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Red Grapes

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2-4 2-3 2-1
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Aglianico Aglco

Common Locations: Southern Italy
Made famous by: Mastroberardino Taurasi (from Campania, Italy... particularly the 1968!)
Preferred growing conditions: High mountainsides for the cool air of the sea to handle an intensely hot Mediterranean sun!

Aglianico is the variety born in ancient Greece and bred in the volcanic soils of southern Italy. Nearly wiped off the map by the disease called Phylloxera, about a century ago, it has recovered to be once again the great grape of the south. It was revered in the ancient world for its formidable power and was a backbone grape in a wine known as Falernum. It loves the heat and the rich, volcanic slopes, a combination that truly keeps it home here, developing its characteristic inky tones. Chocolate, smoke & a tinge of iron mingle in black fruits, becoming leathery and cigar-provoking as it matures. It generally has a pronounced acidity and very firm tannin frame, which can lead to a tremendous cellar life. Modern production now calls for an early drinking style as well, which makes it a bit more approachable in its youth. Generally bone dry and serious, this is not a red wine of delicacy but rather the definition of what is sometimes called a masculine grape.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2-4 2-3 1-2
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Barbera Barb

Common Locations: Italy by way of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna
Made famous by: So many in northern Italy... it accounts for nearly half of all red wine in the north! Look for the town of Alba or Asti for the best producers.
Preferred growing conditions: A champ in fog and shade, it loves warm days and cool nights.

It is known as the people’s wine of Piedmont, in the region famous for Nebbiolo d’Barolo and Barbaresco, outnumbering the planting 15 to 1! It is planted, generally, lower or in the nooks on the hill, handling the poorer (cool, foggy and damp) climate better and reaching full ripeness earlier. Barbera is a fun and fruity option for the farmer, meant as the early drinker while the finer wines cellar. It is naturally low in tannin and high in color extract, making for smooth, deep-purple wine with a characteristic kick of lively acid. The aromas are simple yet bountiful with red and black fruits. It often is pleasurable without the need of oak ageing, but some time in wood gives it the missing tannin structure. In the hands of the newer generation, select barrels and proper timing has brought about world-class examples. Here the true test is proven by time in the cellar. Drink now or forever hold your Piedmont!

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-4 2-3 1-2
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Cabernet Franc CabFc

Common Locations: Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Napa Valley, New York State, Southwest France, Friuli, Tuscany, and Argentina
Made famous by: Chateau Cheval Blanc (Right Bank Bordeaux, France).
Preferred growing conditions: Warmer, dry regions but can handle a rain well. Hates the spring frost despite handling cold winters hardily.

One simply has to hear the description of Cheval Blanc to understand the heights that Cabernet Franc can achieve. Despite this, Cabernet Franc still has yet to have its day in the sun, often playing second fiddle to its brethren Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, historical partners in Bordeaux. While Cab Franc plays a more serious role in the right bank, both sides of the Gironde tend to employ it as a bit of an insurance policy-- it ripens more reliably and is less susceptible to the vagaries of bad weather. Generally speaking, Cabernet Franc is lighter in both tannin and hue than Cabernet Sauvignon, often being slightly lower in acids. It makes up for it in aromas though, which tend to leap from the glass, with bell pepper, plums and violets. It matures into damp earth, mushroom, cigar box and fragrant cedar. It might be labeled as herbaceous, if made in a leaner style but the mineral ‘pencil shavings’ can be quite attractive within it. Combining perfume, nuanced fruits and earth, Cabernet Franc clearly has the range to produce world-class greats.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-4 2-3 1-2
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Cabernet Sauvignon CabSv

Common Locations: International Superstar! Napa, Sonoma and Central California, Bordeaux, Barossa Valley, Tuscany, Friuli in Northern Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile and beyond...
Made famous by: Chateau Lafite Rothschild (Left Bank Bordeaux, France) and later Chateau Montelena (Napa California, USA).
Preferred growing conditions: Warmer, dry regions with long growing seasons (as it is a picky ripener!). It likes easy to drain soils, such as sand and gravels, but succeeds wherever the ground is healthy and rich.

It would be a simpler task to list the wine regions of the world in which Cabernet Sauvignon is not grown. This immensely popular varietal is responsible for an overwhelming percentage of the world’s great red wines. It generates wines of great power, concentration and presence. The small berries are thick-skinned which imbue the resulting wine with dense coloring. The larger seeds (pips) supply the copious tannins. The fruit offers a distinctive bouquet of green bell pepper, red olives, mint and ample black currants (seemingly irrespective of where in the world it is planted). With all of this in the mix, it is extraordinarily well suited to ageing long in the cellar. This varietal loves oak, softening the tannins and adding cedar and tobacco aromas. One rarely sees an example of un-oaked Cabernet. When it is bottled as a single varietal, it can be at times too brooding and powerful—thus it is often seen blended with fruitier, more approachable varieties such as Merlot or Shiraz.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2 2 2 2-3
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Corvina Crva

Common Locations: The corvina varietal is not much of a traveller beyond the bumping hills in the NW corner of the Veneto region in Italy.
Made famous by: On it's own, it has yet to be vaulted into mono-varietal stardom. However, when partnered with its traditional cousins, Molinara and Rodinella, it becomes the renowned Amarone. Masi, Dal Forno, Allegrini and Guiseppe Quitarelli are perhaps the flagship houses, despite having varied approaches to the final wines in the bottles.
Preferred growing conditions: In this shoulder of Italy, where the flat plains roll north from the Adriatic Sea, there is relatively no striking geological topography offering unique terroir until the hills of Valpolicella emerge. Here, alluival soils atop chalk and volcanic ribbons offer a corvina with deeper flavor potential. It enjoys the moderate sweep of temperatures and pendulum of ocean air from sea to the lower Alps. Luckily, with its strength against rot, it handles the relative high humidity quite well.

Light, joyfully fruity and fragrant, the Corvina grape is great hope of the Veneto, and holds the lead role in the cast of Valpolicella and Bardolino wines. On the list of personal merits, Corvina is a small, thick-skinned, blue-black grape draping a deeper flavor and color than other indigenous varietals in the region. Cherries and strawberries tend to loll around a mellow texture (ie. lower acids & tannin), ending often in a complimentary nutty taste. This becomes dramatically clear when the story opens for Valpolicella during the acts of Amarone and Recioto wines. Molinara and Rondinella grapes add a percentage of spice and elegance, but the weight and alcoholic strength of Corvina becomes apparent with deeper raisin, tobacco and leather. It is here where we cannot dispute its place in the ranking of great varietals of Italy, if indeed the world. Admittedly, it cannot take all the credit but growers are leaning more on this varietal for consistency and more mono-varietal expressions are being bottled. And with centuries of merchant marketing wisdom, the Veronese will certainly perpetuate the importance of their star.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 1-2 1-3 2-3 1-2
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Dolcetto Dolc

Common Locations: Piedmont
Made famous by: The world still waits for a producer to take this as their flagship grape, as it plays a secondary role to it’s neighboring varietals.
Preferred growing conditions: Due to its tendency to wilt and whimper in less than optimum conditions, it is rarely grown outside of Piedmont. There it can ripen in cold and fog while resting in limestone marl earth.

The other people’s wine of Piedmont and the early bloomer of the gang. Nestled in the same hills as Barbera and Nebbiolo, it ripens into its rounded fruity ways 2-4 weeks earlier. This is fantastic for the harvest calendar but does prescribe a more straight forward, simple wine, lacking the extra time for developing nuance and range. Translated as “little sweet one”, Dolcetto is low in acid and is moderate to high in tannin. It has dense pigmentation, producing wines of deep color. If properly managed, the wine tends to be soft, round and showcase a rather bright and jammy fruit. Curiously, it can have notes of quince and almonds. It is not always found resting in oak barrels, preferring the fresh expression. All this combined, it then is not meant for long term cellaring. An everyday, any occasion drinker.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2 1 1 1-2
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Frappato Fpto

Common Locations: Birthed, cultivated and tenuously dodging extinction by the hands of locals growers, who realize the individual character is worth retaining, Frappato still resides in Sicily. It is most purely expressed in the DOCG of Sicily called Cerasuolo di Vittoria, in the south, where is it blended with Nero d'Avola grapes, another local treasure. In 2008 there were 846 ha (2,091 acres) of this rare little grape planted in Sicily.
Made famous by: The innovative trio that formed COS (Giambattista (Titta) Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino (Rino) Strano, three friends who wanted to recreate the work of their ancestors. The acronym forming the name of the venture in 1980) has excelled in expressing the purest form of Frappato. Since then, a satellite Arriana Occipinti label has carried the standard forward as well. Look to Vitivinacola Avide too, as one of the pioneers who brought Frappato into the modern world of technological precision and smart winery stewardship.
Preferred growing conditions: Frappato is the earliest to reach sugars but slow in the development of flavor ripeness, so vines are planted mostly where a long, late summer can help the development. Adding to the potential, hillside or higher elevations help with relevant swings in day-to-night temperatures. The roots prefer the southern soils of Sicilian valleys where Limestone and Clay is abundant.

Frappato is a blue-grey blushing, timidly shy grape, mustering up only enough color and weight to stain a wine to rosé potential. There is something locked inside this grape however that has kept it growing since the 6th century, particularly in the region of Ragusa, Sicily. The fruit reveals itself in a poetic sense, full of acute aromatics, the taste of light red grapes, fine cherry and pomegranate, and easily recognized high acidity (remarkably high for the warmth of Sicily). A noted lack of tannin explains the slipping grip on the palate, which one might find wanting, since the core may only reach a medium weight at best. It is a silky, berry-juicy wine in Frappato, easy sipped for refreshment sake. With all of this in mind, you may agree with the reason for the usual blending with its more robust cousin, Nero d'Avola, adding the charm and precision to the story line. It may, however, be a well-earned search to find this in its mono-varietal display.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2
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Gamay Gmy

Common Locations: Beaujolais, Loire Valley
Made famous by: Georges Dubeuf (Beaujolais, France) but reconsidered and uplifted by the Gang of Four (Cru Beaujolais, France)
Preferred growing conditions: Being so cranky about where it plants its ‘feet’, cool climates with warm summers, where there is granite and well drained clays.

