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Grape Varietals

Info on Each Type of Wine Grape, Plus Frequently Asked Questions

While most Oregon and Washington wines are specific varietals (i.e. one particular grape type, like 100% Chardonnay or 100% Syrah), there are quite a number of wineries that blend several grape types into a single wine release. Blending is very popular and can lead to wines that benefit from the best of several characteristics. We've got some good info for you on the different types of grapes used in making Oregon and Washington wines. If you have a favorite varietal or blend, it can be fun to find out about the grapes used in its production.

Check out our article About Oreogn Pinot Noir for a very informative look at the most popular wine variety in the Northwest.

Cabernet franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the major varieties of red wine grape in Bordeaux. It is mostly grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but is also vinified alone. It is even made into ice wine in Canada. Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, contributing finesse and a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on growing region and the style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, and cassis, sometimes even violets. The Cabernet franc wine's color is bright pale red.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world's most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates. Cabernet Sauvignon became internationally recognized first through its prominence in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet franc. For most of the 20th century, it was the world's most widely planted premium red wine grape until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 1990s. Its popularity is often attributed to the ease of cultivating, with the grape's thick skins and hardy vines being resistant to rot and frost, as well as the grape's consistency in presenting structure and flavors expressing the typical character of the variety.

Chenin blanc

Chenin blanc, or Pineau de la Loire, is a variety of white wine grape from the Loire valley of France. Chenin blanc is a particularly versatile grape that is used to make dry white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines and brandy. It provides a fairly neutral palate for the expression of terroir, vintage variation and the winemaker's treatment. In cool areas the juice is sweet but high in acid with a full-bodied fruity varietal palate.


Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. The Chardonnay grape itself is very neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the grape being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. It is vinified in many different styles, from the elegant "flinty" wines of Chablis to rich, buttery Meursaults and New World wines with tropical fruit flavors. Chardonnay is an important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including sparkling wine. It is a highly vigorous vine, with extensive leaf cover which can inhibit the energy and nutrient uptake of its grape clusters. Vineyard managers counteract this with aggressive pruning and canopy management.


Gewurztraminer, sometimes referred to as Gewurz, is an aromatic white wine grape variety that performs best in cooler climates. The variety has high natural sugar and the wines are usually off-dry, with a flamboyant bouquet of lychees. Dry Gewurztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit and floral notes. Its aromatic flavours make Gewurztraminer one of the few wines that is suitable for drinking with Asian cuisine. It goes well with Munster cheese, and fleshy, fatty (oily) wild game. Smoked salmon is a particularly good match.


Malbec is a dark-skinned variety of grape used in making red wine. Malbec wines tend to have an inky dark colour and robust tannins. The Malbec grape is a thin skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It ripens midseason and it can bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to claret blends. Malbec wines are rich, dark and juicy.


Merlot is a red wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal (single grape type) wines. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. Its softness and fleshiness, combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot an ideal grape to blend with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the most popular red wine varietals in the United States. Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. Merlot grape tends to have higher sugar content and lower malic acid.

Pinot gris

Pinot Gris is the name of a grape grown to make into a refreshing white wine that is lighter than Chardonnay and is generally quite popular with Chardonnay drinkers as an alternative. The Pinot Gris grape is said to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. In color, it is a grayish- white grape that may seem grayish-pink to grayish-blue, thus the "gris" in the name- ("gris" means grey in French). Pinot Gris is grown for wine in Oregon in the US, and in Italy, France, Germany, Australia, and Austria. In Northeastern Italy, the wine is usually fermented to dryness and is known as Pinot Grigio. The wine is dry and crisp with a good acid bite. In France's Loire Valley the grape is known as Malvoisie or Pinot Beurot, while it is known in the Alsace as Auxerrois Gris or Tokay d'Alsace. As Tokay it is often aged for several years, while most other Pinot gris wines are made to drink upon release from the winery. In Germany and Austria, the grape is known as Rulander or Grauer Burgunder and it is used to make pleasant, young white wines in the southern parts of Germany. In German settled regions of Australia, it is grown and known by the same names. Here's another, more informative article about Pinot gris.

Pinot noir

Pinot noir is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines produced predominantly from pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the french words for "pine" and "black" alluding to the varietals' tightly clustered dark purple pine cone shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions. It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The United States has increasingly become a major pinot noir producer, with some of the best regarded coming from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black cherry, raspberry or currant.


Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. Riesling is a variety which is highly "terroir-expressive", meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine's place of origin. Unlike Chardonnay, most Riesling do not undergo malolactic fermentation. This helps preserve the tart, acidic characteristic of the wine that gives Riesling its "thirst-quenching" quality. Riesling is a versatile wine for pairing with food, because of its balance of sugar and acidity.


Sangiovese is a red wine grape variety originating in Italy whose name derives from sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove". It is most famous as the main component of the Chianti blend in Tuscany, but winemakers outside Italy are starting to experiment with it. Young sangiovese has fresh fruity flavours of strawberry and a little spiciness, but it readily takes on oaky, even tarry, flavours when aged in barrels.


Semillon is a golden-skinned grape used to make dry and sweet white wines, most notably in France and Australia, but also in Oregon and Washington. The Semillon grape is rather heavy, with low acidity and an almost oily texture.


Syrah (also known as Shiraz) is a dark-skinned variety of grape used in making powerful red wines. Syrah is used both for varietal wines and in blended wines, where it can be the major or minor component. Syrah offers lively red berry and blueberry characters and smooth tannin structure, though the wines are typically full-bodied and powerfully flavored. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper.

White Zinfandel

White Zinfandel, often abbreviated as White Zin, is an off-dry to sweet, pink-colored rosé wine. White Zinfandel is a quaffing wine that is sweet, soft, and low in alcohol, making it a popular choice with those who would not otherwise drink wine.


Zinfandel is a variety of red grape that is typically made into a robust red wine. In the USA a semi-sweet rosé (blush-style) wine called White Zinfandel has six times the sales of the red wine. Zinfandel has such high sugar levels that it was originally grown for table grapes in the USA, and this sugar can be fermented into high levels of alcohol, sometimes 15% or more. The taste of the red wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is made. Red berry fruits like raspberry predominate in wines from cooler areas such as the Napa Valley, whereas blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas such as Sonoma County, and in wines made from the earlier-ripening Primitivo clone.

Grateful acknowledgement to wikipedia.org and its conributors for data referenced on this page.

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