Wine UWines of distinction are special first because of the grapes from which they are made, second becuase of the place those grapes are grown and finally the people who make the wine and the methods they employ. Each grape variety, in turn, is valued either for the distinct aromas and flavors in the finished wine or for the component they contribute to the wine. Varietal typicity, then, is the fidelity with which a varietal wine expresses the grape's unique aromatic, flavor and texture characteristics.

Understanding each grape variety's varietal character helps not only identify the wine in hand, but also helps judge the quality of the wine as well as its longevity and ageabilyt and food friendliness. Understanding varietal typicity is a prerequisite to understanding the variation of regional typicity. This helps put the wine in hand in perspective and context of its origins.

Regional typicity is the additional dimension, character, style or variation that comes about as an effect of the soil and climate of a particular region. Regional typicity is, in varying degrees, also due to the way the wine is made in the particular region. 

The grapes index lists the varieties grown and produced in California's Central Coast. Our aim is to get you, familiarized with these grapes, their characteristics as well as to give you some background on their origins and other characteristics.

Where possible, we also provide a guide to pronouncing these names.  See our  Pronunciation Guide for an explanation of the notation.

Browsing this constantly growing index can be very informative. At, we firmly believe that even casual perusing of the material can be an active learning process.




With origins traced as far as the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain, Albariñio is the main grape of the Rias Baixas region. This region, close to the Atlantic coast, with estuaries plunging into the mainland of the region has a wet and cooler climate than most of the Central Coast. There is speculation that Albariñio may have originated in the Rhine and is genetically related to Riesling. It is the only Spanish wine to be labeled with the variety name and not that of the region of origin. Generally, Albariño wines do not age well and are best enjoyed young. Its bright strong acidity makes it an excellent companion to seafood which, incidentally, is one of the staples of Galician cooking. Albariño is just gaining interest in California and is not yet widely planted. Albariño displays very prominent acidity which fades relatively early after bottling – sometimes within months. A dry wine, Albariño  typically expresses almonds, apples, citrus, kiwi, flowers, grass, honey and peaches. A mineral element is not uncommon.

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Grown in small amounts since the early 1990's in northwest Paso Robles, this late-ripening black variety had been tucked away in a California nursery for almost a century. The variety is currently traced back to Campania - on the west coast o southern Italy (the "ankle" portion of Italy's "boot"). However, it is one of the oldest know cultivars, and is believed by some to have been brought to southern Italy by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago.  Others credit the Phoenicians for brining the vine to Italy. Some have proposed that the name is derived from "Ellenico" - which in Italian means "Greek". Late-ripening, it retains firm tannins and high acidty -which make the resulting wine darkly colored and very age worthy. Aromatically, and depending on growing region and ripeness of fruti, Aglianico wines can express blackberry, cherry and similarfruit along with leather and some herbaceous characteristics. Depending on production and barrels used, spice, cedar and chocolate  may be present. 


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Cabernet franc

(KA-ber-NAY frahnk)

DNA analysis shows Cabernet franc is, along with Sauvignon blanc, the “parent” of Cabernet sauvignon. It is one of the five main Bordeaux grapes used for making red wines. It is highly resistant to cold winters but not spring frosts. Although it tends to display more fruit and less tannins than Cabernet sauvignon, it may become more herbal depending on vineyard management practices. It is much more often used as part of a blend – most traditionally in Bordeaux or Meritage blends as well as unconventional blends with Rhône varieties, Cal-Itals and Super Tuscans. Compared to Cabernet sauvignon, it is thinner-skinned, ripens earlier and has lower acidity. Cabernet franc displays raspberry, cherry, plum, strawberry, floral notes of violet and sometimes spice. Like Cabernet sauvignon, it is not at its best in excessively cool or excessively warm climates or very rich soils - all of which (along with certain farming practices) tends to bring out vegetal qualities such as bell pepper or asparagus. With bottle aging, it takes on aromas of cedar, olive, cigar box, musk, mushroom, earth and leather.