Gamay is most commonly known as the grape behind Beaujolais, but is also grown to great result in the Loire. It is a sensitive early bloomer, being quite finicky to soil preference. It likes sandy clay or, at best, schistic granite (think old school blackboards piled on top one each other!) and enjoys cooler climes. Voila!...central France. It grows easily, so yields must be restricted to produce quality berries. When done so, there is high color content in the skins, while the wines are pale, ringing with acidity and spicy red berry aromas. They are medium bodied, jovial and easy drinking. Some of the great examples are from the Grand Cru Villages, where they are crafted more in the likes of fine red Burgundy, with great finesse and lingering mineral flavors. These may age for quite some time but, otherwise consider this grape an early drinker. A popular mass-produced version, made for the annual celebration, is the Beaujolais Nouveau. Produced with the fruit-punch intention by carbonic maceration (see vinification), it makes for a glass without pretense or contemplation. If the only gamay you’ve ever had is ‘nouveau’ then shame on you! Considering the low cost, this grape can be fantastic value.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-3 2 2-3
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Garnacha Gcha

Common Locations: As a Spanish relative (or as parent of, as claimed across the Pyrenees) the Grenache grape of France, this shares the same regional homeland hugging the Mediterraean coastline. It is also widely planted throughout Spain, particularly in Rioja, Navarra and the Costa Brava.
Made famous by: Look toward Priorat and Montsant for powerful examples of solid Garnacha but know that few stars will rise out of the crowd as Garnacha in a one-grape performance. So far, a supporting role throughout Spain is where we see it perform best.
Preferred growing conditions: Picture yourself in a landscape of baron, dusty rocks and direct solar intensity baring down on you, with little hope of rain in the forecast. Chances are, the craggy old vine you are leaning on will be a garnacha vine. It thrives in arid conditions. The buds break late into the spring season which pushes back harvest on an already slow-ripener. Luckily, it thrives in nutrient depleted ground, where hard rock and gravels make for easy water escape and warming heat retention.

Garnacha is a grape that would puzzle the average winemaker in pursuit of fine balance. It has thin skins which offers little in the way of deep color or wide ranging flavors, not to mention the benefits of tannin. It is also lower in acids overall, leading to the problematic fatigue of quick oxidation. Combine this with its delirious ability to produce loads of sugar per grape, which converts to alcohol levels breaking effortlessly into the 15-16% category, and you start to see the problem. The must will taste sweet and fruity, but mellow,soft and lightly colored. Thus the reason it is great for the rosado wines in Spain or sweet wine. Overall, it acts as a fine element in the art of blending. It is common to see it blended into Rioja reds, generously providing a middle punch of body and an equilibrium to the tannins of Tempranillo. Let's note though, great examples of mono-varietal or heavy Garnacha based wines are hitting the scene in the regions of Tarragona and Costa Brava, where the high mountains provide convenient trappings for humidity and the percentage of old vines furnishes deeper concentration and mineral complexity.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-2 2-3 1-2
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Graciano Grac

Common Locations: With the exception of some planting in California and southern France (where it has aliases of exotic variant), Graciano remains true to its birth home of Rioja and Navarro Spain.
Made famous by: Happy to play a stimulating side kick to Tempranillo, no paparazzi have lined up for a iconic example as of yet!
Preferred growing conditions: Picky down to the exact location of the vineyard, it needs a long, warm growing season or its too much work for too little reward. The north of Spain seems to offer the best home but it has travelled too little to know its worth abroad.

It would not be shocking if you have not heard of this grape variety, as it is rarely seen outside of it’s native central Spain. Even there, it is not groomed to high praise and rarely makes the cut to create mono-varietal wines. Some believe the local joke of the naming of Graciano, for when urged to grow more vines of this indigenous grape, the response of the grower is generally, “gracias…no”. Still some believe it was named after the grace and finesse it can add in the recipe of blended wine. They would believe there are reasons to keep this black skinned underachiever around. Here’s the trouble with Graciano: It is very inconsistent, often producing merely half of the fruit than it’s neighboring tempranillo. It ripens late and so needs a warm center spot in the vineyard, lest it taste green and harsh. The acidity is naturally very high; good for ageing but too aggressive without the fatted fruit in the core. It resembles cool climate cabernet sauvignon, with good structure, perhaps more minty and mineral and lacking the depth of chocolate. Rightfully so then, winemakers rarely decide to give it center stage but find it essential for the balancing act, especially in young Rioja (joven wine). Tempranillo would produce much heavier, thicker wines without the fresh vigor perking it up. The wines can age much longer with the high acidity of Graciano preserving the ripe fruits. The color adds a glint of ruby too, to the dark ink of Tempranillo. Graciano is the interest behind the monolithic tones: the curiosity behind the power, so why not keep it growing? We may never see it on the cover of a wine magazine for best of the year but if you read through the article to the fine print of the award winning wines of Rioja, you will, for certain, see a thankful mention.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 1-2 2-4 1-2 1-2
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Grenache Gren

Common Locations: Southern Rhone, Provence and Languedoc, Central Spain, Sardegna, and all over Australia & Central California
Made famous by: Chateau Rayas & other greats of Chateauneuf du Pape (Rhone Valley, France)
Preferred growing conditions: Anywhere where the sun shines… a lot! The rockier the ground and the more windswept and arid, the more Grenache likes it.

Grenache is a grape that thrives in the heat, and can be found wherever temperatures soar: southern France, central Spain, California… It is productive, disease-resistant, and drought-resistant. In fact, it is generally planted where it has to struggle (think more rock than soil) to curb its vigor. It was brought to Spain long ago (known there as Garnacha) where it chose the dry and thirsty life. It is thin-skinned, which makes the wines very low in color, but the high levels of ripeness it achieves in all that sunshine mean that the wines tend to be very high in alcohol (or in sugar, if the fermentation is stopped to create dessert wine). On its own it can be rustic and oxidize, hence it partners well with more deeply colored, tannic grapes such as Tempranillo (in Spain) and Syrah (in France and elsewhere). It makes for a heady combo of robust black fruits, jam, black pepper and often tarry, licorice scented aromas. In its richness, it can develop a great range of flavors as it matures and often takes oak into its fold quite easily. Acidity tends to be a lacking vein and the tannins never soar, so there is ease to the potential power and concentration. Opulent, textured, warming and dark, it is a true translation of the laid-back tanning sun it loves to bask in!

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 3-4 1-2 1-2
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Malbec Mlbc

Common Locations: Argentina, Bordeaux, Cahors (France), Loire
Made famous by: Nicolas Catena and Achaval Ferrer (Mendoza, Argentina)
Preferred growing conditions: After taking root so well in the high elevations of Mendoza, it has shown that hot, dry days interrupted by cold mountain nights, in hard rocky soils, brings out the best of what it can show.

Malbec was once (well, technically still is) one of the five red grapes of Bordeaux. It lost a lot of ground there when it didn’t graft well onto the American rootstocks required after the phylloxera epidemic struck France. It has since enjoyed a rebirth in Argentina, where it has become something of a national grape. The grape has a thick skin, giving it the tooth staining potential of blueberry pie but tastes more like dried cherries, plums and black currants. It can have massive tannins so it certainly benefits from generous softening time in oak barrels. It is also low in acid, so once it matures it can turn into a lush, plush charmer of solid fruit. As it is built in Cahors, France, it needs many, many years before it can be soft enough to enjoy. This rustic example kept it from being explored elsewhere but now in the hands of the Argentine farmers, it has shed that reputation. Here there is a mix of large production farms expressing its easy fruits for quick quaffing and the artisanal farmer seeking unique microclimates for sophistication and terrior. Either way, Malbec is gaining popularity by the vintage, so expect to see it in more places where you encounter fine wine.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
3 2-3 3 3 1-2
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Mazuelo Mzlo

Common Locations: Found in the northern Spanish regions of Rioja (Rioja Alta) and Navarra. However, with its high-yield potential, this is one of the most widely planted grapes on the planet, stmping its passport with various aliases as it travels. See Carignan or Cariñena.
Made famous by: Not necessarily a rising star on it's own, Mazuelo benefits on the global scale from it's more recognized doppeelgänger clones of Carineña (within Spain) and Carignan (in the southern regions of France and elsewhere). At the moment it remains content to add its merits as a blending agent in many wines from Rioja.
Preferred growing conditions: Mazuelo takes it sweet time to ripen, due to very late budding in the spring, so it needs a warm climate with little interruption along the way. The thick skins love the attention from direct sunlight. It curls its roots pretty quickly though with too much wet. It is weak in the presence of powdery-mildew (which spreads quickly), so a corner of the world where rain is limited or at least holds out until the far end of Autumn when it is finally ready to harvest.

Much like it's black-skinned cousin Cariñena, Mazuelo is a bold and brutish grape. It can develop some very wild flavors of brush herbs and display small-berry, black fruit intensity. It is also high on the acid meter. Tannins are also abundant and coarse. Gentile, finessed or delicate are not great words to describe it. Taking this into account, it is smartly added to contribute some heft and fruit texture to many Rioja wines. (see cariñena and carignan)

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2 2-3 1
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Mencia Menc

Common Locations: Grown almost exclusively in the green, steep river-twisted mountains of Northern Spain (a.k.a. Green Spain). Galicia holds most of the vines, with the best examples proving their reputation in Bierzo.
Made famous by: The heroic efforts of the Palacios family (Alvaro and his kin) who revitalized the old cliffs of Priorat, helped first put the Mencia vines of Bierzo into the new wine maps and the bottled wines on the shelves around the globe. Now, many local growers have presented their efforts, leaving the podium for top-Mencia still empty. Great examples come from Domino de Tares, Bodegas Peique and Casal de Burbia...and the list grows.
Preferred growing conditions: Mencia appears to be comfortably at home in the sea-influenced fogs and misty climes of NW Spain. Here the soil types are mostly decomposed slopes of sandstone, schistic grey rocks and gravels. The drainage allows for even moisture underfoot and more mineral clarity in the wines. Its ability to ripen early allows for the ripe harvest before the Atlantic rains set in for the fast-arriving winters. The cool air twisting along the rivers keeps ripening even while the super-steep terraces provide proper sun angles to reach maturity in short time.

