Grape varieties are the sole factor that decide the colour of a wine and most importantly, how it tastes. Each variety of grape may produce distinct and identifiable styles and flavours in a wine. There are countless identified varieties in the world - some of which are indigneous to their place of origin, whilst others are the results of natural mutations or human intervention. The grapes that go into making wine are different to those for eating found in the supermarket. Most wines are made using a genus (or species) called Vitis Vinifera. There are currently thousands of identified Vitis vinifera varieties although there are only a few that are commercially relevant for the production of wine. These berries have thick skins, contain seeds and are small and sweet.
History inevitably plays the biggest role in the varieties we are most familiar with today. Arguably France contributed the most to international vine diversity; think how Bordeaux gave us Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc; Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; and Beaujolais with Gamay - the list goes on.. and on..
These varieties were taken to the New World wine regions (these being regions outside the traditional winegrowing areas of Europe and the Middle East) in the 1600’s and rapidly spread via Europe’s colonial ambitions.
Throughout history, the ‘Old World’ has set the benchmark of how certain varieties should taste as finished wine, as well as where they are geographically to be planted. For instance, Chardonnay, whose home is Burgundy, is planted throughout the world but flourishes in climates and soils most similar to its origin.
When it comes to labeling, the old world prefers to put place before varietal. It's assumed that we are to know ‘Bourgogne Blanc’ will be Chardonnay from Burgundy, or the reds of ‘Chianti’ made from the Sangiovese grape, from the Chianti region. These historical classifications have been around for centuries and are still very much part of the romance of these regions.
The ‘new world’ really threw a spanner in the works by placing variety of grape front and centre on the label. Though this may seem obvious now, at the time it was an absolute game changer. The public could now associate a variety with the style of wine they liked, thus purchasing became far simpler for consumers. Although most classic regions have stuck to their guns, there has been a shift even in classic regions over recent years to display the variety more prominently.
The New World has also renamed varieties that indicate style, despite being genetically identical. Syrah being known as Shiraz (especially prominent in Australia), or Pinot Gris being referred to as Pinot Grigio, are easy examples of this. However there is an internal logic to these decisions - wine using Shiraz is made in a style that champions richness and power, whilst Syrah’s focus upon finesse and elegance.
Different varieties can produce remarkably similar styles of wine, so it's always worth trying new things. This is very much at the core of what we are trying to achieve with 6bottles, introducing you to new and underrated varieties that you can hopefully relate, learn about and enjoy as much as we do. As always if you have anything further you want to know, feel free to reach out directly to email@example.com.