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Cabernet sauvignon 

(KA-ber-NAY SAW-veen-YOHN)

Often called the "King of wines" and one of the 'big five' of Bordeaux reds, Cabernet sauvignon is the most widely planted among the five and, with over 40,000 acres planted in the state, it is the most successful red wine in California. This is a very adaptable variety with tough skin, which makes the berries quite resistant to disease as well as able to tolerate a degree of rainy weather - which is important at harvest time, since Cabernet Sauvignon ripens later in the season. Until the 1970s, Cabernet sauvignon was produced as a varietal wine in California. With its reputation for longevity and aging, California winemakers began to take example from their Bordeaux counterparts and blend it with other varietals. Soon, the Meritage Association was formed to foster this movement. It usually usually shows black currant, blackberry and black cherry flavors backed by cedar characteristics. Like Cabernet franc, it is not at its best in excessively cool or excessively warm climates or very rich soils. In such conditions, (and with certain vineyard practices such as overly vigorous canopy  growth) it tends to express more vegetative qualities and less fruit. Bell pepper and asparagus characteristics (pyrazines) can dominate. In some cases, some relate an aroma similar to camphor, asparagus and green olive as well as spices: ginger, green peppercorn, pimento. With bottle aging, it takes on aromas of cedar, olive, cigar box, musk, mushroom, earth and leather. It is also more tannic (which in youth can give a graphite-like characteristic), longer lived and less approachable in youth than Cabernet franc. Cabernet sauvignon is known for its high levels of extract and tannin. Young varietal wines have very tight, dense structure with powerful tannins which soften somewhat with age. The best Cabernet sauvignon in California comes from Alexander Valley in Sonoma, Napa Valley and Paso Robles. However, you should look out for for offerings from the Santa Ynez Valley – especially Happy Canyon.

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DNA profiling at U.C. Davis indicates Chardonnay is a cross between a nearly extinct variety: gouais blanc (now, ironically, a somewhat "undesirable" grape) and an unidentified member of the "pinot" family (most likely pinot noir). Chardonnay requires close attention in the vineyard during ripening as it can quickly lose acidity, resulting in clumsy wine. Hence, its best examples come from cooler climates. Also called Beaunois and Morillon, it ranges from subtle to distinct – depending on winemaking style. It displays crisp aromas and flavors of apples, apricots, citrus, peaches, pears as well as tropical fruit. Floral notes of acacia are also common. Terroir can gain distinct expression in the form of flint, mineral or mint characteristics. The small, thin-skinned Chardonnay grapes tend  to make wines that express traits acquired during vinification. Depending on the degree of malolactic fermentation allowed and cooperage selection, butter, cream, vanilla and hazelnuts come forward. Chardonnay also is apt to take on oak characteristics during barrel aging. Perhaps this characteristic may be the reason for the current trend of departure from an overly oaky style which were initially intended to mimic great Burgundian whites.

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Chenin blanc

(sheh-NOHN blahnk)

Originating from the Loire region in France, Chenin blanc is a vigorous and very productive vine, resistant to many diseases. It is adaptable to a wide array of soil types but does not do well in extremely hot climates. Its growth cycle occurs early in the growing season and so it has managed to be one of the most successful vines in many parts of the world outside of France including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and South Africa. It is the third most widely planted variety in California. In its most common, dry table wine, incarnation it makes crisp white wine but also a delicate sparkling white wine. Its thin skin makes it susceptible to Botryitis – which, in the right circumstances, results in rich, flavorful dessert wines. In warmer climates and when allowed to overproduce, it has a tendency to be bland and uninteresting despite its high-acid content. In such situations, the wine loses a lot of its varietal characteristics and complexity. In California, it does best in Monterey County and in the Clarksburg AVA (Yolo County). The later is an exception to the trappings of a warmer growing region where producers make conscious efforts to manage their vines to give high quality Chenin blanc. At its best, Chenin blanc displays green fruit, bright acidity and mineral tones. It expresses floral qualities of honey or honeysuckle, honeydew and cantaloupe as well as grassy or hay nuances. The latter can be quite distinct in Chenin blanc from the Loire can have a musty or damp straw/hay quality.