The true rising star of Spain, Mencia is rankling for the 4th most successful grape varietal, behind the trophied Granchas and Tempranillos. Not bad for a new comer to the scene. Despite its long history, planted centuries ago along the ridges of the Camino de Santiago by pilgrims headed to Santiago de Compostela, Mencia remained a regional grape making some austere and rustic wines. It came into better focus by a few pioneering wine makers of Spain, seeking old-vines in remarkable micro-climates, a combination they felt was a recipe with profound potential. Mencia offers this by way of its thick-skin concentration,a deeply exotic and captivating fruits, a vibrancy and tension mimicking the cool, sea-hugging mountains and a stark clarity to the mineral rich soils it comfortable digs into. And the forgotten vineyards, overgrown with the fast vegetation, has left them with many decades old vines. The one obstacle to its charm of impressive concentration (it can be so deeply purple and silken) is the bitter, green flavors that can remain, not unlike the bell pepper notes of Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley, France. In fact, this lead many vine-lovers to assume its heritage to Franc, until genetic tests proved its lineage came from Jaen, the powerful red of Portugal to the West. Now, with the pride of its indigenous citizenship, the future suggest international acclaim, as wine makers produce a range of styles from fruity, youthful, velvety (more carbonic vinifications in non-oak containers) to intense and cellar worthy examples (barrel aged and single vineyard). New vineyard practices (trellising and canopy management) has curtailed the underripe aggitations on the palate, leading to a more immediate appeal, especially as the international style has become more uniformly accepted. Notably, Mencia is maintaining its unique flavors and its ability to reveal distinctive terrior. This sets the stage for Mencia's rise to fame, offering a bit of theatrics for everyone in the crowd, from newcomer to the those seeking the classics. In short time, this will become legendary.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-4 1-3 1-2
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Merlot Mrlt

Common Locations: International Superstar! With the exception of Asia and Antartica, it is planted somewhere on each continent.
Made famous by: Chateau Petrus (Pomerol in Bordeaux, France)
Preferred growing conditions: Allow it is sensitive to rot and mold, it does like ‘its feet in the mud’. Clay based soils (with an interesting subsoil) and valley areas are perfect as it buds, flowers, and ripens early.

An incredibly popular variety that really boomed in the late 90s and has been declining in popularity ever since. That said, Merlot is still responsible, either wholly or in part, for some of the greatest and longest-lived reds ever crafted. It reigns supreme in the right bank of Bordeaux, blankets California, and is found in nearly every other winegrowing country on the planet. Paired often with Cabernet Sauvignon, it is slightly lower in color, acid and tannin, but more generous in fruit. Thusly, left alone, the wines don’t tend to age quite as well. In its youth, merlot wine can be showy, fruit-driven right from the first nosing. It has a full rich, texture, loads of black fruits and spices. Often, tobacco, cocoa and wet earth can mingle in. It loves the sweet addition of oak, which, when joined with the natural low acidity, creates for one caressing wine. It has become a popular solution as well, in the modern wine making styles, to the want of drinking harder wines earlier. No need to let that Chainti age 4 more years, once the merlot was dribbled in the vat! It marries well. It drinks well. No wonder it is so prolific.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2-3 2-3 1
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Nebbiolo Nebb

Common Locations: Piedmont and NE Italy
Made famous by: Conterno, Giacosa and more recently Angelo Gaja (Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy)
Preferred growing conditions: Stemming from the thought of fog (Nebbia), Nebbiolo loves the cool, slow ripening environs of the lower Alps. A warm end of summer is desired as is complex, hard mineral soils. A common enemy is a good bout of hail, but otherwise is lives safely (and almost solely) in NE Italy.

Nebbiolo is the great late ripener. This may be a frustration point but if there is a grape to champion the phrase ‘good things come to those that wait’, it would take the title. Nebbiolo produces incredibly nuanced, magical wines that unfold dramatically. The time on the vine gives the gifts of spices, roses, cherries, licorice, tar, truffles and more! With that though, come developed acids and very firm tannins. Time is called on for the wines to relax... sometimes a very long time. Curiously, the weight of the wine never reaches maximum density, so the result (once aged) is a poetic string of expression that feels light on the palate. If you still need more, Nebbiolo shares the mineral complexities it draws from its soils too, which is why the raw hard rock of northern Italian hillsides are a good home for it. The modern approach might provide earlier drinking but it comes with the price of more extraction, fruitier flavors and more oak involvement. If you are patient for the profound magic of this grape, you will be justly rewarded.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2 2-4 2-3 2
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Nero Davola Nero

Common Locations: This is the great grape of Sicily, now the most widely cultivated grape there. It has made Sicilians so happy, does not need to find another home.
Made famous by: On US soils, it is most noted for extreme pleasure for very few dollars. If we were to look for a leading example, we would wander south to Cerasuolo di vittoria, where the avante-garde thinking of COS and Occhipinti has created some poetic expressions, both purely and in intriguing blends.
Preferred growing conditions: A historic citizen of Mediterranean climes, this sun lover gets plenty black in the hot sun and intense heat. It makes for better wine when it is confronted by cooling ocean breezes, usually found at higher elevations facing the sea.

Nero d’Avola is not the real name of the crazy, fiddling Emperor of the ancient Roman world, so well known for having a knack for fire starting. It is, in fact, the Nero, or “black” grape from the town of Avola in Sicily. Perhaps, having Nero’s reputation would have put this grape on the map long ago but it has taken some time for this grape to catch fire itself. Nero d'Avola (also known as "Calabrese") has long played the role of a blending grape, largely used for its inky color to add some heft to wines of other local grapes. Modern methods of viticulture and viniculture however, have shown that this grape produces a very solid wine in and of itself. It became the most widely harvested grape in Sicily as the wine drinking population opened its palate to powerful, immensely flavored red wines of the “new world”, despite hailing from one of the oldest corners of the “old” one. Neros are generally big, densely fruited wines with black pepper and spices lurking within. They're usually very smooth, and they have enough tannin to age pretty well. The more concerned wine maker will look for higher acids at picking time and usually keep the grapes cold while fermenting to add a pleasant fresh side to the weight as well. Nero is a friendly drink, as charming as the Island folks of Sicily and well on its way to a deserved reputation of one of Italy’s finest.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 3-4 1-2 1-2
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Petit Sirah PtSrh

Common Locations: California
Made famous by: Well, that is not declared just yet.
Preferred growing conditions: the hot long summers of coastal California, where the ground is dry and rocky, as in the Rhone.

Petite Sirah is considered more or less to be an historical American varietal, appearing together with Zinfandel in field blend cuvees from pre-Prohibition days. It has become something of a name on its own due to the now old vine vineyards. It carries a deep dark-red to black coloring, and plenty of tannins, which is considered fashionable for modern red wines. Perhaps, because of the Syrah grape gaining traction in California too, this is mistakenly mentioned as a secondary cousin. There is, in fact, no proof of a familial connection, but the power and rich fruits it can produce can help explain the comparison. Currants, tar and a healthy dash of black pepper lurk in the wines of Petit Sirah. Nothing here is really ‘Petite”. What to make of it, we leave to the small growers in love with their old vines. Perhaps it is a grape whose time is yet to come?

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2 3-4 2-3 1-2
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Petite Verdot PtVer

Common Locations: With a historic foothold in the soils of Bordeaux, it has been repotted in the warmer climes of California, South America and Australia
Made famous by: Well, exclusively... not by anyone just yet but the world does have hopes for an emerging star to find a muse (Australia perhaps?).
Preferred growing conditions: An odd duck for liking a cool long growing season but prefers an area that offers a dry warm finish to the harvest season, as it needs extended time to ripen and rains often spoil the fruit.

Imagine being the 5th member in the Jackson five and the other four moving on to amazing solo careers, leaving your oft off-key attempts for the next year’s performance. Well then, you might also call yourself Petite Verdot, the still clinging fifth member of the noble grapes of the Medoc. While Merlot, the Cabs and now even Malbec have found success in the less risky climates abroad, Petite Verdot has remained, trying to ripen into the heady, purple toned, rich and silken beauty it claims it can be. The reason why it still remains is due to what it can be if the vintage holds out warm and dry enough for proper ripening. Blueberries and violets, herbaceous aromas and a distinct spiciness all add to the varietal’s complexity. And for such a late ripener, the acidity does not seem to falter, keeping it vibrant while intense. The color is very dense and the tannins can be significant. These tones can be so abundantly present, that it is usually blended and generally in small amounts. A tiny bit can drastically change the entire read of a typical blend thus the norm at only 1-5% of the total wine! This intensity is an interesting prospect, at least to some willing to toil. There are growers attempting to bring this grape to better output in parts of Australia. California has it grown in the warmer valleys as well. The best perhaps, is yet to come for the solo career of Petite Verdot but when this baritone hits it right, it is generally a show that’s not soon forgotten.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 2-3 1-3 1-3 1-2
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Pinot Noir PNr

Common Locations: Burgundy, Germany, Austria, Champagne, California, New Zealand, Oregon
Made famous by: Domaine Romanee-Conti, Leroy and the monks that carved up so many vineyards in Burgundy, France
Preferred growing conditions: Although it thrives in cooler climes for slower development, it is sensitive to wet and humidity. It welcomes the end of summer dry heat for the last bit of ripening. The more interesting the soil too, the more complex the wine becomes, so a less fertile ground is best.

Pinot Noir, to many, is the greatest red grape grown and produces the most profound, most poetically expressive wines in history. Its primary kingdom is Burgundy, where it dazzles and confuses with its ability to express minutely subtle soil differences, often a mere row apart. Thin-skinned and difficult to grow, it has taken well to only a very specific handful of sites around the world. In California the wines can be quite luscious and fruity, but then it possibly sacrifices its precision of acidity. More at home in cooler regions such as Oregon, Germany and New Zealand. The thin skins make for a wine of very low color and tannin, which is coupled with a naturally high acidity and a pretty, sweet fruit. This can range from cranberry to strawberry to Griottes cherry. Within can churn cola, licorice, truffle, and autumn leaves. The descriptors are endless at its best! This is why wine makers have insisted on suffering through the disease, mold, rot, low yields, uneven ripening, tricky fermentation and all else this grape is sensitive to. It is often hard to time the enjoyment, which leads drinkers to wander away to other wines. Those who are willing to give it another go, however, will eventually add their own tale to the lore and legend that speaks of this grape.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 2-3 1-3 1-3 1-2
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Sangiovese Sangv

Common Locations: Tuscany and other central Italian regions, California
Made famous by: Marchesi d’Antinori and Frescobaldi and the many fantastic producers of brunello di Montalcino
Preferred growing conditions: It favors dry long summer sun, much like the Mediterranean bears, and high limestone content in the soils. Most importantly, it likes to grow... so a farmer with active clippers is best to know.

Happy to be the crowned king of red wines in Italy, Sangiovese has seen few homes elsewhere in the world. It is a grape grown during the era of feudal Italy, prior to the birth of entire growing regions around the world. But with all the time to propagate, it has been given countless regional names, and the styles produced have displayed the common and the grand. This is due to production levels and conditions of cellar work. If handled well, it can provide a bright cherry fruit, leafy tobacco, and a hint of orange rind. It does have a considerable acid component, which adds the needed finesse when it bears weight and power. In wet years, it can be firmly tannic but often is rather approachable. History has set rules around the production within each region, which allow for blending or not. Sangiovese is paired with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as local grapes. In all ways, it makes for a splendid quaff and holds great potential. Drunk with a simple meal or held in reserve for a few extra years, there is evidence to prove its noble stance in the wine world.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-3 2-4 1-2 1-2
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Syrah Syrh

Common Locations: Northern Rhone, Australia, California, Southern Rhone, Italy (Tuscany), Washington, South Africa, Chile
Made famous by: Guigal, Jaboulet, Chapoutier and Chave (from Cote Rotie and Hermtiage in the Rhone Valley, France) and Penfolds Grange (South Australia)
Preferred growing conditions: As it can suffer intense heat and dryness, as well as the cold, this loves the desert or high plateau regions. A rugged dweller and sufficient grower, it can be left unattended and under-watered and still show results.

