Sauvignon blanc (So-vee-nyon Blah)
Food-wine pairing: a versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, and salads.
Districts: New Zealand produces some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. Some Australian Sauvignon Blancs, grown in warmer areas, tends to be flat and lack fruit qualities. Of French origin, sauvignon blanc is grown in the Bordeaux district where it is blended with semillon. It is also grown extensively in the upper Loire valley where it is made as a varietal wine.
Typical taste in varietal wine: generally lighter than Chardonnay — Sauvignon blanc normally shows a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavours range from sour green fruits of apple, pear and gooseberry through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. Quality unoaked Sauvignon Blancs will display smokey qualities; they require bright aromas and a strong acid finish; they are best grown in cool climates.
(Sah-ra or Shi-raz) Shiraz or syrah are two names for the same variety. Europe vine growers and winemakers only use the name syrah.
Food-wine pairing: meat (steak, beef, wild game, stews, etc.)
Districts: syrah excels in France’s Rhône Valley, California and Australia.
Typical taste in varietal wine: aromas and flavours of wild black-fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. The abundance of fruit sensations is often complemented by warm alcohol and gripping tannins.
Toffee notes if present come not from the fruit but from the wine having rested in oak barrels.
The shiraz variety gives hearty, spicy reds. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavours and excellent longevity. You’ll discover Syrahs of value and elegance by reading my reviews of French wines.
(Mer-lo) Easy to drink. Its softness has made it an "introducing" wine for new red-wine drinkers.
Food-wine pairing: any will do.
Districts: a key player in the Bordeaux blend, merlot is now also grown on the US West Coast, Australia, and other countries.
Typical taste in varietal wine: black-cherry and herbal flavours are typical. The texture is round but a middle palate gap is common.
(Ka-ber-nay So-vee-nyon) Widely accepted as one of the world’s best varieties. Cabernet sauvignon is often blended with cabernet franc and merlot. It usually undergoes oak treatment.
Food-wine pairing: best with simply prepared red meat.
Districts: cabernet sauvignon is planted wherever red wine grapes grow except in the Northern fringes such as Germany. It is part of the great red Médoc wines of France, and among the finest reds in Australia, California and Chile.
Typical taste in varietal wine: full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young. With age, rich currant qualities change to that of pencil box. Bell pepper notes remain.
Another article deals with the health benefits of polyphenols.
(Pee-no Nwar) One of the noblest red wine grapes — difficult to grow, rarely blended, with no roughness.
Food-wine pairing: excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes.
Districts: makes the great reds of Burgundy in France, and good wines from Austria, California, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Typical taste in varietal wine: very unlike Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh. The tannins are very soft; this is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf, damp earth, or worn leather.
Yet pinot noir is very transparent to the place where it is grown. The staggering range of wines produced makes it pointless to define which personality is the best expression of the variety.