The Red Grapes of Fine Wine


We look at the red grapes that make up the finest wines in the world. Where are they grown? What’s their unique character? What makes them so special?

Cabernet Sauvignon – From the Left-Bank of Bordeaux It Has Conquered the Globe

The most noble and aristocratic of the red grapes, its thick skin and rich fruit always mean long-lived and complex fine wines with blackcurrant and graphite or hints of cigar box defining characteristics.

The red grape of the quintessential Clarets of the Left-Bank of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has spread across the globe, finding tremendous success in the Napa Valley (Screaming Eagle, Harlan), Tuscany (Sassicaia) and Australia, particularly in Coonawarra.

To see just what New World Cabernet Sauvignon can do, we recommend 2012 La Sangre de Jonata by Screaming EagleAlternatively, try Aussie favourite and F+R bestseller Thorn Clarke**.

Merlot – If it makes Petrus and Le Pin, it must be special

The other most important grape of Bordeaux, this time from the Right-Bank, Merlot is rightly revered. Thinner skinned than Cabernet, its wines tend to be rich, opulent, plummy and luxurious. The main grape of St Emilion and Pomerol (think Petrus and Le Pin) it has been used to tremendous effect in Tuscany, most notably in Masseto.

The legendary 2009 Le Pin, awarded a perfect 100 point score by Robert Parker. 

Syrah / Shiraz – From the Northern Rhone to the Barossa

Perhaps in no grape is there such a difference in style between the Old and New Worlds than in Syrah. From its heartland in the Northern Rhone vineyards of Hermitage and Cote Rotie, its wines are rightly famous yet are often ferociously acidic, tannic and closed in youth taking years to hit their very considerable peaks.

The best New World examples are cut from a slightly different cloth but can be equally impressive. They still have the trademark rich plummy black fruit and spice but are far more open and accessible when younger. Penfolds Grange is easily one of the most famous names in fine wine, demonstrating the potential of this grape in South Australia, while the ‘Rhone Rangers’ led by Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non in California are producing some of the most exciting reds on the planet.

A legend in the making, don’t miss the 2002 Penfold Grange.

Pinot Noir – Ethereal, Elegant, Complex and Powerful

The Red Grape of Burgundy, Pinot Noir is responsible for the most ethereal, magical bottles on the market. The very best are the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove which, once mature, result in layers of complexity and nuance that are impossible to describe. Its small berries, dense clusters and predilection for cooler climes leave it prone to rot and make it tricky and expensive to grow. This can lead to costly miss-steps, but when you’ve sampled a great one it’s impossible to look back.

Outside of Burgundy, there are stunning examples in the cooler realms California like the Russian River Valley and in New Zealand where the value can be quite extraordinary.

For a delicious, New World Pinot Noir, cast an eye at the 2011 Te Rehua – hot off our tasting table, we loved it.

Alternatively, browse our extensive Burgundy listings.

Nebbiolo – Italy’s Finest Grape

From Piedmont in Northern Italy comes the country’s most famous fine wine, Barolo, which is itself the product of the finest Italian grape, Nebbiolo. In terms of elegance, purity of fruit, nuance, underlying power and ageing potential, it shares much character with Pinot Noir and is gaining a loyal following. Pale in colour and with a delicacy that belies its underlying muscle it should be on any connoisseur’s radar.

Give the fabulous, huge-scoring Barolo Riva del Bric a try.

Like this? Take a look below at our map of the homes of the great grapes of France.

Do you know your Syrah from your Semillion? Brush up with our guide to the great grapes of France... #WineWednesday pic.twitter.com/eyxwt9eY5e

— FINE+RARE (@fineandrare) October 14, 2015


Subscribe to receive our emails for all the latest F+R offers, exclusive interviews, wine buying guides and event invitations.


Read Next

Tuscany Wine Journal, Day One

In preview mode
We use cookies to provide the best possible experience. See our cookie policy for more information.