When it comes to ordering wine, consumers take one of two distinct paths. For the average consumer, they look for a type of wine that they typically enjoy. Most often that tends to be Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. More experienced wine drinkers tend to go for regions of the world like Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Burgundy among others. Since some of those regions are also synonymous with a certain grape, I thought it’d be interesting to run down some of the most important wine grapes in the world.
If you’re drinking a glass of wine tonight, it’s most likely a Chardonnay. Still the most planted grape in the world Chardonnay is incredibly popular in both its forums; normal table wine as well as sparkling (think Champagne, which is largely made from Chardonnay grapes). Regions like Napa Valley and Burgundy have staked their reputation to the grape, while newer regions like those in South America desperately try to grow the grape well enough to carve out a significant export market.
Long called the king of wines, Cabernet Sauvignon carries the highest per bottle price of any grape in the world. The annual competition for the best region for Cabernet Sauvignon annually at this point seems to pit Bordeaux against Napa Valley, but don’t be fooled, there are newer entrants into this high end game. It won’t be long before major wine critics start telling you that Paso Robles, Sonoma, Australia, Chile or even South Africa made the best Cabernet during the year.
Long the darling wine of the ant-nouveau wine set, Pinot Noir is the lightest red wine sold in huge numbers anywhere and consumers across the experience spectrum are beginning to enjoy the experience of vintage mattering and a lighter styled red that can even be paired with fish. Oh, that little movie based out of Santa Barbara helped the Pinot Noir movement move forward a little bit as well.
I’m in my 30’s and I grew up in America. That means the first wine I tasted was Merlot. And the 2nd. And the 3rd. That doesn’t happen any more for a variety of reasons, mostly that Merlot garners lower prices than do either Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. Those lower prices have led to worsening planting locations in vineyards, lower prices and an ever increasing spiral of death. Well, maybe not because newer wine regions like those in New York State are adopting the grape and seeing both immediate and lasting successes with it.
A decade or two ago, the average American wine drinker wouldn’t have ever heard of Riesling. Now, the grape is showing up in region after region after region, including Napa Valley where it is quickly chasing Sauvignon Blanc to be the second most planted white wine grape. Of course, part of its success is exactly what led to its challenges for so many years, Riesling carries an element of sweetness to it. For millennial’s who largely have drank soda since the age of 8, that sweetness is a good thing. For Baby Boomers, it was a terrible thing.
Mark Aselstine is the owner of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine club recently named one of the best wine clubs in America by Forbes Magazine.