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Traced back to the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, Cinsaut is a dark-skinned grape which goes by several names: Cinsault, Hermitage, Oeillade (Australia), Ottanvianello (Italy) and Picardan (in the Rhône). It is a highly productive vine, resistant to drought but its susceptibility to bunch rot makes it better suited to dry climates. By itself, it produces light and perfumy wines which express strawberry flavors, blue fruit and spices. It is most often blended with heavier varietals such as Carignan and produced as a rosé. Depending on terroir, it may be musky or display meat aromas. It is a low tannin wine. In South Africa it was crossed with pinot Noir to create the Pinotage grape. It is also grown in Algeria, Corsica, Lebanon and Morocco.

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Folklore has this dark-skinned grape originating from Spain in the fourteenth century. A relatively uncommon variety, it is now rarely seen outside of the Rhône and Languedoc regions. Nonetheless, it is one of the key components of many red Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. It has been used primarily as a blending grape because of its high acidity and spice and pepper notes. These are complemented by soft tannins, moderate alcohol and prominent fruit. This character helps open up Sirah and the shy Mourvèdre. The finished blends tend to be more round and refined. On its own, Counoise has a rich and spicy character, displaying anise, blueberries and strawberries. It makes for fruit-forward wines with soft tannins, high acidity and moderate alcohol.

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A red (or black, if you prefer) grape of Croatian origins. The name is pronounced: tsurl-YEN-ack, according to Michael Heim, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at UCLA. The full name, "Crljenak Kaštelanski" is pronounced: tsurl-YEN-ak kashtel-AHN-ski. (or, kastel-AHN-ski) DNA analysis performed by UC Davis geneticist Carole Meredith in 2002 demonstrated this grape to be the the same variety as Zinfandel and Primitivo which, since the early 1990s, were known to be the same grape. This means that Crljenak, Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape. Efforts to establish Primitivo and Zinfandel as synonymous in the TTB's lexicon of grape varieties were strongly opposed, and the two continue to be listed as separate varieties. According to Carole Meredith, who cites her Croatian collaborators, "Crljenak" refers to the fruit color. The word "Kaštelanski" is an adjective meaning "from Kaštela" - fitting, since the grape was identified in a small vineyard in Kaštela, on Croatia's Dalmatian coast. So, Crljenak kastelanski simply means "the local red wine grape in Kastela" (or, "the native Kastelian red grape"). See Primitivo and Zinfandel, below.

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Dr. Francois Durif (working in a nursery in the the Rhône Valley) gave this grape its eponymous name himself. Durif was discovered in the Rhône Valley in the 1870s as a cross between Sirah and the little known Peloursin. The lore of the discovery of this grape varies. The website for the Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization, (P.S. I Love You), suggests a serendipitous discovery. Other sources describe the grape as a result of a conscious effort to create a variety with greater resistance to powdery mildew than Sirah. In the late 19th century, California growers confused Durif for a clone of Sirah and Durif was planted side-by-side with Sirah vines. Because of its lower yields, they called it Petite Sirah. The “petite” (French for ‘small’) part of the name refers to the size of the berries. Analysis at U.C. Davis (in 2003, by Dr. Carole Meredith) verified that Petite Sirah is in fact Durif and showed that some California vines thought to be Petite Sirah were, in fact, Peloursin, Pinot Noir or Sirah – to name just the major ones. Since 2002, TTB regulations permit varietal labeling with: “Durif” and the alternate spellings: “Petite sirah” and "Petit syrah" as synonymous with Petite Sirah. Although it resists powdery mildew, its tight clusters are susceptible to gray rot. This is much less of a concern in the drier regions of California, Australia and Argentina, which has led to this sturdy variety enjoying greater success in the New World than in France. In fact it is reportedly almost extinct in southern France. With the high tannins comes high acidity and the combination of the two lays the foundation for considerable longevity. While some may find it a lot less distinctive that Pinot noir or Cabernet, it expresses dense blackberry and black pepper.

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Fumé blanc

(few-MAY blahnk or foo-MAY blahnk)

In 1968 Robert Mondavi changed the style of his Sauvignon blanc from a sweet to a dry style. To mark the difference, he coined the name “Fumé blanc”, which is a combination of the names “Pouilly-Fumé”, (a dry Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) and “Sauvignon blanc”. See: Sauvignon Blanc, below.

