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Wine Varieties

Do you want to learn more about a specific grape variety? You're in the right place! There are thousands of wine grape varieties in the world. We cover the most common here, including all of those you're likely to find grown in California. All of the varietals included in this section are listed on the left in alphabetical order.

Alicante Bouschet (aka Garnacha Tintorera, Alicante)

A very red grape with thick skin and red pulp that yields red juice, Alicante Bouschet tends to be used in blends to contribute color, tannin and complementary fruit flavor. Wines made from this grape alone would tend to be simple, course and lack acidity.

The grape was first created and widely planted in France, where it was cultivated in the 19th century by crossing Grenache and Petite Bouschet. The grape became very popular with growers in California during Prohibition. At that time, grape growers were not allowed to make wine for sale but were allowed to sell grapes to individuals who were still allowed by law to make wine for personal consumption. The thick-skin of the Alicante Bouschet enabled it to be shipped in bulk throughout the United States by train and arrive relatively unscathed.

Confusingly, both Alicante Bouschet and Grenache are sometimes referred to simply as Alicante. It is perhaps a more common moniker for Grenache globally. However, in California, it is always taken to mean Alicante Bouschet so we are going with that usage here.

Barbera

A red wine grape typically featuring high acidity and good color but low tannins, very old vines can produce thicker skinned fruit with more intense tannins that will produce a wine more suitable for aging. The 2nd most grown red grape in Italy, it’s flavor profile runs to black and red currant, berry fruit and sometimes black cherry. As many of the initial wine growers and wine makers in Northern California were Italian, the grape has long been a fixture in that region as well. Often used in tasty but simple bulk wine because of its high yields, it can make for a nice, more complex bottle of red with the right vines and winemaking. However, without proper oak treatment, the color will tend to fade in just a few years and, regardless of the oak, Barbera-focused wines are best consumed within two or three years of bottling.

Black Muscat

This grape is primarily used for table grapes and inclusion in fruit baskets in California, but is also used occasionally for dessert wines (most famously in Quady’s Elysium in which it offers aromas of rose and lychee).

Bastardo (aka Trousseau)

Sometimes misidentified as Petite Sirah on California wine labels, this red wine grape is actually entirely different, not widely grown, and most typically used for making fortified wines such as Port. The ripe grapes tend to be high in sugar leading to wines with high alcohol, deep red color and cherry flavors.

Cabernet Franc

One of the primary red “Bordeaux varietals,” this grape is most typically blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot but can also result in very appealing wines on its own. In California, it is primarily found in Napa and Sonoma and used in both blends and in single varietal wines. It is a good complement to Cabernet Sauvignon for wine growers because the Franc ripens earlier, thrives in slightly cooler weather and has somewhat better yields. This allows the grower to hedge their bets a bit and increase their chances of a good crop should the weather in a given year not be ideal for the big fella. The flavor profiles are similar, though Cabernet Franc tends to be somewhat lighter and less tannic, having ripened earlier. While it can provide nice red fruit flavors, it tends to be distinguished by more floral, spice and herbal notes. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, judicious pruning and good exposure to sun brings out Cabernet Franc’s fruity nature while over-production and shade accentuates it’s vegetal nature. Along with Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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