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Grape Varieties

Glossary terms


Big, powerful, sturdy red grape variety best known for the DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco in Umbria.


Sangiovese (red)

Meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the Chianti grape par excellence, and responsible in Tuscany too, for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobilo de Montpulciano.

A fussy grape to grow, it can produce lively, almost fizzing young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours and great finesse. Ongoing colonel selection in Chianti Classic designed to reverse the rush to plant productive clones is helping the process of improving Sangiovese-based wines in Italy. Sangiovese is widespread in Argentina thanks to the influx of Italian immigrants and has become fashionable in California and, to a more limited extent, in Australia.

Saperavi (red)

Quintessential Georgian variety producing deeply coloured, firm, initially tart but ageworthy reds. Main characteristics: mid budding, late ripening, relatively productive. Winter-hardy as well as drought-tolerant. Unusually for a pale-fleshed variety, berries produce pinkish juice. The most widely planted dark-skinned variety in Georgia. Saperavi also adds colour and acidity to blends and makes impressive semi-sweet and port-style fortified wines. Sapervai is widely planted throughout the wine regions of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Bulgaria. It has also found a foothold in Australia.


Sauvignon Blanc (white)

While it may lack the dimensions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon's greatest attributes lie in its fabulous array of aromatic qualities, which vary according to growing location and its treatment in the cellar.

It divides into two clear styles characterised by the fragrant, zingy fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, and the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is a component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. It can do well in cooler areas within Europe, including parts of Austria and Hungary. In New Zealand's Marlborough, it produces a stunning array of pungently, assertive characters, from the green grass, green bean, tinned pea and asparagus flavours to the more tropical, ripe spectrum of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit and mango. The Sauvignon cause has also been taken up to good and affordable effect by Chile and South Africa, whose cooler spots are proving ideal for this wonderfully zingy, fresh grape variety.

What does it taste like?

  • from gooseberry to tropical passion fruit
  • aromas of elderflower and blackcurrant leaf

  • SAUVIGNON BLANC is at its most fragrant and fresh in the cooler climate of the Loire Valley where cut-grass, nettles, elderflower, blackcurrant leaf and gooseberries are the key flavours with minerally, zesty, flinty undertones. It is at its most assertive in the pungently catty, elderfloral style of Marlborough in New Zealand, where, depending on ripeness levels it ranges from green bean, tinned pea and asparagus flavours and the riper, more tropical characters of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit and mango.

Savagnin (white)

Rustic grape of Jura producing whites with a distinctive 'terroir' character whose apogee is reached in the sherry-like (but unfortified) Vin Jaune of Jura and Château-Chalon.


Scheurebe (white)

Underrated German grape variety not unlike French Sauvignon Blanc in its ability to produce catty, grapefruit-like whites, mostly dry, but occasionally, notably in Austria, opulently rich and sweet.


Semillon (white)

Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented.

It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where its susceptibility to noble rot concentrates the fruit sugars and acids in the grapes to produce some of the most luscious, sweet wines in the world, most notably that of Chateau d'Yquem, a blend of four-fifths semillon, one-fifth Sauvignon Blanc.

On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia's most individual dry whites, in particular those from the Hunter Valley, which develop a buttered toast character with age, while the richer, fuller-bodied, lemony Barossa Valley Semillons can also be excellent.

Generally, its richness and body is often used to complement the aromatic Sauvignon, although in cool, maritime climates such as New Zealand, it can develop pungently grassy characteristics. Semillon, often spelt with the accent dropped outside France, is also widespread in South and North America, and it's planted in eastern Europe and South Africa too, where it never quite scales the heights achieved in France and Australia.

What does it taste like?

  • lime citrus and honey
  • lusciously sweet and marmaladey

  • SEMILLON varies in character considerably according to its region of origin. In Bordeaux blends with sauvignon, it can be citrusy with a lanoline-textured, waxy, honeyed richness, while Hunter Valley semillon famously develops lime and buttered toast flavours with age, in contrast to the more pungently grass and asparagus-like characteristics associated with cooler climates. Made as a sweet wine, it makes some of the world's most lusciously sweet, exotically marmaladey whites.

Silvaner (white)

A relatively elegant German variety than Riesling with pronounced acidity reaching its best expression in Franconia, and known as sylvaner in Alsace, where it is one of the lesser varietals.

St Laurent (red)

Not dissimilar to Pinot Noir, this is one of Austria's best red grape varieties and grown too in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


Syrah/Shiraz (red)

Syrah is a quintessentially Mediterranean-climate variety, a big cropper resistant to pests and diseases, producing dark, inky, aromatic reds with black fruit flavours and peppery, spicy characteristics

It is the great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its apogee in the deep-hued, muscular, long-lived wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. It is a component of southern Rhône reds and the fastest growing grape in Franc's Languedoc region, where it has been introduced as an improving variety. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, where it forms the backbone of Grange, Australia's most famous red, and is grown with increasing confidence in South Africa and Argentina.

What does it taste like?

  • smoke and blackberry
  • ccol climate pepper and mint

  • SYRAH produces dark red wines whose purest incarnation in the northern Rhône produces a wine with memorable aromas which can be smoky, floral, peppery, minty or spicy and often linked to a kind of medicinal or creosote-like character. Cool climates, whether northern Rhône or Victoria and parts of Western Australia, bring out the mint, pepperiness and the spice in the SYRAH, while the warmer it gets the more it changes from raspberry to blackberry, becoming chocolatey and, with age, tarry and gamey.

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