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Despite its German-sounding name, this rust-colored (actually, spotted, dark pink) grape originates from Italy. This popular grape makes approachable wines from light yellow, to deep gold, and even almost copper in color. It shows complex aromas and tends to be high in alcohol. Typical aromas and flavors are of exotic fruit such as lychee, peach and mango. It has floral notes of honeysuckle, gardenia as well as rose petals. It can also express various spices. These wines can vary from dense and viscous to dry and acidic. Because this grape tends to express some bitterness with increasing ripeness, it is often made to have some residual sugars. It does well as a late harvest dessert wine. Gewürztraminer originated in Italy's Tyrollean Alps. It is descendant of Traminer (after the Italian village of Termeno or Tramin) grape which has a tendency to mutate. The name is commonly translated to mean ‘spicy traminer’ but it would seem, by virtue of its character, a better translation is ‘perfumed Traminer’. It is susceptible to damage from frost because it buds early in the Spring. It is also vulnerable to viruses. It can attain very high sugar concentrations and so there are a number of attendant pitfalls: Alcohol can soar – especially in dry versions, at the same time, acids and pH can be low. There is a fairly narrow window for picking ideally mature and ripe Gewürztraminer. Because of these traits, it requires a moderate climate: in warmer climates it becomes cloying and loses varietal character, and in colder climates it becomes neutral. While the best European Gewürztraminer comes from Alsace, Austria, Germany, and northern Italy, it does well in Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and the cooler microclimates in California: Mendocino, Monterey, Russian River Valley and Sonoma. Also called: Traminer Musque.

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See: Pinot gris.

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Grenache (Grenache noir)

(gren-ASH. gren-ASH noo_AHR)

Although it is generally thought of as a Rhône variety Grenache (Grenache noir and its relatives Grenache blanc and Grenache gris) originates from Spain where it is called “Garnacha” where there is twice as much planted as in France. In fact, it is currently the most widely planted red wine variety in the world and goes by many names, depending where it is grown. It has some history in California as it is reported to have been used in the jug wines of the Central Valley for decades, third only to Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. It is only now coming into its own as a varietal and in blends, in no small part due to the successes of the Rhône Rangers. Traditionally, it has been used as a component of red blends (typically in the Northern Rhône), usually as the grape for Rhône rosés and as the main component component in most Southern Rhône red blends. In Spain, it is the main component of red blends from the Rioja and Catalonia. It is a sturdy, prolific variety (hence its utility in the Central Valley jug wines) and tolerates dry and hot climates. Grenache makes for softer, less intensely colored, fruity varietal wines often described as ‘fleshy’, ‘fruity’ and ‘heady’. Hence its versatility in blending: it can soften tannic Syrahs and fill out thinner wines. Its distinct sweet, ‘dusty’ and ’fleshy’ mouthfeel is typically supported by flavors of black currants, cherry, licorice and strawberry. Barrel aging can impart vanilla notes. With a heavier oak regiment it can become smoky. Bottle aging will see this variety fading relatively quickly and displaying dried fruit flavors. Despite the tannin and acids, Grenache is not known for its longevity.

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Grüner Veltliner

(GROO-ner FELT-lee-ner)

This variety has gained a lot of popularity of late, althoug it was already entrenched as Austria's national white variety for quite some time. It also goes by the names: Grüner Muskateller or, simply: Veltliner. Since it can be traced, in Austria, to Roman times, it is considered the country's native variety. It is also grown, to some smaller extent, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the north and Hungary to the east. Fairly tolerant of cooler regions (like Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) it ripens late. in the season While it was previously cultivated for light, simple, mass-produced wines in Europe, increasing interest over the past three decades has resulted in an emphasis on quality growing. This has resulted in wines of complexity and balance. Grüner Veltliner makes a bigger-bodied dry white wine with good acidity. Aromatically, it can express citrus and tropical fruit as well as floral notes. Two distinguishing characteristics are: an attractive vegetable aroma (which some describe as green beans, lentils or asparagus) and white pepper. Wit imcreasing quality and complexity, Grüner Veltliner is also proving to be an age-worthy wine. In rare instances, it is made into a dessert wine from botrytised grapes. In North America it can be found on the Eastern Seabord and in the Finger Lakes region. In the Central Coast, small plantings exist in the central portion of the Santa Ynez Valley as well as in the Sta. Rita Hills.