Syrah does have a fruity side—mostly berries of the brambly sort, it tends to be more renowned for notes of bacon, white pepper, leather, mushrooms and even something akin to burning rubber. Meaty and lush, with often a strike or two of acid on the palate, this caged monster offers so much more with age in the bottle. Modern producers might resist the waiting and push the fruit forward. A bulk of the wine drinking public knows this from Shiraz, from ‘down under’ in Australia or the ample versions from California. It takes to oak well too, often adding more to the range of overt flavors. It is not often too fixed with tannins, so generous oak can make it seem simple and easy. Syrah however, is a grape of nobility and breed, as proven by the lore-building libations from Cote Rotie and Hermitage. These are highly sought after and traded amongst top cellars. The intensity of Syrah is profound. It is rewarding in the juicy and serious versions alike. This quality has brought it into other wines as well, marrying with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Granache and Tempranillo. It is yet to be seen if it will be in everyone’s cellar or asked for at every meal but the occasional encounter often can be memorable.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2-4 1-3 1-2
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Tempranillo Temp

Common Locations: Spain, Portugal, California
Made famous by: Vega Sicilia (Ribera del Duero, Spain), Marques de Murrieta and Lopez de Heredia (Rioja, Spain)
Preferred growing conditions: It likes the dry-run river beds and arid plateau of central Spain. It can survive but does not care so much for wetter, cooler environments. It would miss the heat just too much. Underfoot, it feels comfortable in limestone and soils rich in calcium.

Strawberry, dried cherries, tobacco, leather, spice, as well as earth and a particular dustiness—these are the distinguishing aromatics of this popular Spanish variety. It thrives in the heat of central Spain and has a natural low alcohol potential. Thus it can create elegance in a firm frame, without being too hot or powerful. It is thick skinned, imbuing lots of color and backbone into the wine, making it the perfect blending partner for lightly-hued Garnacha (Grenache) as it is done in Rioja. Perhaps the only fault is its lower natural acidity. It has many names as one travels the sections of Spain, (mostly Tinto del Pais or Tinto Fino) and has even landed home in Portugal, as a recipe component in Porto. It has proven that wherever it travels, it not only picks up the name but, adapts to the growing area. This makes it tricky to define a ‘true’ Tempranillo. In cooler areas, left alone, it makes lighter wines. When married with Cabernet Sauvignon, or over extracted, it can make for quite a powerful red. It takes to oak barrels well, particularly the sweet American oak so heavily used in Spain. It offers a load of sensations immediately. It can also cellar for record times. Regional rules will often dictate label designation for how long the wines have aged, giving a hint to the mellowness of this fiery grape. So, there it a lot to encounter in a Tempranillo. Regardless of how it reveals itself, it always reads not unlike the nature of Spain itself, bold, intriguing and full of life!

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-4 1-2 1-2
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Zinfandel Zinf

Common Locations: California
Made famous by: Once the White Zinfandel craze cleared, the old vines of Ridge Vineyards and Turley Vineyards (from various locations California)
Preferred growing conditions: As it’s bunches do not ripen evenly in cool weather, it prefers the constant dry heat of many California locations. It has not been much of a global traveler to test the comfort or potential elsewhere.

Oh, Zinfandel. Popularized as “white” Zinfandel, an often sweet, rosé wine resulting from a quick moment of skin-contact (maceration), it flooded the American market. Once producers realized the potential of the old vines, planted long ago by settlers mining the hills, the grape became the powerhouse red it is known as today. Zinfandel loves the California sun and can reach incredible sugar levels. This can create quite a potent alcohol level, perhaps to a fault but, it brings with it power and significant richness. The dark, ‘brambly’ fruits it showcases (think blackberries eaten off the bush) are not shy. It mixes with that spice notes and a distinct peppery sensation. The grapes can raisinate quickly, often adding a sweet, prune-like dimension to the wine. Round it with a healthy dash of oak barrel, which it marries to well, and you begin to get Zinfandel’s story. It is a grape of lost origin, claimed to be Primitivo grown in Italy. That has been dispelled though by the finding of Crjlenak in Croatia, it’s genetically true parent, brought to California in the Royal Austrian Plant Species Collection in the 1800s. Happily now, it sits in the California heat, producing a low acid, moderately tannic, dry and powerfully fruited American treat.

White Grapes

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-3 1 1-2
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Albarino Alba

Common Locations: Galicia (Spain), Vinho Verde (Portugal)
Made famous by: Martin Codax (Galicia, Spain) is a cooperative that swept the US market in the 1980’s, opening the door for many fantastic tiny growers.
Preferred growing conditions: Albariño adapted to survive and ripen well in the fog and cool of the craggy Atlantic coast, where the late summer can provide hot days and cool windy eves. It loves the sandy and granitic (schistic) soils found so readily available there too.

Albariño hails from the Atlantic coastline of Spain and Portugal and has the thick-skin to survive both the heat and cold there well. In grapes generally, the thicker the skin, the more intensely aromatic the resulting wine might be. Albariño wines are a pure example of that, sharing a vibrant nose of ripe stone fruits, melon and citrus. They have a very direct acidity, offering quite the snap behind a lush texture. They are also known for the distinct saline quality in the finish, due to the soils and the sea air, influenced while the fruit is on the vine. Yields that the farmer allows to be too large will dilute the wines to a point of ho-hum but, when reduced by hand or by the limited output of old vines, the wines can be as dynamic and appealing as many Rieslings. In fact, many feel there is an historical link to the Riesling grape. So far, proof has not been found to support that claim. A note, if this grape is found in a bottle from Portugal, there might be a bit of spritz to the wine, due to unresolved carbon dioxide. This only adds to the crispy, lively feel of this generously scented grape.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 3 1 1 1
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Aligote Aligo

Common Locations: Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise in lower Burgundy is the true realm of Aliogté. There are some plantings in California and Australia, but not in numbers to make it easy to find.
Made famous by: The Aligoté of Bouzeron has become so defining that it was awarded the recognition of its own Appellation. It is the one place where the precious slopes are dedicated exclusively to Aliogté. Look for producers like, A. & P. de Villaine, who despite being the owner of Domaine Romanée-Conti, acknwoledges the great importance of this worthy grape.
Preferred growing conditions: Aligoté has been proven to do well in the environs of Burgundy in France, where the soils vary in density dependent on location. A foot in clay based topsoils with a solid limestone base (or some combination of these two soils) would be typical. Being its one true home also suggests that Aligoté handles well the late spring and quick summer of central France (continental climate). It is rather difficult to grow however, prone to uneven fruit set and despite being an early ripener, it does not produce an attractive wine unless harvested well into late October. So, despite calling this its one true home, it may find better accommodations elsewhere, if growers are willing to handle its temperament.

Ailgoté is one unique character that has seen both popularity and decline in its long history. Maybe rightfully so, due to its distinctly jarring inner spirit. At first encounter, it is light, herbaceous, with pretty scents of lime and lemon. It is clear and brilliant in the glass. It seems charming and pure. When it pours out across the palate however, its arresting personality is immediate discovered. A brash, cutting acidity overrides the weight and texture, almost like that of pure lime juice. There is little caress or ripe tones that create a wide dimension of sensations. This is a quality not soon forgotten and thus presents the challenge for Aligoté to be acknowledged as one of the great wines of Burgundy (and therefore France). Naturally, Aligoté's transparency allows for a clear expression of mineral sensations derived from soils it lives in, which is typically a quality that vaults any grape into nobility. That is why it was once so widely planted in Burgundy, especially in the Côte Chalonnasie, where Bouzeron claims it as its native grape. Even today, it is the second most grown grape in the whole appellation of Butgundy. Ironically though, when the now-champions, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (genetic cousins of Aligoté) took over the scene, the Aligoté grapes were pushed further down slope to the lazier, more fertile soils offering higher yields but less distinct flavors. IIf only it could have a few examples where the wine is more friendly, more round and alluring, without being so difficult to grow. This too, is the downside to Aligoté. It presents problems at both ends of the growing season (uneven fruit set and necessity for late picking). This is why it has been declassified to the level of bulk produced wine, forced to the outskirts of the better vineyard sites and open to mechanical harvesting and overproduction. Thought of this way, it is destined to remain the base for a fine Kir cocktail in any local cafe. What a fall from its once high throne? Alas, it may not be possible for this grape to change its personality. Yet it can still boast of its delicate floral hints, its green apple brilliance and its refinement (almost never is it ladened with oak barrel creaminess and spices!). There are some vignerons fighting to support these fine qualities. We may never see it replace the new kings of the slopes but we can say it maintains its bright future!

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 1-2 1-3 1 1
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Arneis Arns

Common Locations: Piedmont (Italy)
Made famous by: Ceretto Blangè from the Langhe, Italy whose sudden success saved the vine from near desertion.
Preferred growing conditions: As it needs a constant climate to tame its cranky ways, it does prefer the cool lower alps, at the lower levels where sand and clay soils have settled.

Arneis is difficult to grow well, earning the name (in translation) as the ‘difficult or demanding one’. Oddly, farmers can still over produce, not exactly presenting the best of this fine grape. When cultivated well, however, Arneis merges the character of Viognier and Pinot Blanc nicely. It has a broad aroma and a lush, almost viscous, texture. The weight can be wonderfully sound on the palate leaving loads of time to experience the floral, peachy flavors of the fruit. There is an almond note detected in the finish as well, coupled with a cream or vanilla accent. It is in a separate crowd from the high-acid, snappy whites of Italy.

