Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps the best known red grape variety in the world and is best known for its plantings in Bordeaux, particularly on the Left Bank (the Medoc region) and in Pessac (south of Bordeaux). It is the heart of some of Bordeaux’s most famous wines including Chateaux Latour and Lafite Rothschild. However it also produces California’s most famous red wines and it dominates plantings in California’s most famous growing region, the Napa Valley, where it forms the backbone of wines such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Colgin’s IX. The South American countries of Chile and Argentina produce some exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, and distinctive examples can be found in both Margaret
River and Coonawarra in Australia, in Hawkes Bay on the north island of New Zealand, and in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.
Merlot is also a major planting in most of these regions, often used as a soft, fruity foil to the firmer, more structured Cabernet Sauvignon. However it is widely planted on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, in St Emilion and Pomerol, and forms the entirety of such legendary wines as Petrus and Le Pin.
South America is the heartland of Malbec, a grape originally imported from Bordeaux which has found its purest expression in the high-altitude, complex soils of the Andes.
Pinot Noir is most famous as the red grape of Burgundy, where it delivers some of the most astonishingly perfumed wines made anywhere in the world from producers such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Armand Rousseau. This thin-skinned, delicate grape requires gentle temperatures and careful handling so thrives in more temperate areas such as the cool, coastal Sonoma and Santa Barbara regions of California, the hillsides of Oregon, Central Otago and Marlborough on New Zealand’s south island and some southern coastal areas of Australia such as Mornington Peninsula and East Gippsland.
Syrah or Shiraz is known as a spicy, blackberry-fruited grape which produces its best wines in the northern Rhone (in Cote Rotie and Hermitage wines for example) and in parts of Australia, fashioning some of its most legendary wines such as Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. It also delivers superb wines from cooler parts of South Africa and in both cooler and warmer parts of California.
Tempranillo is responsible for many of the finest red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Referred to as Tinto Fino in Ribera, it produces intensely flavoured, brightly acidic grapes which can be enjoyed in their youth or aged in oak barrels for long periods (making Reserva and Gran Reserva styles). However Spain is increasingly famous for its Garnacha, which provides both a lively fruitiness in some Riojas and when grown at altitude, incredible, pale and perfumed wines with fabulous concentration and pale, ethereal colour.
Italy is without doubt most complex nation when it comes to red wine being home to more indigenous grape varieties than anywhere else in the world. Most well known are Nebbiolo (for Barolo wines), Corvina (for Amarone and Valpolicella), Sangiovese (for Chianti) and Brunello (for Brunello di Montalcino). The western coast of Tuscany has had particular success with ‘international’ varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Merlot, which are often blended with local grapes in a movement known as ‘Super Tuscan’