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One of the traditional six red wien grapes of Bordeaux, Malbec has lost in standing to merlot. This has been estimated to be as much as a 60% reduction in acreage in the second half of the twentieth century. Its biggest remaining Bordeaux stronghold is in the Medoc where it is used to strengthen color and tannin content of blends. It is found in all of France under hundreds of names, the most common being Côt. Another name, Auxerrois or Auxerrois Noir, derived from Auxerre - a town some 8-10 miles west of the town Chablis, suggests a Burgundian origin but no conclusive evidence of this has been brought to light as of yet. It s main French residence is in Cahors, in the Soutwestern France. There, it has come to prominence in the region's red blends but its greater success is hindered, according to some, by a high prevalence of bretannomyces in the region's wines. The variety has made greater strides in Argentina, where it thrives, and is most extensively cultivateds has become the flagship red wine variety. In Argentina, the name is spelled “Malbeck” and produces, soft, deeply colored, juicy wines – thanks to the long, warm growing seasons. Interestingly, Argentine Malbeck is felt to be more age-worthy than its French counterpart. It also is popular in Chile, Australia, the Iberian Peninsula, South Africa and New Zealand - where it is mostly blended into Bordeaux-style wines. In California, Malbec is a relatively minor and new player. Its presence may be credited to the Meritage movement.

Malbec is sensitive to frost. Although it ripens in midseason, many feel it needs extended hang time in order to avoid “green” flavors or challenging tannins. Malbec’s character has been described as intermediate between Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot. Its most distinct characteristics are deep color, low acids and high tannin content. Aromas and flavors include: anise, black currants, cherries, plums and a floral characteristic often described as “violets”. Farming and vinification choices as well cooperage can bring in coffee, chocolate, leather and vanilla.

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Malvasia bianca

(mal-VAY-zyah BYAHN-ka)

Malvasia bianca originates from a Greek family of grapes but is best know for wines originating from Tuscany and Umbria in Italy where it is one of the most widely planted grapes. It is very productive, tending towards large bunches which both have trouble ripening and are susceptible to rot. It is usually made into a lightly sweet style but it can be made into a sparkling or desert  wines. In the case of the later, the grapes are first dried, then crushed and vinified. Malvasia bianca is also used as a blending grape - usually with Trebbiano. Malvasia bianca wines are typically floral and perfumed with flavors of honey, pears and spices.

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Marsanne, with its amber-colored berries, is believed to be northern Rhône origin. Specifically, it is named after the town of Marsanne, near Montélimar in the northern part of the Rhône valley. With a heritage of being used to soften Roussanne and Viognier in blends, it is becoming more frequently seen as a varietal wine. In fact, Marsanne is slowly gaining in popularity (and acreage) not only in Europe, but in Australia and North America. The Rhône Rangers have no doubt been instrumental in growing Marsanne’s popularity. This hardy, highly productive vine produces tight clusters which are susceptible to powdery mildew and other infestations. It does well in blends with Roussanne which can be more austere. It’s acidity is dependent on a cooler climate and, in cases where the acidity of the wine is in fact high, there is a tendency towards great longevity. Marsanne does best in the northern Rhône regions and cooler  climates in California. This wine is highly sensitive to the climate and deviations, in either direction, form its temperature “sweet spot” results in bland, simple, sometimes flabby wines. Its best examples range from a straw to deep golden color. They are full bodied, rich and viscous in mouthfeel. Marsanne displays melon, citrus, tropical fruit, almonds or marzipan, honeysuckle and wild flowers as well as mineral characteristics.

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Merlot has a flavor profile similar to Cabernet sauvignon, with less distinctive and slightly more herbaceous aromas and flavors. Because of its lower tannins and more forward fruit, it is more approachable than Cabernet sauvignon. Although it is beloved by many for its approachability and is a dominant part of California and Bordeaux red wines, Merlot is fickle about its weather: it requires a moderate and dry growing region and climate to be at its best. Merlot shows more of the green and herbaceous characteristics when either under- or over- ripe.

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This grape is regarded as the lowest in quality of all the traditional Port varieties because of its susceptibility to infestations (by parasitic plants, fungi, lichens) which reduce yields and results in poor quality wines. Read more about Port.