In fact, that low acid nature makes it useful in blending into hard-framed reds, like the nebbiolos of Roero, adding a welcomed caress in the wine. Sadly, it remains a regional grape, being overshadowed by the easier to grow Chardonnays produced there. This has limited the amount produced and shared around the globe.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 2-3 2 1 1-2
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Assyrtiko Assyr

Common Locations: Santorini, home to the oldest vines of Assyrtiko and argued home to some of the oldest vineyards in Europe (planted some 3,500 yrs ago). It can be found in Central Greece and Thessalia as well. So far, it does not seem to have traveled to farther regions around the globe, as other European whites have.
Made famous by: Argyros has made superb Assyrtiko for over a century, offering several bottlings to express the dynamic qualities and styles of drinking. Domaine Sigalas is a youngster in comparison, but a rising champion of the grape. And Gaia is still another, revealing some interesting blends of Assyrtiko with other local varietties. It should be noted that most Assyrtiko wines, even from the best producers maintain a low cost on the store shelf (wavering between $10-20 price point).
Preferred growing conditions: Assyrtiko makes up over 70% of the vineyards planted in Santorini, where some of the older vines are a century or more in age. An ancient varietal, it seems to feel most comfortable in the volcanic soils here. It is however, very resistant to disease and so has been planted about other parts of Greece as well. Obviously, it can handle the sun well, and benefits from steeper slopes to catch the wind for heat moderation. In fact, the vines are often trained in coils to protect the berries from the fierce winds hitting the mountainsides. These volcanic hillsides manage to maintain just enough moisture from the winter rainfall to keep vigor in the vines during the long-dry summer. This keeps what could be a more plentiful harvest from over-cropping, leaving an average of 20-30hL/ha, perhaps even lower with the older vines.

It could be possible that Assyrtiko is Greece's best white grape. It seems to be the most versatile and adaptive to many soils and micro-climates around the Isles, shucking of the diseases that affect other grapes. It translates well, the intense sun and heat of the Mediterranean home into robust, high alcohol wines. And it can retain an incredible level of acidity. Add to this, its love to express the heavy mineral soils (mostly the volcanic mountainside) where it finds itself planted. So, like the noble grapes of Northern Europe (Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc), whose complexity wows in delicate balance and a clear sense of place, so too does this golden gem of the Hellenic world. In its home vineyards of Santorini (where some vines thrive still at over 150yrs of age) the wines show a citrus and mineral cocktail on the palate, very dry and direct. Elsewhere, it seems to round out a bit to a more generous fruit palate, but still holds great potential for long aging. Because of its natural balance, it is harvested with dessert wine in mind too, often blended with the obscure Aidani and Athiri grapes. Here it is dried in the sun until more raisin than grape and pressed for its tidbit of honeyed juices, making a Vinsanto that resembles the tone of tawny port. Not many grapes could ever handle the sweeping sea winds and the ever-shining sun and be able to maintain such character. Greek wines are not as popular on the American shelf as other great whites of Europe. Perhaps Assyrtiko will be the one to put a name in the mind of consumers. It is without question, one of the Noble White varietals of Europe.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 2-3 2 1 1-2
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Bourboulenc Brbou

Common Locations: Borboulenc has been cultivated in the sunny slopes and plateaus of the Mediterranean rim (from Languedoc to Provence to Greece) since the Greeks ruled winedom. It has remained dug into the soils there since. Thought to be originally Asprokondoura, the importation from the isles, re-registered the name as Bourboulenc. Most notably, it can list the address of Chateauneuf du Pape as one of its high-profile homes.
Made famous by: We think it may be fair to say, that we will never see a version of Bourboulenc labelled as such on the bottle. We can at ;east applaud its presence in such wines as Chateau Beaucastel and other great Chateauneuf du Papes from the Rhône valley of France. A great region for its potential is Le Clape in the Languedoc, more to the Southwest. Perhpas a young wine wonderkid will have one ready for us in the future?
Preferred growing conditions: The long, dry and sunny summers of the coast of Southern France is the perfect climate. The topography here is limited in elevation range to only short peaks. Yet those peaks and the plateaus, in all their various angles and close proximities to each other, offer the right amount of sun exposure (meaning in a limiting way when it is too intense) and correct openness to wind and sea. Bourboulenc does well in the sandy gravels and alluvial river soils as well as the well drained exposed stones of this region.

Some grapes only ever get asked to play the backup role. Lacking any dynamic range or dimension, they can not express themselves enough to present a wine of balance or curiosity. This is the case with Bourboulenc. This fact may sound sad but to cast it aside as worthless would stir the ancients in their tombs, as the grape has been cultivated since the Greeks first planted the Mediterranean rim. The reason: it has a noble ability to sweat out the intense sun and yet retain a high level of acidity. This is rare for a late ripener, where high sugar levels often dilute the intensity of acids. So rather than feel sorry for the little golden kid, it should be lauded for adding the muscle (alcoholic potential) and the spirit (the jolt of freshness) when the lead grape may be too pretty or whimsical. Sometimes a career team player can be just as rewarding. In fact, Bourboulenc is so good at what it does, that it even gets the chance to be blended into red wines, as in the case of Chateuaneuf du Pape. Not many white varietals can lay claim to that. Often wine drinkers would never know Bourboulenc by name, but its gracious attributes are something they definitely benefit from.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 1-3 1-3 1 1-2
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Chardonnay Chd

Common Locations: A worldwide phenomenon!
Made famous by: The few but amazing producers on the hills of Montrachet and Corton in Burgundy (France) and later by Kistler and Sonoma Cutrer.
Preferred growing conditions: An adaptable creature, Chardonnay is out to prove it can flourish anywhere and keep its personality.

Fashions come and fashions go, but somehow Chardonnay always stays on top. This is partly due to its pronounce-ability (not to be underestimated!), and partly to its versatility. It can cover an extraordinary range of styles, from the fuller style of California, parading its generous fruits to the taught and lean Chablis, becoming the window to the rock it grows in. Australia, Chile, South Africa, Italy—no matter which country you turn to, you can almost always find large tracts of land dedicated to the cultivation of this dependable variety. From a winegrowing perspective, Chardonnay is an easy choice. It enjoys an incredibly flexible range of soil types and growing conditions, and is fairly disease-resistant. In the cellar, the winemaker is able to coax a variety of wine styles out of the grape. Terroir, oak treatment, ripeness level, malo-lactic fermentation... all of these elements are like items of clothing that mix, match, and hang on Chardonnay’s generous, creamy frame. Apple to pear, lemon and lime leaf, nutty, buttery, and mineral... these can be separate versions or oddly, all coupled into the same wine. All that and an ability to age well, has given the crown of overachiever to Chardonnay.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-3 1 1
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Chenin Blanc ChnBl

Common Locations: Loire Valley, South Africa
Made famous by: Domaine Huet and Nicolas Joly (Loire Valley, France)
Preferred growing conditions: Resistant to many diseases, vigorous and able to bud early and hang late, Chenin can grow in much warmer climes than most. It prefers sandy or clay-based loamy soils where it is not over watered by rain or man.

Chenin Blanc is another one of those amazing white varietals that is able to produce quality wine at all sweetness levels. This is made possible by its one consistent feature: its bright, persistent acidity. It can make crisp, energized wines if picked early and exuberantly rich, oily wines when harvested late in the fall. Because of the range, the wines can be rather neutral or be an intoxicating, intriguing mixture of honey, fresh flowers, straw, iodine and toasted nuts. The fruit spectrum arches red apples, quince and melon. There is distinct mineral flavors that stand out in the wines of Chenin as well, often described as ‘funky’ or ‘woolen’; a particular stink that defines this great grape. Where the climate allows, Chenin can hang on the vine long enough to become botrytis affected, a friendly rot that dehydrates the grapes, intensifying the sugars. Thus gloriously rich dessert wines can be made and aged to a good measure of years. Oddly, despite its potential, Chenin has been grown around the New-World vineyards for production of bulk wines. It is also used for sparkling wines in Loire Valley of France, too. One would think Chenin wouldn’t know itself, with all of its variations. Perhaps trying a few until you know the version you prefer is the way to get to know Chenin Blanc.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2 1 2-3 1 2-3
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Clairette Clrtte

Common Locations: The South of France is the home base, along the coast from Languedoc to Provence and north through the Rhône Valley. In warmer climates around the globe, where other Rhône varietals have set off to call home, Clariette has been brought in as a traditional element to the end product. California and Australia are good examples.
Made famous by: Clairette may never go solo onto the champions podium but with the support of other grapes, it can claim the greats of Chateauneuf du Pape, in both red and white. Chateau du Beaucastel is a noted example.
Preferred growing conditions: Clairette is an active vine, budding late (well into Spring) and needing heavy attention to pruning in order to control over-production of grapes. It is fearless in drought conditions, so little rain does not stop it, nor does rot from moisture. Rooting in an area where the summers are warm, slow and dry is the right setting. Most readily, we see it under the hot Mediterranean sun. Here, better fruit would come from natural conditions that slow growth as well. Dry, limestone soils save the farmer a good amount of work, being poor in nutrition, hard to crack with the roots of Clairette, and providing a natural acidity to the fruit. Cooler hillsides, open to some breezes of the sea, may also slow massive swelling and cultivate a more dynamic grape too.

Some grapes are lucky enough to be in the game of wine making, for in every way, they could pass as delicious table grapes. In fact, some get to play on both sides. The happy-go-lucky Clairette is fine example, with its large yellow-hued clusters glowing with ripeness on the vine. These possess a pleasant (all be it simple) apple flavor, sharpened with a slight grapefruit edge, and a delicate floral aroma. In the mouth though, there is an abundance of sugary concentration and a distinct finishing bitterness. This is all good as a snack, yet in translation to wine, this presents a challenge. It becomes a dialogue of how to incorporate its high alcohol output and its texture enhancing character. That is where tradition has proven a proper place as a secondary grape, the perfect for pairing in some amazing blends. Leave it to the elders to take Clairette's attributes to support other grapes, who may be more aromatic, higher in acids or simply more intricate yet missing a element of heft or textural satisfaction. There is no shame in the supporting role. It may not be often that it gets the lead on the label but at least it can boast being a champion, as many Chateauneuf du Papes whites can age for many years and become powerful and interesting wines. And not every grape can have a second chance to when the farmer makes the selection for the vat. It can still be delicious on the table. Clairette is a grape that has dreams of making it big in the wine game, who found a way to squeeze in.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-2 1 1
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Cortese Ctese

Common Locations:
Made famous by: Gavi di Gavi
Preferred growing conditions:

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2 1-3 1 1
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Falanghina Fghna

Common Locations: Campania (Italy)
Made famous by: It has not yet been wielded by a noble champion!
Preferred growing conditions: Another grape that has seen only one true home, it enjoys the benefits of high, mountain elevation, exposing it to the sea breezes while rooting into complex volcanic ground.

