Types of Wine Grapes & Grape Varieties

Types of Wine Grapes & Grape Varieties

What type of soil was the grape grown in? 

That can change the color, aroma, and acidity of the wine. Was it fermented in a barrel or stainless steel? Perhaps you've heard of wine with hints of vanilla, smoke, or oak. These all come from the barrel. Even topography affects taste. Are the vines located on a hillside or valley? This can have a major impact. Still, we wouldn't have wine without one singular factor: The grape itself.

Related: Learn how Wine Barrels Impact the Flavor of Wine

wine on a chopping board

What is the difference between the grapes in my wine and the grapes on my breakfast table? 

Mostly the differences lie in the way they are bred or cultivated and when they are harvested. Table grapes are larger, thin-skinned, and usually harvested when their sugar content is lower (usually around 15%). Wine grapes are smaller, thicker skinned (much of our wine's aroma and taste is yielded from the skin so this is important!) and have higher sugar content. Sugar content varies from wine to wine.

How many different varietals are used in winemaking?

Here's my exact figure for you all: A LOT. There are thousands of grape varietals used in making wine

What kinds of grapes are used in producing white versus red wine?

This is nice and simple. Red wines are produced from grapes with dark skin, usually varying from red to purple to black in color. The skin is kept with the grape through the fermentation process and thus the wine retains its color. White wines are generally produced from grapes with green or light yellow in color. However, certain white wines are made from grapes with darker skin. It does not affect the color because the skins are removed early on in the production of white wine. Let's dive a little deeper…
wine grapes hanging at a vineyard

The Reds

Let's talk about five major red grape varietals hitting the markets: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Shiraz or Syrah (name depending on your region and if you happen to have a lisp).

Cabernet Sauvignon

Arguably one of the most popular red wine varieties in existence. This is the golden child: the most successful, collegiate, over-achiever at the dysfunctional grape family dinner. A combo of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grape, this little guy got his start in France and has been taking the world by storm ever since

Main Characteristics: bold, dark color, strong tannings 

Ideal mate: A nice fatty steak to neutralize its tannins


If Cabernet Sauvignon is our golden child, Merlot is the classic middle. Not enough love to go around for this poor little grape but certainly a decent fan base to sing its praises. This grape’s origins are in France, also from the Cabernet Franc, and is currently the most planted grape variety in Bordeaux. It is well known, like its Cabernet rival, throughout the globe but is generally considered less tannic and well suited for blending.

Main characteristics: smooth, soft, well rounded, easy to drink

Ideal Mate: meats, shellfish, and certain greens

Pinot Noir

This wine just sounds exotic and mysterious. It's the grape of the Burgundy region, can be quite temperamental to grow, and is difficult to peg depending on the region grown (sounds like a classic youngest to me, whispered the blogger who happens to be the youngest child)

Main characteristic: lighter in color, lighter in tannin, can range from fruity to woodsy depending on its upbringing

Ideal Mate: Pinot Noir can be more of a “love the one you're with” type of wine, so it pairs well with a variety of foods. Try it with fattier fish, mushrooms, pasta dishes, or duck.


Ah, the orphan. Its origin was a mystery for quite a while, but it eventually found its family in a line of Croatian grapes. It has long been adopted into the Californian family and found its true home in that soil.

Main Characteristics: dark-skinned, medium tannin, tends to be spicy!

Ideal Mate: Meat or Cheese are its true soul mates but Zin is very versatile and can be paired well across the board


The child of divorce. In France it is known as Syrah, in Australia, it changes its name to Shiraz. It takes a lot of confidence to balance two families at the same time, and this grape has it in abundance.

Main Characteristics: Bold, decent tannin quality, peppery

Ideal Mate: lamb or something grilled


This is Spain’s number one red wine grape. Made famous by the Rioja region, tempranillo is not for the faint of heart. It is a complex wine with high tannins and an acidity that is anything but subtle. This wine used to be difficult to find outside Spain and Portugal, but as deman has increased, so has its global supply.

Main Characteristics:  Spicy, cherry and cedar notes, full-bodied 

Ideal Partner:  Red meat or lamb


This is the most important red grape of Italy’s famed Tuscan region and the varietal in bottles labled chianti. If produced outside this area, it is called sangiovese. The name for this ancient fruit comes from the Latin term sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jupiter”, with Jupiter being the king of the Roman Gods.

