather).

CARMENÈRE

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Carmenère is a very important black grape variety in Chile. It is originally a Bordeaux variety, which was introduced to Chile at the same time as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is often used as a blend with these varieties. Varietal Carmenère wines are deep in colour, medium or full-bodied, with medium or high acidity and alcohol, and high levels of tannin. They have flavours of dark fruit (blackberry) and peppery spice. When underripe, Carmenère can show pungent green bell pepper and green bean flavours.

In order to ripen fully, Carmenère needs the warmest and sunniest sites, particularly those in the region so fAconcagua and the Central Valley.

MALBEC

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In Argentina, Malbec is the most important grape variety for premium red wines. This is originally a Bordeaux variety. It gives full-bodied wines with medium or high levels of tannin, which can make some Argentinian Malbecs suitable for ageing. It is common to blend Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, but it is mostly seen as a single variety. It is grown widely in Argentina, but most plantings are in Mendoza.

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