Falanghina is an ancient varietal dating back to the Roman peoples living in Italy’s southern Campania region. It is a grape that enjoys the porous, rich soils, the hot Mediterranean sun and the wind sweeping off the sea. Thought to be introduced by the Greeks, it has nestled in and changed little since. Falanghina has a yellowish waxy coating that allows it to retain moisture and adds to the flavor offerings. The wines created from this unique berry are often rich in hue, lively with acidity and share a smoky, spiced, late autumn apple flavor. They can be substantially textured, perhaps a bit oily but, justly finish snappy and refreshing. Lurking in that too is a slight rustic mineral taste that reminds you that this is grown in complex volcanic soils. Often it is aged in oak but you would not guess it by taste. With all this, Falanghina is a wine for early drinking. Oxidation can settle in dulling the fresh backbone that makes this wine exciting on its own or drunk with foods.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2-3 1-2 2-3 1 1-3
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Gëwurztraminer Gwurz

Common Locations: This temperamental little grower calls the Alps and the valleys just beyond, its true home. It can be found high above in the Pfalz, on the German side, across the Rhine basin into France, in Alsace, and into the Tyrollean Alps as they fall into Italy. Eastern European neighbors share some distant cousins of Gewürztraminer, however, many lack the same thick, ruby-hued clones that develop the distinctive texture and aromatics as little ol' GWurz.
Made famous by: Alsatian producers have taken a lead on both cultivation and poetic expression of Gewürztraminer, with producers such as Leon Beyer, Zind-Humbrecht, and Domaine Weinbach. Great examples can be found in Germany, especially with the growers settled in along the south facing wall of Pfalz (perhaps known as roter-traminer).
Preferred growing conditions: Gewürztraminer prefers the steep and sunny slopes of high mountain terrains, where the cold comes in fast and shivering by sundown. It is often in clayey soils, where it can draw a continuous nourishment through the long season. It is by far, one of the later grape to ripen, so the additional moisture in these soils will help carry it through to the end. Limestone and other calcareous subsoils tend to add some needed tension to the wine and the thin topsoils on steep slopes offer the most direct access. Gewurztraminer is rather early budding, and therefore fall prey to frost and quite short of strength when viruses threaten infection. It also can ripen too fast in the warmer climates, resulting in diluted flavors despite high sugars.

When mutations happen in nature, sometimes the offspring can be wildly more dynamic than the original. In the plant world (more particular to our case, the grape world) there is no denying gewürztraminer the pedestal for Mutation Extraordinaire. Some long time ago, the ho-hum, lean, green-skinned Traminer grape (from Termeno/Tramin in Alto Adige) was pulled up and forced to resettle in Germany and Alsace (France). There it blossomed into a pink-hued berry with an equally stained pulp, and a whole new perfume and texture. Only butterflies undergo a more amazing transition from green and unseen to flamboyantly kaleidoscopic. This scion was given the additional prefix 'Gewurz' (spicy) by the Germans (some say Alsatians) to describe its new eruption of intense aromatics. It is heady, powerful, laden with lychee fruits and rose petals and can push the boundary of exotica. It also has proven the ability to ripen long into the season, producing dense, low-acid wines with expansive mantles across the palate, either in the form of dry, high-alcohol show stoppers or rich, saturated, sugar-laden dessert wines (depending on the final vinification). Gwurz took the common to the extreme and has thus acquired life-long fans or strict detractors. Once you try a whiff, a taste, or if you are brave enough, a crack at the perfect food pairing, then you will understand its polarizing complexity. It makes gewürztraminer about as memorable a grape as you'll encounter. Where you take it from there may transform you as much as Gwurz has been rethought by nature.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 2-3 1-2 1 1
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Godello Gdlo

Common Locations: Galicia (Spain)
Made famous by: the regional heroes of northern Spain that saved it from dying out in the 70’s
Preferred growing conditions: Another grape that has seen only one true home, it enjoys the benefits of high, mountain elevation, exposing it to the sea breezes while rooting into complex volcanic ground.

Godello is, in expression, much like its local neighbor Albariño. Its wines are fresh and abundantly full of peaches, apples, apricot and crisp citrus. Where it separates though, is in its richness, having a slightly diminished acidity and a broad creamy middle feel. Although perfumed with wild flowers, they are less floral and seem to be more about the undertone of earthen minerality. This is what made the Godello a grape worth rescuing from utter abandon by the locals of Galicia in the late 1970s. Godello wines can mature in oak and not lose their freshness, proving a noble structure and adding to its enjoyment after some bottle ageing. Once there, the wines can become anise scented and vanilla creamed. All the while, Godello is a great picture of the slate soils is thrives in. You can taste terrior through this grape, rooting it to the ground of NW Spain. That said however, the confidence in the recovery of Godello marks it as a rival to Chardonnay produced around the world, suggesting that it might see other growing regions in the future. One of the oldest grapes of Spain, seeing a sort of Renaissance right now, this would be a grape to get to know before the world does.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-3 1 1-2
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Grenache Blanc GrnBl

Common Locations: Spain, Southern France
Made famous by: Well... no one we have noted by its self yet.
Preferred growing conditions: Like its red-hued parent Grenache, it does well where there is heat and dry climate, windy and piled with rocky soils.

A white-berried mutation of Grenache, this variety is most often exploited as a blending agent that brings a soft, smooth fruitiness to the mix. Occasionally, a truly determined producer can coax some serious wine from it. When not over grown, it can produce a wine of some weight and power, hinting at enough acids to keep it fresh. There is a less distinct fruit but a pleasant whiff and taste of honey and almonds. Mineral flavors can come fairly clean and focused through Grenache Blanc, leaving traces of slate and hard stones. Because this is more general than flashy, the Grenache Blanc of the Rhone Valley and parts of Spain have been commonly mixed into other wines to add a supporting dimension. It is a grape that ripens early and if harvested at slightly less sugar levels can be a sufficient acid component to a blend. It is a vigorous plant and can graft well, so it can be a friend to the farmer with substantial success and output. You might not come across the Grenache Blanc on its own so often but, its supporting role is necessary and enjoyable.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 3 1-3 1 1-2
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Gruner Veltliner GVlt

Common Locations: Lower Austria
Made famous by: A rash of great smaller producers brought in by importers in the early 90’s
Preferred growing conditions: Held in check so far by the growers along the mighty Danube, the gradual hills along the climate-balancing river are the true home. Warm, long summer sun and complex alluvial soils have only begun to show the potential.

Grüner Veltliner is the unofficial national grape of Austria and, with few exceptions, rarely strays too far from the Danube. Medium-bodied yet dry, and hardly ever oaked, "GV" pairs well with a wide range of dishes and cuisines, and as such is the darling of sommeliers worldwide. The grape offers tremendously high, grapefruit-like acid, keeping the juices flowing on you palate. It can take a while to ripen, increasing the texture for those acids to dance in. Distinctly peppery and charmed with spices underneath, GV can be a fresh quaffer with some intrigue. Now that it has taken hold in other markets outside of Vienna cafes, small producers are bottling single vineyard and unique cuvees that are showing off the wide dimensions of this stimulating varietal. And with bottle age now showing proof, GV can mature into exotic fruit tones, much like older burgundy whites. This may be a simple substitute for Sauvignon Blanc lovers but now it has a future unfolding to be one of the top world-class grapes. Bravo to the Austrians for nurturing a true national treasure.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 2-3 1-2 2 1-2
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Malvar Mlvr

Common Locations: Grown mostly in the interior of central Spain, most commonly around the area of Madrid (a major varietal in the Madrid D.O.). This is however not a common grape by international growing standards, with just under 700 acres (270Ha) planted in the last count (2008).
Made famous by: Hmmm...the pedestal sits waiting for a trophy example, as it is still a rare name, even amongst Spaniards. Rumor has it that interest is mounting, especially in areas where the later harvest is possible. We will keep our ears to the ground on this one.
Preferred growing conditions: Malvar does not pack up to leave when drought-like conditions dominate an area, so arid conditions like the center of Spain are certainly a nice home. It presents a more interesting grape (thus wine) when Malvar are footed into high elevation vineyards (around 2000ft/600+m). It does require a longer growing season to reach a complex maturity on the vine, so a long, even summer and kind fall season is a must for a flavorful berry.

To start, we must acknowledge that this grape is a synonym to a grape called Larien, which suffers from an identity complex of its own in the confusion with the varietal Arien. Arien is perhaps better known but for making lean, underwhelming whites with high acid. Larien, on the other hand, is more widely seen in southern Spain, around the areas of Montila-Moriles and Málaga, to be blended into early drinking white table wine. If we speak in the tongue of the Madrieños, then Larien becomes Malvar, as it own distinct vine variety. Knowing what's in the name does not however, describe what is in the grape. The pressed juice from Malvar is green accented with a crisp edge of medium to higher acidity. the faint wiff of almond and herbs are the general description (a generic resemblance to Sauvignon Blanc has been seen on some back labels of Malvar sold in the US). Curiously, it has been noted that Malvar, despite being a green grape, may leave some identifiable tannin in the wine. That adds to its uniqueness and may account for its limited production as opposed to other varietals. In some cases, as this can remain on the vine for the long term, Malvar can be used for sweet wines that may rest in time in barrel before bottling.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
2 1-2 1-3 1 1
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Marsanne Mars

Common Locations: Rhone Valley, central coast of California, and Australia (who boasts the oldest vines in the world!)
Made famous by: J.L. Chave and the few proud producers of Hermitage Blanc
Preferred growing conditions: Not a fan of too hot or too cold, and a pesky complainer when disease and rot are present, this needs a steady, dry climate to wait out its season.

Marsanne is a heavy weight. It is known for its rich, flabby texture, which often needs a bit of support from other grapes, commonly its country cousin Roussanne. It is viscous, heavily hued and oxidizes easily. Sounds like a champ, no? Well, the few great examples have kept it on the wine map for many years. Marsanne can produce powerful whites, full of honey, wild flowers and a note of almond paste. They have a curious, almost waxy texture. Marsanne wines can be drunk like a red wine, being less about the acids and more about opulence. These grapes can withstand plenty of time in the barrel, which will eventually add dimension. That, however, needs several years in the bottle to integrate and not be the overriding message. Due to its bluntness, it does mingle better in a crowd. It will be more likely an enhancing ingredient in a cote du rhone white or a varietal blend in California or Australia. There are some pure examples in the Priorato of Spain. Not afraid to stand proud, it needs a little help from its friends to seem pretty.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 3 1-2 1 1
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Melon De Bourgogne Melo

Common Locations: Found exclusively (now) on the Western fringes of the Loire Valley, along the more coastal sea plains of the Atlantic. Four sub-regions of Muscadet, share 55 miles dedicated to vines, from the edge of the sea to Angers, surrounding the tributaries of the Loire river. It was once a favored grape of growers in Burgundy until being chased out with torches and stones but the championing Chardonnay advocates. No argument there of course, but the current production style now, even in the Loire, has dumbed it to more simple articulation of terroir, except in the hands of a few classic-minded growers. Its home seems the perfect match if only the producers can hold it to its fullest potential.
Made famous by: There are a few growers who have the patience to not rush this wine to market, either with accelerated fermentations or lesser time spent on the lees. Those among the leaders though are Marc Ollivier and Remi Branger from Domaine de la Pepiere. Since 1984, they have achieved the top results from organically farming specific micro climates and diverse soils to vinify parcels for their unique expressive qualities. Others in the ilk include, Domaine Pierre de la Grange and Jo Landron from Domaine de la Louvetrie.
Preferred growing conditions: Its ability to survive the extreme cold (and even a massive frost that froze the coastal waters of the Atlantic in the 17th century) has provided a guaranteed home for Melon, despite, as its name refers, its former home in Burgundy and more central Loire valley. It is now rarely planted elsewhere, French or otherwise. Growers here have found a variety of soils to dig Melon roots into, including granite, gneiss, sand and various gravels. It appears to not only fare well but provide true transparency to the mineral textures when vinified in traditional ways.

