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Grape Varieties

Glossary terms

Macabeo (white)

Widely planted in northern Spain and around the Mediterranean vineyards of Roussillon and Languedoc, where it's known as Maccabeu, needing low yields for quality.


Malbec (red)

Responsible for the so-called ancient 'black wine of Cahors' in south-west France, Malbec is also a minor partner among the five main red varieties that make up the Bordeaux blend.

While it can be harsh and rustically tannic in France (usually needing Merlot to soften it), it is the red grape par excellence of Argentina, where it makes a softer, juicier style of red, especially from old vines, with raspberry, mulberry and game-like undertones. It's also grown in Chile, Australia and California.

What does it taste like?

  • mulberry and blackberry flavours
  • tarry and leathery

  • Harsh and rustic in its homeland of south-west France, the MALBEC grape is often improved in Cahors by the addition of the softening MERLOT grape. It really comes into its own however in Argentina, where it becomes altogether smoother and lusher with all sorts of plummy, red berry and earthy fruit flavours like raspberry, mulberry and blackberry allied to tar, leather and game-like characters.

Malvasia (white)

Like Muscat, this is an ancient, Mediterranean-based variety, whose heartland is Italy, where it makes anything from dry white to red wines and the rich, sweet, fragrant whites of the islands, notably Sardinia, Lipari close to Sicily.

Malvasia Istriana, from Friuli is particularly good and, as a sub-variety, like Malvasia di Candia, it is often blended to improve Italian basic whites. As a red variety, Malvasia Nera is blended with Negroamaro in Puglia. It's common in Spain and Portugal and in Madeira, it is responsible for the rich Madeira wine known as Malmsey.

Marsanne (white)

This is a quintessential northern Rhône grape variety with a faintly nutty character usually blended with the zippier Roussanneto make the dry whites of Crozes Hermitage, St.Joseph, Côtes du Rhône and at its best, the rare white Hermitage.

It is becoming increasingly popular in the south of France as a blender and it's long been grown in Australia's Goulburn Valley. With the popularity of Rhône varieties in California, it's being tried out with some success here too.

What does it taste like?

  • marzipan-like and nutty
  • opulently rich, honeysuckle aromas

  • MARSANNE is the blending partner of the higher quality ROUSSANNE and has a faintly peachy, nutty, blanched almondy character which can veer towards the flavour of marzipan. It is full-bodied, fat and becomes opulently rich with honeysuckle aromas and a mango-like tropical fruitiness in parts of Australia and California.

Mavrud (red)

Balkan vine best known for the sturdy reds of Assenovgrad Mavrud in Bulgaria, where the grapes are small-berried and low-yielding.


Melnik (red)

Bulgaria's other quality near-native variety capable of producing good ageworthy, almost Rhône-like reds when produced from low-yields and aged in oak.


Melon de Bourgogne (white)

Known better as Muscadet, its region of production in the western Loire close to Nantes, Melon is synonymous with the rather neutral, acidic dry white Loire Valley wine which reached its zenith in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It is not a particularly distinguished variety, but, when genuinely made sur lie, i.e. left on its lees for added zippy complexity, it can be transformed into a bracing summer white with a sort of sea-salty freshness, making it the perfect accompaniment to shellfish.

Merlot (red)

For long considered the junior partner in the great Bordeaux duo of grape varieties, Merlot has achieved growing popularity in the last decade of the 20th century thanks to the cult worship of certain Merlot-based Pomerols and Saint Emilions in Bordeaux as well as a growing taste for its lusciously plummy and flavoursome early-drinking delights in countries such as Chile and California.

With its soft texture, deliciously plummy fruit flavour and mellow tannins, Merlot is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking to damp, cool, clay soils rather than the warmer gravels of the Médoc, plantings of the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot outnumber those of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and they are also growing extensively in the south of France. Merlot ripens earlier and more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its popularity in France and in northern Italy. It is widely planted in eastern Europe, but outside France, it is at its most serious in California, where it has become one of the 'hottest' varieties. It is also extensively grown in Chile, where it produces excellent value, supple-textured reds, and, increasingly in Australia and New Zealand.

What does it taste like?

  • bell pepper and blackcurrant
  • chocolate and spice-like characters

  • MERLOT's soft texture helps to give it a deliciously plummy, almost fruitcake-like flavour and a mellow smoothness which makes it more approachable than its sister grape, the CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Like cabernet, it can be a little grassy and bell-pepper-like from cool climate regions and it develops blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and spice-like characters when fully ripe. Chilean MERLOT often produces juicy reds with blackcurrant pastille flavours.

Mondeuse (red)

A peppery red variety grown in the high altitude vineyards of Savoie, also known as Refosco in north-east Italy's Friuli region.


Montepulciano (red)

Best known for the rustic reds of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, this deep-coloured variety, the main ingredient in Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, is widely planted in central Italy, and often used as a blender with Sangiovese.