The Six Noble Grapes: What You Need to Know
The wine industry has flourished over the last century. It used to be that France and a couple European countries were responsible for most of the wine production of the world but now we have interesting varieties coming out of places like Greece, Portugal, and of course, California.
Because of this, we are seeing new versions of old varieties show up, displaying slightly different flavors and aromas, usually reflecting the climate and character of the region where they grow. This is where the Noble Grapes come in.
The six Noble Grapes are the six varieties of grape, red and white, that maintain their characteristics and flavor no matter where they are planted. Specifically, they are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. You’ll notice that these are all French varieties which has given some critics reason to believe that the idea of the noble grape is just unfairly favoring Mother France.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of each of these grapes and what you can expect from them, no matter their origin.
Sauvignon Blanc: Also known as Sancerre, it is a refreshing, dry, white wine that brings minerality, flavors of herbs and grasses, and citrus. Its acidic flavor makes it great to pair with fish and vegetable dishes, as well as cheese such as chevré. Currently, the best regions for Sauvignon Blanc are California, Loire Valley, and Chilé.
Riesling: Unlike the Sauvignon Blanc, the Riesling is typically sweet or semi-sweet, although presenting similar acidic qualities. A Riesling will have notes of peach and apple, as well as citrus notes such as lime, and a honey-like sweetness. It pairs well with spicy foods because of its sweetness and tendency to sparkle. Look for Rieslings from Alsace, Germany, and Austria.
Chardonnay: The Chardonnay grape tends to be more neutral in flavor, so it tends to absorb the oaky notes of its barrel. Chardonnays present strong minerality and acidity with flavors like apples and pears, as well as bright citrus fruits. It commonly pairs with poultry because of the oaky flavor, and the best regions to buy from are Australia and California.
Pinot Noir: The Pinot Noir is a dry red wine that changes in flavor as it ages. When young, the Pinot exhibits red fruit flavors like cherries and raspberries. As it ages, it brings on earthy notes. Because of its complexity, Pinot Noir is rarely used in blends and can be sort of confusing for tasters. The depth and dryness help it pair beautifully with red meats. Look for bottles from Australia, California, and Burgundy.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The Cab is one of the most widely recognized varieties of wine around the world, and it’s used in many red blends. It tends to be more acidic in flavor and very high in tannins. Cabernet Sauvignons are known for their odd “green bell pepper flavor” which refers to the vegetal quality of the underripe grapes typically used in this variety. Because of its tannic quality, pair with milder foods that won’t compete like black pepper and Brie cheese. Buy from Bordeaux and California.
Merlot: The Merlot is dark blue-violet in color and is similar to the Cabernet Sauvignon in its tannic quality. It’s a medium bodied wine with fruity flavors like blackberry, cherry, and plums. It’s one of the most popular grapes grown around the world and is easy to blend with. Merlots tend to be dry so pair with a hearty fish, or earthy dish containing vegetables like mushrooms. The best Merlots come from France, California, and Washington.