If you try Melon de Bourgogne once (generally in wine named Muscadet) you may remember it for the rest of your life. This is something to be said for a wine that is relatively neutral and less fruity than it is tactile. Some call it simple, perhaps too one-dimensional for memroy's sake, but it is undeniably exact and palate cleansing, thus the common recommendation around the world for pairing with fresh seafoods. Piercing acidity can often be its first impression but hopefully not its full description. Tart orchard fruits, citrus and fresh green herbs can accompany a very real salinity and lingering sense of minerality. Generally, it produces lean and watery wines, of moderate alcohol levels but can be wonderfully enhanced to more creamy sensuousness by allowing the lees (exhausted yeasts that ferment the grape juices) to rest within the wine. This gives a silken quality that does not cloud either the oyster-shell flintiness or the laser-like sharpness bouncing around the palate (as if it could if it wanted to?). Because of its extreme nature, it is not a grape for fanatics of big, modern whites. Some experimentation is at play with barrel-ageing Melon, to the chagrin of the classicists, presumably to develop more breadth and complexity for longer cellaring. That said, often drinkers are astounded by just how good a 10 year old Muscadet can be without oak involvement, still maintaining its vivacious attitude but somehow less nervous and more alluring. Old replicated vines and natural yeasts appear to have something to do with this, so the vigneron sticking to natural methods and longer lees contact are the usual suspects with great older wines.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 2-3 1-2 1 1
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Muller Thurgau MThg

Common Locations: Germany, Trentino and Alto Aldige (Italy)
Made famous by: Hold the thought until someone steps forward but look to Köfererhof, Nierdermayr or Elena Walch for great examples (Trentino/Alto-Adige, Italy)
Preferred growing conditions: Built as a hybrid meant to ripen before the cold sets in, it fairs well in mountainous regions, with the cold nights and winters not affecting it. Perhaps like its Riesling parent, it would fare better in more bedrock soils to bring out a provocative mineral tone in its wines.

Müller-Thurgau is a German crossing that aimed to combine the high quality of Riesling with the early ripening of Sylvaner. The result was instead a variety that is easy to grow, but generally produces unremarkable, blandly fruity wines. Perhaps that is not the hope that Dr. Müller had for his little prodigy? In fact, his child developed a bad reputation when it was blended with grape juice for an incredible sweet popular beverage in Germany in the 1970s. The better end of the story came from the ex-pat version of Müller-Thurgau that was cultivated in Alto Adige (Italy), where some real quality was coaxed out. Here the grape can at least become more aromatic, with hints of sage and something more floral. The fruits lean toward the tropical persuasion (perhaps trying again to travel farther away) with a flavor of mango combined with peaches. Due to its ability to ripen so early, it has been planted in many areas around the globe. Oregon, Australia and even England all have planted M-T, of which, the outcome has yet to be judged. Perhaps a child of the world, finding a home away from home will bring the true spirit of Dr. Müller jr. to the forefront.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-4 1 1-3
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Muscat Msct

Common Locations: Southern France, Northern Italy
Made famous by: Although an ancient grape with many forms, Moscato d’Asti has recently been a champion in good hands
Preferred growing conditions: Muscat can travel far but does not like sandy soils, preferring deep, damp ground for the roots. It is weak in the early spring, so a constant warmer climate often suits it better.

Muscat is an ancient variety that spread throughout Europe long ago, was absorbed into myriad local cultures, and is now known by many names. Muscat, both Ottonal and A Petit Grains in France, Moscato in Italy, Muscadel in Spain... all very aromatic, very grapey variations on a theme. A variety (or group of related varieties, to be specific) that like heat and hold their sugars well, the Muscat family is responsible for a breadth of dessert wines around the world—Asti Spumante (Italy), Klein Constantia (South Africa), Australia’s liquor Muscats as well as the nectar of Samos, the Greek island. Muscat may also produce powerful still wines, the best of which are bottled in Alsace, France. The range of flavors is as vast as styles, ranging from white flowers, peaches, orange zest and fresh honey to a spice of coriander and sage. There can be a lingering sweetness, if intended, but even dry there is a perpetual sense that this is a product of ripe grapes, picked at their sugary peak. The dry variants are light bodied and easy, the sweet, viscous and coating. With a range like this, Muscat will have friends wherever it is planted.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1 1 1
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Picpoul (piquepoul) Picpo

Common Locations: Found almost exclusively in Picpoul de Pinet Appellation in the midst of the Languedoc region of Southern France.
Made famous by: Although there are many vines planted around the lagoon, few world-recognized producers exist. As the qualities of the grape are known to the more interested young drinkers globally, this may have a significant chance at becoming a household name. Look for Chateau Font-Mars as a larger grower, to start the ball rolling. Domaine Felines Jourdan is another label with possible shelf presence.
Preferred growing conditions: In the Eastern Languedoc region, close to the Mediterranean sea, the rising hills dwell in extremely dry air. The sun can keep temperature quite high through the day, with some solace in the evening breezes, to moderate the exertion of the vines. The humidity that does arrive in the late summer, provides the extra breathing room for the vines to survive the remainder of the season. Picpoul is prune to mildew, yet the bunches are loose, allowing the winds to keep things dry enough until picking.

Picpoul de Pinet is one of France's oldest grapes, battling the seaside winds around the Thau Lagoon for centuries. It has taken some time to consider, and now has climbed the ladder from local favorite to its own appellation status, proclaiming its unique ability to retain incredible acidic freshness in such warm and dry environs. Due to its sun-bathing proximity to the sea, Picpoul (or Piquepoul officially) boasts some serious ripening potential. The spectrum of fruits can range, from the early picked zesty peachiness to the late, humidity-surviving matured tropical tones. Floral notes are prominent, with acacia and hawthorne blossoms, a pleasant bouquet of summer honeys. The resultant wines have then an interesting dual sense of clarity, offering the sea-side salty mineral edge, against a delicately felt middle palate, fruity and fresh with little resistance in line to a pleasing quaff.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 2-3 1-3 1 1-2
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Pinot Blanc PBlc

Common Locations: Alsace, Germany (as Weissburgunder), northern Italy (pinot Bianco)
Made famous by: This is not the grape great Domaines are built on, so to date, there is perhaps no flagship wine.
Preferred growing conditions: Pinot Blanc, in all its forms, does favor the mountain regions of Europe but never likes the rain-prone zones, nor the spring frost.

Pinot Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Weissburgunder... these are all proof that this grape is good enough to grow across several of Europe’s borders. It has become its own as a once clone of Pinot Gris. The range of style is huge, from lean and crisp to rich, oily and sometimes sweet. It tends to be a good indicator of the regions it was grown in. It is best for interesting wine when the yields are reduced and the natural acidity is sustained. The flavors are fruit forward mostly, from apple to citrus and might show some mineral complexity if planted long ago in more interesting soils. There is nothing too aromatically stimulating about Pinot Blanc. Mostly though, it is a simple grape made for simple pleasure. The backyard where it is poured for an afternoon might be as serious as the wine was meant to be. Bountiful, pleasurable and easy drinking marks the character of this multi-lingual grape.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 1-2 1-3 1 1-2
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Pinot Gris PGri

Common Locations: Alsace in France, Northern Italy, Napa, Oregon
Made famous by: The great Pinot Grigio explosion of the 80’s (although no one knew it was Pinot Gris)
Preferred growing conditions: At home in mountains environs where the warm valleys balance the cool nights. Soils may vary from simple to mixed, hopefully offering some complexity to the fruits.

Rich and oily, softly aromatic and occasionally boasting high sugar content, Pinot Gris is an enormously versatile and popular quaffer. With proper farming and careful winemaking, Pinot Gris can even be great—generally from Alto Aldige or Alsace, where it is one of the five ‘Noble Varieties.’ On the other side of the equation is supermarket Pinot Grigio (same grape, ‘grigio’ is just Italian for ‘gris’), an over-cropped, mass-produced wine that tends to be flat and vaguely sweet. Pinot Gris, thought to be a mutation of Pinot Noir, has since been proven to be a cross between Pinot Meunier and Traminer. The berries, as the name implies, are more pink/grey than white. That skin tone provides more structure than a paler grape, potential from more serious feel and ageing. Acidity is perhaps its weak point, as the sugars surpass it in the grape. So the picking time measures the resultant feel and depth of flavor. Pinot Gris/Grigio can be light and citrusy or expand to broad texture, with cream and spices, often apple or pear like with a pinch of residual sweetness. If aged well, it can develop some interesting oxidative flavors and a core of earthen, almost mushroom depth.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 3 2 1-2 1
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Ribolla Gialla Rbol

Common Locations: Friuli, in the northeastern corner of Italy, near Venice, is the one and true home to Ribolla Gialla, particularly in the bumpy hills along the Slovenian border. The classified wine regions within Friuli, Collio and Colli Orientali, are the prime centers of plantation.
Made famous by: Although having a exalted status many centuries ago, no true stand out has carried Ribolla Gialla into the top rankings, at least as typical expression of white wine. Producers like Radikon and Gravner however, have rekindled a spark of curiosity in the varietal by shaping it into "orange" wine. Looking back to historical wine making practices, where there was little difference between white and red production, they have allowed Ribolla to macerate on its skins, adding then both the color and tannin to the assets of the wine. Some of the storage containers that age the wine reflect those of ancient days too, substituting clay anfora for modern wooden barrels or steel tanks. This "Orange" wine has become somewhat of a phenomenon in wine geek circles and has arrived in the glass at many wine bars today. Perhaps this reincarnation of sorts will propel Ribolla back into the scene and give us hope for extraordinary examples in the near(er) future.
Preferred growing conditions: Based on its entrenched history along the eastern Adriatic Sea, there seems to be a pleasure found in the windswept warmth of the sea climes. The soils beneath Ribolla tend to be a mixture of Sand and Clay with a high concentration of Calcareous old sea floor and fractured limestone. That is a natural trait of its current location however, and as Ribolla has travelled little outside of its corner of Italy, there remains to see if other warm climates could cultivate it with similar successes.

