Who is the Big Six in the wine world? Who is the Hale Berry of wine berries, the George Clooney of Grapes or the Naomi Watts of Wine?
Well in the wine drinking world, there is an A-list of grape varieties better know as The Noble Grapes.
These A-Listers are famous culturally and historically and are internationally known and grown, constantly producing quality wines year after year (that is if they are planted in the right type of soil, climate and “directed” by a capable wine maker).
Let’s look at the who’s-who of wine:
Known for its crisp, grassy, gooseberry and citrus flavours. Depending on the growing climate, Sauvigon Blanc can range from the really green, bone dry style to the vibrant tomato vine, gooseberries and green pepper style.
Some Sauvigons are blended with a small amount of Semillon to make the classic Bordeaux style whites while other Sauvignon Blancs are wood matured in French oak barrels to give a distinctive smokey character.
Some love Chardonnay, while others hate it, but no one can deny it. It is an easy growing vine that yields good quality fruit, which makes it a favourite with grape growers. It is also one of the three main varietals used in Champagne (or MCC, if you are in South Africa). It is a versatile grape and can produce a style of wine that’s fresh with lemony notes when it is unoaked or rich creamy style which can remind wine drinkers of buttered toast, almonds and honey.
Unfortunately there are other Chardonnays on the market that are so excessively wooded that the subtle fruit characters are overpowered and flavours and can be unappealing.
This varietal causes quite a bit of confusion in South Africa, because in the past wine drinkers could choose between wines labelled as Rhine Riesling, Weisser Riesling, Paarl Riesling or Cape Riesling.
Current legislation requires that the original Riesling varietal planted in South Africa can be labelled as Riesling where as the wines labelled as Cape Riesling is in fact Crouchen Blanc.
The good Rieslings that you will find can range from wines that are refreshing and racy with a steely acidity, while others can have a more lime and orange pith characters.
Personified as a very “masculine” wine and is internationally admired. The trademarks of a good Cabernet Sauvignons are the deep dark red colour, the full-bodied character and taste of blackcurrant combined with a good tannin structure. Maturing the wine in oak barrels adds tobacco, cedar wood and chocolate characters which make the wine more complex.
Cabernet Sauvignon or predominantly Cabernet-led blends are the flagship of many wine producers.
Sadly, the poor Cab’s out there have stalky-green characteristics that are not appealing at all.
This is a super popular grape varietal with a large spectrum of wine drinkers. Described as a “feminine” wine, it is a little bit softer and rounder than Cabernet with juicier ripe berry flavours which makes it more approachable. For many wine drinkers, when faced with a choice of wine, Merlot is the go to varietal since it difficult to really get a “bad” one. Merlot also blends well with Cabernet making a good “marriage” between feminine and masculine grape types.
Also known as the “heartbreak” grape, Pinot Noir is probably considered as the Holy Grail of wines. Notoriously temperamental, Pinot Noir can produce a wine that is ethereal, elegant and complex with layer and layer of flavours…
unfortunately Pinot Noir is like the French nouveau art film actors and hardly produces good wines outside its native Burgundy. Many new world wine growing areas tend to blunder Pinot Noir, resulting in a wine that seems disjointed with either too much fruit, hard tannins or just not enough body. Only in the cooler areas of South Africa, does Pinot Noir do well.
Pinot Noir is also one of the three grapes used in Champagne / MCC.
This is not to say that grape varietals like Chenin Blanc, Pinotage or Shiraz doesn’t make as good wine as the Noble Varietals, just that the wines listed are the internationally known.
Any excuse pulling the cork on a bottle of wine, eh?