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(more-VAY-dreh or more-VEH-dreh)

Mourvèdre is another Spanish native which has spread throughout the world, often assuming different names. In Spain, it is known by the additional name of Mataro, after a town near Barcelona. In the Alicante and other regions of Spain it goes by the name Monastrell. It is said to have been brought to the Rhône Valley (but also Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon) from the area around the Spanish town of Murviedro – hence the French name. In Spain, it is the second most widely planted variety, after Grenache but leads in acreage in southern Spain. Mourvèdre buds and ripens late and thrives in hot (but not dry) climates producing small, thick-skinned berries. It is vigorous but does not overproduce and is very adaptable to various soil types. This means it does not consume much time and resources in its management.  It is also resistant to fungal diseases. It proved to be difficult to graft onto Phylloxera-resistant rootstock and following a vast 19th century Phylloxera infestation its acreage dropped. With identification of compatible rootstock and active efforts to bring the variety back, it has experienced a comeback since the second half of the 20th century. Mourvèdre probably came to California in the 1800's from the area around Barcelona and hence it was known as Mataro. It’s current planting in California is estimated to be in excess of 500 acres with the largest plantings reported to be in Contra Costa County. Tablas Creek Vineyard in the western portion of Paso Robles, grows Mourvèdre from vines imported from France. Mourvèdre is also being grown in Algeria, Australia and Spain with considerable success. Historically, it has been used as part of red blends but is coming to light as an increasingly more common varietal bottling. Mourvèdre is characterized by intense color, meaty or gamey character and herbal elements. It has good aging potential owing to its high tannins. Prominent also, is a leathery quality and along with the game qualities can make for a strong animal-like character. This may be mistaken for Brettanomyces contamination but evolves into more subtle, earthy characteristics with time. It is this animal-like element that may have kept varietal Mourvèdre  wines from gaining popularity. This character is softened by the juicy fruit flavors in Cinsault or Grenache and, conversely, it gives body and structure to wines dominated by these varieties. This gamey, animal character also complements the spice and tannins and Syrah. The spice and herbal dominant characteristics of Mourvèdre include: black pepper, cinnamon, clove, sage, thyme are sometimes accompanied by leather and truffle and can dominate and lean towards a greener character when the grapes are picked under-ripe. The most common fruit flavor is of blackberries, sometimes backed by floral, violet aromas.

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The name Muscat refers to a large family of grapes used for table grapes, raisins and wine. Its ubiquity suggests it is one of the oldest species of grapes used by man and some theorize that this family is the progenitor of most Vitis vinifera species. This also makes it difficult to trace its origins but it is felt to be of Mediterranean descent. As a plant, the muscat family is typified by low vigor and does poorly in dry, sandy, shallow soils. Because of its early budbreak, it is susceptible to frosts. Additionally, it buds early and as such, is also prone to coulure. Members of the Muscat family range from white to a very dark, nearly black color. Although there are numerous varieties, there are generally three that are most common and most significant: Muscat Blanc, whose full name is: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (MUS-kat blahnk ah puh-teet grehn [?]) is regarded as the greatest Muscat grape and, like Pinot gris, can have a mosaic of small, differently colored berries on a single cluster. It is the most widely cultivated species of Muscat and felt to best typify the Muscat traits. In France it is also know as Muscat Frontignan, Muscat d'Alsace and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise while in Italy it is called Moscato di Canelli. Muscat of Alexandria is also know as Moscatel and tends to be less aromatic, more syrupy and sweet. This variety is used for California raisins and table grapes elsewhere. Muscat Hamburg, also known as Black Muscat (a descendant of Muscat of Alexandria) is also mostly grown for table grapes. However, this black grape makes phenomenal dessert wine, as exemplified in Quady Winery’s “Elysium” All Muscat wines share a distinct, sweet, floral and perfumed aroma which is easily identified. Melon, orange and peach are typical fruit aromas, while coriander (cilantro) and terpine (a woody, perfumy aroma akin to resin from coniferous trees) are also common descriptors for some of Muscat’s aromatic components.

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Muscat canelli

(MUS-kat KA-nellee)

A late-ripening variety, part of very large and very old Muscat family thought to originate from the Mediterranean region. While it is cultivated in many countries, from Austria, Germany, Hungary and France it develops the most intense varietal character in warm climates. It is typically perfumed and floral with melon and peach flavors alongside the characteristic muscat aroma.