Ribolla Gialla is a finicky grape with a grand history and a questionable future. This yellow-skinned grape has been cultivated (and rather glorified) in the far northeastern corner of Italy (in Friuli along the Slovenian border) for over 700 hundred years, brought north by the Greeks long before other European grapes were spread westward by the Roman forces. There is documentation in fact, circa 1400, that declared it illegal to blend other grapes into Ribolla wine or to claim other wines as Ribolla. Not bad credentials for a grape seen little outside of Italian wine bars. Why the current lack of international stardom then? With the spread of a vine-destroying pest known as Phylloxera in the turn of the 1900s, Ribolla was all but wiped clean from the region. The farmers all looked to the popularity of European varietals in replanting the fields (see Sauvignon Blanc if you are seeking a culprit) and Ribolla became a grape planted only for historical sake. Tricky to grow and with a more delicate nature and gum-tingling acidity, producing a more refined style of wine, Ribolla did not sway the crowds of drinkers of more obvious, impressionable wines. For those who like elegance and refinement however, be delighted in the white floral aromas and cut citrus tones that breathe out of the wine. The palate tends to be ultra-clean, charged with high acids and rather transparent to a mineral flavor, clearly marking the soils it is grown in. The wines may have a deeper color but tend to be moderate in alcohol levels, making them a finer wine than may first appear. Because of this, Ribolla often gets a dash here and there, of other grapes to add fruitiness or texture. This may blur the realization of Ribolla's characteristics however, A true 100% Ribolla can be a wonderous discovery, one worthy of its noble past and hopeful future.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 2-3 1-4 1 1-3
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Riesling Ries

Common Locations: Germany, Austria, Australia, Alsace, New York State, the Pacific Northwest
Made famous by: Germany first, then France... no France first then Germany...
Preferred growing conditions: A cool climate is a must for a long, slow development. It enjoys the fitted shoes of slate, schist, sand and loam, but angled steeply so the vine can grab the sun before the cold night shut it down again.

Ask any wine professional what their favorite white grape variety is and most likely their answer will be Riesling (the rest will choose Chardonnay, citing the greats of white Burgundy!). How has a single grape, so outside of the American mainstream, captured the hearts and palates of so many winos? Simply put, quality Riesling is staggeringly good. Riesling is simultaneously capable of producing wines of unbelievable subtlety and wine of great power, dry wines of searing acidity and sweet wines the consistency of syrup, and everything in between. Its naturally high acidity ensures that its wines will age with unparalleled grace, gaining in complexity with each passing year (aged Riesling can develop interesting industrial tones, the ‘petrol’ boasted of by so many wine descriptions). It is also a useful tool for pairing with spicy dishes. High alcohol and oak tannins tend to battle with and exaggerate the heat in a dish. No problem! Riesling is generally low in alcohol and doesn’t take well to oak. Additionally, sweetness in a wine can be a complimentary counterpoint to spice and many Rieslings showcase at least some degree of residual sugar. The flavors range from grapefruit to peaches, warm apple to lime, flowers just picked to dried herbs. Mineral tastes are the signature! Age-ability, variability, versatility, nobility, and AFFORDABILITY (even the highest quality German Rieslings command a fraction of the price of the wine world’s other greats.) all add up to the wine nerd’s beverage of choice.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-2 2-3 1-3 1 1-2
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Sauvignon Blanc SvBlc

Common Locations: Bordeaux, Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, Chile
Made famous by: Chateau Y’Quem (Bordeaux, France), Didier Dagenau (Sancerre & Pouilly Fumé, France) and then the barrage of California (as in Fume Blanc)& New Zealand producers
Preferred growing conditions: This superstar has taken hold around the globe, in all sorts of climates and soils. That said, it loves the sun, and the guys who grow it for great wines, know that interesting soils and areas providing less productivity are the true best environments.

Sauvignon Blanc possesses one of the most distinctive aromatic profiles in the wine world. Grass, gooseberry, catbox and grapefruit—these are words that seem to follow Sauvignon Blanc around, no matter where it is planted. Couple that with a naturally high acidity, and the resulting wine can be shrill and overly herbaceous (at its worst), crisp and fruity (at its most typical), or earthy and transcendent (at its very best). On its own, it can be lush and full of lime accented tropical fruits. It may also be a clear window to the soil complexity, as it is in the smoky, flinty aromas from Pouilly-Fumé. Sauvignon Blanc It also performs well in blends, adding nerve and zest to the mix. This quality, along with its susceptibility to noble rot, is exploited to great effect in Sauternes, where it is blended with Semillon to create some of the world’s greatest and longest lived dessert wines. The needed key is cultivation with low yields and less plant vigor. If the vines are left unchecked, the aromatics can be downright aggressive and the wine too uinteresting behind it. Some barrel fermented styles exist, copying the Bordeaux model perhaps, to lessen the aromatics and add a broader feel. These can age in a much different way, leading to grilled pineapple and butterscotch when very old. This is a dynamic grape, this Sauvignon Blanc. It even boasts being one of the parents to Cabernet Sauvignon, providing the structure that the partner Cabernet Franc was missing. This grape has made its mark and here to stay as one of the greats.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 1 2-4 1 1-3
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Semillon Semi

Common Locations: Front runner in Bordeaux, hinted at in Australia and planted along Sauvignon Blanc almost everywhere else in the growing world.
Made famous by: Chateau d’Yquem and neighbors (Bordeaux, France)
Preferred growing conditions: As it does not fair well in rain and rot, a gravelly/loamy based soil where the early summer is dry and consistent.

Semillon, despite its slight popularity, can make a magical and haunting wine, both from overtly sweet and insanely dry variations. The trouble is often the time it takes to reveal such poetry, as it is one of the few white wines with extensive ability to age beyond expectation. Semillon, as a grape, is very easy to grow. It ripens early and therefore can be harvested during a warm point of the season and prior to any fall rains reeking havoc. It can lack a bit of aromatic sensation and with low acidity it leans to a more ‘fat’ and full feel. Generally, it will then be added to Sauvignon Blanc based wines (as in Bordeaux) adding full flavors and additional aromatics. It can tame the grassy-citrusy SB and add body and warmer tones of flavor against the high acids. In points of Australia (where it was cultivated under the erred identity of Riesling), there are great mono-varietal bottles of Semillon as well, which are lemon-pear fruited with grassy tones when young yet convert to round, pineapple-saffron deliciousness fading into vanilla and nuts as senior citizens. This has helped see to more plantings in Chile and California as well. More famously though, Semillon is a repeating champion in the survival bout against botrytis (which shrivels the affected grapes, intensifying sugar concentration) resulting in intensely exotic dried fruit flavors and superbly bright acids. The best of these creations (Sauternes & Monbazillac), poured in golden droplets for those who can afford the luxury, have shown off their fresh quince and honey glazed apricot many decades old! So, as can be seen, Semillon whether picked early or late, can be a reward for the patient drinkers among us, when it is drunk later. In small doses as a blending grape, it might be true to its quiet existence but made well, and left well, alone, it can sweep the spotlight of any cellar.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 2-3 1-3 1 1
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Verdejo Vrdjo

Common Locations: Rueda (NW Spain)
Made famous by: Although there are many growers of Verdejo, there is not one, sole producer who would say they stand by it alone. Time will tell.
Preferred growing conditions: This grape is lively because of the rugged territory it calls home. Long cold winters, hot, sunny summer days and windswept open ranges make for a dramatic landscape, all of which Verdejo is just fine with. It just digs deep and takes its sweet time to ripen.

Verdejo is a recluse grape hiding away in the Atlantic influenced plateau of NW Spain. In the area of Rueda, it has shown its best colors, all be it pale green. Here the wines are a beautiful mix of pears, citrus and fresh honey. Quite aromatic and clean across the palate when made in stainless steel, the wines can handle a bigger build by oak ageing. This way, they are susceptible to oxidation, becoming nutty and flatter. In some cases, verdejo is coupled with Sauvignon Blanc or Viura, giving a stronger grassy, herbaceous quality to the nose. This grape shows its home rather well. It can be as dramatically crisp as the breezes there and stony underneath. Lime and minerals leap out of the glass. This is a grape that usually wows a white drinking crowd when they realize the price for what they taste.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1 2-3 1-3 1 1
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Verdicchio Vdco

Common Locations: Marche, Veneto (Italy)
Made famous by: With producers like Bucci, who are winning ‘Winery of the Year’ Awards, perhaps Verdicchio with soon have a champion to pull it forward into the great-wine spotlight.
Preferred growing conditions: Verdicchio enjoys the warm climate of central Italy, as it soaks up the Adriatic sun and sea air. It does prefer the beach enough to want sandy soils with a good underlying limestone. This is really the wine of the sea.

The trademark expression of Verdicchio is two-fold: a bright, lemony acidity and a distinctly nutty flavor. Some would say the lingering bitter edge in the finish tastes of pure almond. This can be quite welcomed, as otherwise the wines can be drunk without notice, being lean and unexpressive. The really good examples though come from Castelli di Jesi, where the body becomes much fuller, welcoming that refreshing snap. Some might say that it recalls the impression of a young olive oil. Grown near the Adriatic Sea, it makes simple sense then, that it was cultivated for the abundant seafood. In fact, it was easily recognizable for the (now classic) green-glass, fish shaped bottle that it was sold in. Too bad, the wine inside did not bring the same level of interest. Now some better producers are focusing on Verdicchio as a ‘better-than-table’ wine, reducing yields and hoping for longer age potential. At times, there may be a grape or two blended into Verdicchio wines (Malvasia or Trebbiano) to help round the fruit and enhance the floral expression. This could be a grape destined for a bright future or simply a bright grape of tradition better suited for simple sipping.

Common dial settings:
fruit acid body tannin sugar
1-3 1-3 1-4 1 1-3
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Viognier Vio

Common Locations: Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc, California, Australia
Made famous by: Chateau Grillet in Condrieu (Rhone Valley, France)
Preferred growing conditions: Although it is rather drought resistant, it does not care for damp or humid areas at all. It is home where there is constant sun and consistently dry, dry weather.

A heady brew from the Northern Rhone, Viognier is a rather distinctive grape. Its typical profile would read low acid, full-bodied, high-alcohol, golden-hued, with amplified aromas of cut hay, over-ripe apricots and orange blossom. It is sometimes carrying a scent of fennel or anise. It can be difficult to time the ripeness when the acidity has dipped too low, leaving some wine makers to pick early. This can make for a higher brighter version with a lighter sense of viscosity. The flavors then, however, become a bit more neutral and vinous. When not bottled on its own, it is a terrific blending partner for Syrah/Shiraz, feminizing the black grape’s meaty bulk while oddly adding to the tannic structure. In fact, blending is what Viognier is probably best suited for adding so much color, sweetness and aroma to more simple Rhone-style wines.