Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world's most widely recognised red wine grape varieties. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates from Canada's Okanagan Valley to Lebanon's Beqaa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon became internationally recognised through its prominence in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. From France and Spain, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World where it found new homes in places like California's Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, New Zealand's Hawkes Bay, South Africa's Stellenbosch region, Australia's Margaret River and Coonawarra regions, and Chile's Maipo Valley and Colchagua. For most of the 20th century, it was the world's most widely planted premium red wine grape until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 1990. However, by 2015, Cabernet Sauvignon had once again become the most widely planted wine grape.
Despite its prominence in the industry, the grape is a relatively new variety, the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century in southwestern France. Its popularity is often attributed to its ease of cultivation - the grapes have thick skins and the vines a re hardy and naturally low yielding, budding late to avoid frost and resistant to viticultural hazards such as rot and insects - and to its consistent presentation of structure and flavours which express the typical character ("typicity") of the variety. Familiarity and ease of pronunciation have helped to sell Cabernet Sauvignon wines to consumers, even when from unfamiliar wine regions.
The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine's aging potential. In cooler climates, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper notes, mint and cedar which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages. In more moderate climates the blackcurrant notes are often seen with black cherry and black olive notes while in very hot climates the currant flavours can veer towards the over-ripe and "jammy" side. In parts of Australia, particularly the Coonawarra wine region of South Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to have a characteristic eucalyptus or menthol notes.
The style of Cabernet Sauvignon is strongly influenced by the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. When more on the unripe side, the grapes are high in pyrazines and will exhibit pronounced green bell peppers and vegetal flavours. When harvested overripe the wines can taste jammy and may have aromas of stewed blackcurrants. Some winemakers choose to harvest their grapes at different ripeness levels in order to incorporate these different elements and potentially add some layer of complexity to the wine. When Cabernet Sauvignon is young, the wines typically exhibit strong fruit flavours of black cherries and plum. The aroma of blackcurrants is one of the most distinctive and characteristic element of Cabernet Sauvignon that is present in virtually every style of the wine across the globe. Styles from various regions and producers may also have aromas of eucalyptus, mint and tobacco. As the wines age they can sometimes develop aromas associated with cedar, cigar boxes and pencil shavings. In general New World examples have more pronounced fruity notes while Old World wines can be more austere with heightened earthy notes.
Alternative Names: Bidure, Bouche, Bordo, Bouchet, Burdeos Tinto, Lafite, Vidure
Merlot is a dark blue-coloured wine grape variety, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the colour of the grape. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin.
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz Cabernet, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at 260,000 hectares (640,000 acres) globally. The area planted to Merlot has continued to increase, with 266,000 hectares (660,000 acres) in 2015.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tend to be two main styles. The "International style" favoured by many New World wine regions tends to emphasise late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and produce inky, purple coloured wines that are full in body with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit. While this international style is practiced by many Bordeaux wine producers, the traditional "Bordeaux style" of Merlot involves harvesting Merlot earlier to maintain acidity and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavours (raspberries, strawberries) and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.
As a varietal wine, Merlot can make soft, velvety wines with plum flavours. While Merlot wines tend to mature faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, some examples can continue to develop in the bottle for decades. There are three main styles of Merlot - a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; a fruity wine with more tannic structure; and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, olallieberry and plum. Vegetable and earthy notes include black and green olives, cola nut, bell pepper, fennel, humus, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb and tobacco. Floral and herbal notes commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea, eucalyptus, laurel, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage, sarsaparilla and thyme. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.
Alternative Names: Alicante, Alicante Noir, Bégney, Bidal, Bidalhe, Bigney, Bigney rouge, Bini, Bini Ruzh, Bioney, Black Alicante, Bordeleza belcha, Crabutet, Crabutet Noir, Crabutet Noir merlau, Hebigney, Higney, Higney rouge, Langon, Lecchumskij, Médoc Noir, Merlau, Merlaut, Merlaut Noir, Merle, Merle Petite, Merleau, Merlô, Merlot Noir, Merlot black, Merlot blauer, Merlot crni, Merlot nero, Merlott, Merlou, Odzalesi, Odzhaleshi, Odzhaleshi Legkhumskii, Petit Merle, Picard, Pikard, Plan medre, Planet Medok, Plant du Médoc, Plant Médoc, Saint-Macaire, Same de la Canan, Same dou Flaube, Sème de la Canau, Sème Dou Flube, Semilhon rouge, Semilhoum rouge, Semilhoun rouge, Sémillon rouge, Sud des Graves, Vidal, Vini Ticinesi, Vitrai and Vitraille
Petit Verdot is a variety of red wine grape, principally used in classic Bordeaux blends. It ripens much later than the other varieties in Bordeaux, often too late, so it fell out of favour in its home region. When it does ripen it adds tannin, colour and flavour, in small amounts, to the blend. Petit Verdot has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into single varietal wine. It is also useful in 'stiffening' the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
When young its aromas have been likened to banana and pencil shavings. Strong tones of violet and leather develop as it matures.
Alternative Names: Verdot, Petit Verdau
Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine. In 1999, Syrah was found to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-eastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880.
The style and flavour profile of wines made from Syrah are influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown with moderate climates (such as the northern Rhone Valley and parts of the Walla Walla AVA in Washington State) tending to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates (such as Crete, and the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of Australia), Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of liquorice, anise and earthy leather. In many regions the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allow the wines produced to have favourable aging potential.
Syrah is used as a single varietal or as a blend. Following several years of strong planting, Syrah was estimated in 2004 to be the world's 7th most grown grape at 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres). It can be found throughout the globe from France to New World wine regions such as: Chile, South Africa, the Hawke's Bay, Waiheke, New Zealand, California and Washington. It can also be found in several Australian wine regions such as: Barossa, Heathcote, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale
Wines made from Syrah are often powerfully flavoured and full-bodied. The variety produces wines with a wide range of flavour notes, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, as well as other viticultural practices chosen. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, and black pepper. No one aroma can be called "typical" though blackberry, coffee and pepper are often noticed. With time in the bottle these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savoury "tertiary" notes such as leather and truffle. "Secondary" flavour and aroma notes are those associated with several things, generally winemakers' practices (such as oak barrel and yeast treatment).
The Syrah-dominated appellations (AOCs) of northern Rhône have, like most other French appellations and regions, no tradition of varietal labelling of their wines. Indeed, such practices are generally disallowed under AOC rules, and only the AOC name (such as Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage or Hermitage) appears on the label. Varietal labelling of Syrah/Shiraz wines is therefore a practice that has emerged in the New World, primarily in Australia.
To confuse matters, in northern Rhône, different clones of genuine Syrah are referred to as Petite Syrah (small Syrah) or Gros Syrah (large Syrah) depending on the size of their berries, with Petite Syrah being considered the superior version, giving wines higher in phenolics.
As a general rule, most Australian and South African wines are labelled "Shiraz", and most European wines (from such regions where varietal labelling is practiced) are labelled "Syrah". In other countries, practices vary and winemakers (or wine marketers) sometimes choose either "Syrah" or "Shiraz" to signify a stylistic difference in the wine they have made. "Syrah"-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. "Shiraz"-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples, presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smoky, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression. It must, however, be realised that this rule of thumb is unevenly applied.
Alternative Names: Shiraz, Hermitage