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Petite Sirah

(puh-TEET suh-RAH or puh-TEE suh-RAH)
Petite sirah was developed in the Rhône Valley in the 1870s as a cross between Sirah and Peloursin and named Durif. Dr. Francois Durif (working in a nursery in the the Rhône Valley) gave this grape its eponymous name himself. The lore of the discovery of this grape varies. The website for the Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization, (P.S. I Love You), suggests a serendipitous discovery. Other sources describe the grape as a result of a conscious effort to create a variety with greater resistance to powdery mildew than Syrah. Petite Sirah is the preferred name in California. Accounts explaining the origin of the name vary and some sources state that in the late 19th century, California growers confused Durif for a clone of Syrah and Durif was planted side-by-side with Syrah vines. The story goes that, due to its lower yields, they called the variety Petite Sirah. However, Petite Sirah can be a very high producer. More authoritative sources assert that the “petite” (French for ‘small’) part of the name refers to the size of the variety's berries. 
Analysis at U.C. Davis (in 2003, by Dr. Carole Meredith) verified that Petite Sirah is in fact Durif and showed that some California vines thought to be Petite Sirah were, in fact, Peloursin, Pinot Noir or Syrah – to name just the major ones. Since 2002, TTB regulations permit varietal labeling with: “Durif” and the alternate spellings: “Petite Sirah” and "Petit Syrah" as synonymous with Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah has been a bit of a lost child over the course of its history in California and was used to give body and color to jug wines and even to beef up Zinfandel and give it (and other reds from the North Coast) additional complexity. While its plantings were at their peak in the mid-1970’s with an approximated 14,000 acres, currently there are just over 7,300 acres of Petite Sirah in California.
Although Petite Sirah resists powdery mildew, its tight clusters are susceptible to gray rot. This is much less of a concern in the drier regions of California, Australia and Argentina, which has led to this sturdy variety enjoying greater success in the New World than in France. In fact it is reportedly almost extinct in southern France.
The grape’s high skin-to-pulp ratio results in deeply colored, very tannic wines and hence the motto: “There is nothing petite about Petite sirah” has come to be commonly heard in tasting rooms and read in wine articles. With the high tannins comes high acidity and the combination of the two lays the foundation for considerable longevity. While some may find it a lot less distinctive that Pinot noir or Cabernet, it expresses dense blackberry and black pepper.

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Petit verdot 

(puh-TEET ver-DOH or phu-TEE ver-DOH)

Petit verdot is a lesser known member of Bordeaux’s six red varieties. It has long been used as a supportive player in Bordeaux and Meritage red blends. Petit verdot  ripens late in the harvest season, which makes it unreliable in cooler climates and is the cause of Petit verdot’s reputation for immaturity. As the autumn weather cools the grapes do not get the warmth and sunshine to reach full ripeness. The cool French autumn also subjects this variety to rains that can cause a whole crop to be lost to gray rot. Hence, in the 1960s, in French vignerons began to shift away from using Petit verdot and acreage of this variety declined over the following years with the Médoc being its stronghold in France. In the 1980s and 1990s, California and Australia growers took a greater interest in the variety and it has found a home in those warmer, dry climates. Current California acreage of Petit verdot is approximated at around 900 acres (slightly less than the 1000 acres reportedly found in France), while Australia has some 4000 acres and, most recently, Chile is reported to have about 350 acres. The consistency of California’s and Australia’s extended growing seasons, free of cold and rain allow Petit verdot to thrive. As a consequence, it is not only maintaining its place in Bordeaux-style blends but is also being bottled as a varietal wine. This is still on a relatively small scale in California. Petit verdot’s contribution to red blends is its tannin structure. It typically constitutes anywhere from 1% to 5% of a blend, although on occasion, it can make for up to 10%. On its own, it is deeply colored – often purple - with high extract of floral and spice aromatics and bold alcohol levels. This is when the grapes are able to fully mature. The beauty of Petit verdot lies in its evolution. In youth, it exhibits aromas that resemble pencil shavings. Some writers also describe a banana-like scent. Violet and leathery aromas evolve with age. Spice and firm tannins are also definitive of this variety.

