Tired of feeling bamboozled by the intricacies of wine? Master sommelier Catherine Fallis is here to help you get to grips with the 10 grapes you need to know. By Sophie Morris
Grapes in Napa, California pixabay.com
Master sommeliers like Catherine Fallis spend years tasting wine and studying its properties to become experts, but she says there are plenty of shortcuts for the amateur drinker and has detailed 10 grapes in an honest and entertaining guide to buying, drinking and understanding wine, including the would-be dating profiles of these big personalities. It will bag you the best supermarket bargains and save you from the worst wine snobs at dinner. Here we condense Ten Grapes to Know down to the essentials.
PINOT GRIGIO Pinot Grigio provides the comfort of an old friend. There are no surprises. Shy, dry, fresh and delightfully unfruity, Pinot Gris, as it’s known in France, is a weightier expression of this grape. Producers in the New World choose one name or the other depending on the style they are emulating.
Dating profile I will support you but I am not going to challenge you. I am a chameleon and can fit in anywhere.
Catherine’s picks Riff Pinot Grigio Della Venezie, £9.95, winedirect.co.uk; Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris, £9.50, tesco.com
France is its historic birthplace - smoky, flinty Pouilly-Fumé and subtle, lemony, tart Sancerre - but Marlborough, New Zealand, has absolutely nailed Sauvignon Blanc with opulent flavours of tropical passion fruit and pineapple and signature zesty green and herbaceous notes.
I like to be the centre of attention. If I grow up without much sun, I am lean, edgy and tart. If I grow up with a lot of sun, I am passionate and spicy. I am refreshing and light-hearted. I will make you smile.
Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc, £8, sainsburys.co.uk; Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fumé, £19.79, uvinum.co.uk
One of the world’s oldest grapes. White Burgundy ranges from light, crisp Mâcon to steely, energetic Chablis, to nutty Meursault and rich, complex Montrachet. It’s the key ingredient in the ethereal Blanc de Blancs Champagne. California Chardonnay is classically ripe, opulent, buttery and oaky.
I am rich and I have great legs. If I am French, I am more elegant, more refined, than my Californian cousins.
Barefoot Chardonnay, California, £6.50, sainsburys.co.uk Matrot, Bourgogne Chardonnay, £19.99, laithwaites.co.uk
For many, this grape is a challenge to pronounce. For farmers, it is a challenge to cultivate. Why is it even around? With floral, apricot, honeyed and tropical notes, Viognier is a sultry temptress. Old World, or French, Viogniers are dry and rich with subtle fruit and perfume. Viogniers in the New World are more intense and fruitier. Look for vintages one to three years old.
I am rich and distinctive, with a soft side. My charms are fleeting, so enjoy them before it is too late.
Catherine’s picks Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier, £7.25, groceries.morrisons.com; Jean-Luc Colombi Viognier La Violette, Vin de Pays d’Oc, £12.99, simplywinesdirect.com
Pinot Noir is the lightest of all reds. With enticing notes of raspberry, cranberry, rose petal, mushroom, and exotic spice, it’s a favourite of sommeliers, winemakers and romantics. It is delicately perfumed, often tart and an intensely flavoured, complex, high-acid wine that will not overpower your meal. French Pinot Noir is called Burgundy. Italy produces light, crisp and beautifully dry Pinot Nero. The grape thrives in North America and loves the challenge of New Zealand.
I am pale and thin but my soul runs deep. My tastes are simple. I only like the best.
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, £18.90, thenewzealandcellar.co.uk Brancott Estate Pinot Noir, £9, sainsburys.co.uk
Sangiovese is not globally grown, or globally loved; the best in the world comes from Tuscany. No other red grape has the potential to give us a wine with so much complexity even at its lightest.
The lightest, simplest of these come from the place called Chianti. Richer, oakier versions with ‘Riserva’ on the label as well as local Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are the most serious, whereas Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano are lighter and less pricey.
I’m Italian. Sure, I can be a Momma’s boy. But aren’t I cute?
Castello di Gabbiano Riserva, £14.35, uvinum.co.uk; Melini Chianti (£6.99), waitrose.com
Shiraz, the grape name used in Australia, and Syrah, used in France, are the same. It’s one of the world’s oldest wine grapes but its popularity is recent. The Rhone Valley’s Cote-Rotie and Hermitage are the benchmark for Syrah, and are deeply coloured and powerful, and flavoured with dark berry fruit, earth, smoke, bacon, white and pink peppercorns. They have long ageing potential. Australian Shiraz is inky in colour, with raspberry, boysenberry, lavender, menthol and vanilla.
If I’m French I’m shy but worth seeking out. If I’m from Australia I’m an open book.
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, £9.99, majestic.co.uk; Vidal-Fleury Crozes-Hermitage, £17.47, uvinum.co.uk
Smooth, supple, fruity and inviting - for those who find red wine superstar Cabernet Sauvignon too rich, robust and chewy. Its popularity and price soared in the 1990s. Then came the movie Sideways, and Merlot sales dropped. Thankfully, it’s back. It’s the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux and has a long history in Italy. The world’s most expensive wine, Chateau Le Pin, is Merlot-based.
I show my softer side quickly. I am straightforward and easy to get along with.
Bogle Vineyards Merlot, California, £14.95, tanners-wines.co.uk; Chateau Simard, Grand Cru, St-Emilion, reduced to £19.11 until 30 October, ocado.com
Cabernet Sauvignon is planted, and well received, all over the world. The Brits and their love affair with Claret (Cabernet blends from Bordeaux) drove its popularity to a global level. It’s full to medium-bodied with notes of blackcurrant, green pepper, leather and earth in Bordeaux. In the New World, the fruit is riper, the alcohol higher, and the wine more plush or softer in texture.
I am strong-willed and stubborn, yet soft-spoken and down-to-earth. I get cold feet, so keep me warm for best results.
Crios Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, £14.99, houseoftownend.com; Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, £24.30, majestic.co.uk
Zinfandel is the only major grape without an Old World role model. Why? The best in the world are produced in California. White Zinfandel was invented “accidentally” in the 1980s and it met with instant success, saving many priceless old vines from extinction, particularly in Lodi, a quality wine-producing area only now coming out of the shadows. Puglia is the only place in Italy growing Primitivo, as the grape is known there. Zinfandel is vibrantly fruity, with herbal, earth and spice notes as well as vanilla, cedar and espresso.
I am outgoing, exuberant, colourful, and fun. I am as down-to-earth as they come. I am always raring to go. I prefer dancing to shopping. Let’s hang out under the moon and stars. Cigars? I can be sweet enough to handle them.
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, £12.99, majestic.co.uk; Botromagno Primitivo Murgia Rosso, Puglia, £14.25, greatwesternwine.co.uk