Main Characteristics:  Fruity, spicy, and earthy. Can develop notes of cherry, fig, and smoke.

Ideal Partner: Game meats and tomato-based pasta dishes

Petite Sirah

The only thing petite about this wine is the name! Petite sirah is such a bold wine you can practically chew it! Don’t let that turn you off, this inky, black-purple beauty is a stellar choice.The varietal comes from the Durif grape with roots in Montpellier, France and is quite rare, with only about 10,000 acres planted worldwide.

Main Characteristics: Intense, plummy, spicy, and peppery.

Ideal Partner: Red meat and strong cheeses.


Also called Mataro, this grape originated in Spain and is also grown in France. It is usually used in blending but comes into the spotlight as a single varietal. Exceptional in its tannic, dark red form, Mourvedre is also used in roses (not to be missed) and fortified port-style wines. And this wine is up there when it comes to the alcohol content!

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Main Characteristics: Rich, earthy, dark fruits, notes of pepper and violet.

Ideal Partner:  Duck, lamb, game meats.    

Learn more about Port Wine here!

glass of white wine on a table

The Whites

What would the sharks be without the Jets? The Capulets without the Montagues? Well, they'd be alive, but also they'd be boring and so would a discussion about red without discussing their counterparts. The royals in our family of Whites are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio

Related: Learn How Long to Let Wine Breathe before drinking


She's popular and she knows it. Picture her as the cheerleader of the grape community, a team player but well aware she's the prettiest. Chardonnay, the principal white from burgundy, rose to its popularity in the 90s and has been a staple ever since

Main Characteristics: often referred to as buttery, oaky, and full bodied.

Ideal Mate: Fish or Chicken

Sauvignon Blanc

Reared in Bordeaux, She's fun and fruity, maybe not a ton of substance but always a good time.

Main Characteristics: Fruit, Fruit, and more Fruit. On occasion maybe the faint hint of fresh cut grass (no lie)

Ideal Mate: Pair with shellfish or a really nice crisp salad.


A tough German broad whose life has left her dry, crisp, and slightly acidic.

Main Characteristics: dry but sweet

Ideal Mate: Pork, Chicken, or Fish. She's tough enough to stand up to a salty eel or tuna

Pinot Grigio 

Like any feisty Italian girl, she has a decent bite!

Main Characteristics: dry and acidic

Ideal Mate: Come on guys she's Italian. Pair her with everything!

Petit Manseng

This French grape is nothing less than a treasure in a bottle. It has low yields thus has historically been used as a blending grape. A high sugar content turns into a high alcohol wine with a silky smooth variety of surprising flavors.

Main Characteristics: Slightly spicy, floral notes blended with honey, lychee, and pineapple.

Ideal Pair:  Fish, shellfish, Asian cuisine, and delicate pastas.


This complex white grape heralds from Spain and is also a staple in Portugal. The wine is complex yet light-bodied and very refreshing. Its frequently used to cleanse the palate between food courses thanks to a tangy acidity.

Main Characteristics: Mineral, stone fruits, honeydew, and a touch of salinity.

Ideal Pair:  Grilled fish, poultry, Creole or Cajun cuisine.


Think capturing the Mediterranean in a glass and you have assyrtiko. This Greek grape is found in abundance on its native island of Santorini. Fun fact, this varietal is the only one in Europe resistant to wine blight. While many liken it to sauvignon blanc, this wine has a bright flavor that is second to none.

Main Characteristics:  Very acidic and citrusy with pronounced lemon notes and hints of orange.

Ideal Pair:  Salty cheeses, seafood dips, and asparagus.

Are you ready to level up your wine game? Check out these stunning wine glasses from Taste of Purple!


This is a beloved grape from the Rhone region of France. The resulting wine is delicate yet rich and complex at the same time. If you are looking for an elegant selection that is sure to wow company, you can’t go wrong with this varietal.

Main Characteristics: Very fragrant with peach, pear, and honey notes. There is a soft mineral aftertaste.

Ideal Pair:  Poultry and seafood.

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