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Wine regions and their grapes

Grape Varieties

As the world of wine marketing has shifted from a regional emphasis towards a varietal emphasis, there can't be many wine drinkers left who haven't tasted the big four varietals; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are moments when I scan supermarket shelves that I wonder what happened to the other grape varieties. Actually, despite misgivings, they're mostly alive and well and in some cases making returns to popularity.

As the world of wine marketing has shifted from a regional emphasis towards a varietal emphasis, there can't be many wine drinkers left who haven't tasted the big four varietals; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are moments when I scan supermarket shelves that I wonder what happened to the other grape varieties. Actually, despite misgivings, they're mostly alive and well and in some cases making returns to popularity.

During the past twenty years the marketing of wine has moved from basing itself on the geography of the wine's production towards the grape varieties of its make up, a trend that began in the New World. The Old World has been slow to copy this move, since so much of its production is bound up inexorably with tradition. The Old World, old school thinking goes like this: there's no need to write 'Chardonnay' on the label of a white burgundy for two reasons; one, everyone knows that white burgundy is made from Chardonnay and always has been, and two, it's illegal under the appellation rules to call a wine white burgundy unless it's been made from Chardonnay. This line of thinking means that many of the world's most drunk grapes aren't known by their names. Makers of Beaujolais don't write 'Gamay' on the label, it's assumed that you already know that that's the grape the wine is made from. The same is true of the Pedro Ximenez grape from Jerez that makes sherry, the Sangiovese grape from which Chiantis are made and the Ugni Blanc that ends up as cognac.

In some cases the name of the grape has become the name of the wine, for example the Gewurztraminer of Alsace, the Barbera of Piemonte and the Sercial of Madeira, but most of the time in Europe a grape became dominant in a region and the subsequent wine took its name from the region. Grape varieties exhibit different characteristics and thrive in different climactic conditions, some needing more sunshine hours to mature, some less. In France some varieties still dominate in local areas - Carignan is hugely planted in the Midi, Pinot Noir in the Burgundy, Riesling in Alsace and Chenin Blanc in Anjou and Tourraine on the Loire. To discover these grape varieties as varietals, though, your best bet is to look to the New World.

Suggested wine

Kumala Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay 2002.

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