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Pinot grigio

(Pinot gris) (pee-noh GREEDZH-yoh, pee-noh GREE)

Know by a number of different names, this grape is a “white” mutant of Pinot noir. It has come to greatest renown in northern Italy, where it is called Pinot grigio. In Burgundy it is know as Pinot gris and Tokay d’Alsace in that region. In Germany, it goes by Ruländer or Grauburgunder. The grape’s color is varied, with berries ranging from blue-gray to pink to rust-brown, often forming a mosaic of colors on a single cluster. It is typified by high acidity which gives it structure and food compatibility. At the same time, this can be balanced by significant sweetness. Skilled vintners are careful to strike a balance as acidity falls rapidly with increasing acidity. Mostly vinified alone, it has been used to add dimension to Pinot noir. Some producers have experimented with blending in other white varieties. Despite the high acidity, Pinot gris is usually best in its youth. Although it tends to be most expressive, and at its best in cooler climates, it is gaining in presence in California, particularly in the Central Coast. Total California plantings are estimated at 2,000 acres. Across the map, Pinot gris ranges from neutral and indistinct to very aromatic. Ripeness and climate have a huge impact as can the use of oak and other vinification methods. These give a range of crisp, light and acidic to rich, curvy and full bodied. In addition to lighter floral aromas, Pinot gris expresses apple, honey, lemon, melons, pear. Cooperage tends to impart almond, butter, cream, smoke and vanilla.

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Pinot noir

(pee-noh noo_AHR)

For those that have not seen “Sideways”, Pinot noir, the noble Burgundian grape, is often described as "difficult" to grow but the wine is beautiful and complex when circumstances are favorable. It is one of the oldest grape varieties to be vinified. Pinot noir is, in fact, genetically unstable and its spontaneous mutations have given 46 identified clones in France alone. Worldwide estimates range from 200 to 1000 clones. Additionally, Pinot noir is very susceptible to frost at budbreak, pests, fungal and viral infections. The berries of this cool climate-preferring variety are thin skinned and can dehydrate quickly and the wine may not retain its color for long periods or loose its aromas on bottling. Even fermentation is tricky as Pinot noir has a tendency to very tumultuous fermentation which may cause it to violently bubble or “boil” up out of the container. The list is a litany of things that can turn a winemaker’s hair gray. The tiny (~60 square miles) Côte d'Or in Burgundy, France has been the benchmark for Pinot noir for centuries. It is believed that the east-facing slopes of Burgundy make for optimal sun exposure without excessive heat and the chalky, well draining soils retain heat – all of which assist in ripening. Nonetheless, it is planted worldwide. (Perhaps Pinot noir is like Golf: an endless and frustrating pursuit of something great and nearly elusive). It does well in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In British Columbia and New Zealand. In California, it does well in Carneros and the Russian River Valley regions of the Sonoma AVA in the north. In the Central Coast, Monterey County (particularly, the Santa Lucia Highlands) and the Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills produce outstanding Pinot Noir. It is often described as delicate and light bodied and having a soft texture. The aromas and flavors are the most distinct and identifiable and most complex of all varieties. Common fruit aromas are: cherry, raspberry, ripe tomato and strawberry. It can express floral notes or rose or violet. Spice is a big element of Pinot noir: cardamom, caraway, cinnamon, cola, clove, nutmeg, pepper, rosemary and sassafras. Some also describe a peppermint quality. It can also show aromas and flavors that some sources place in the herbal category: beet, black olive, green tomato, green tea, oregano and rhubarb. More earthy elements found in Pinot Noir are earth (moist earth), barnyard, mushroom and truffle. In addition leather, meat (raw or grilled) can also be seen. Most California Pinot noirs made today (with some exceptions) rarely have the make up to last a decade, but better examples can, with age, show tobacco and smoke characteristics.

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Along with Zinfandel, it is the same variety as Crljenak Kaštelanski. DNA analysis in 2002 demonstrated the three to be the same variety. Efforts to make Primitivo and Zinfandel synonymous in the TTB's lexicon of grape varieties were strongly opposed and the two stand as distinct varieties. Work is currently underway to define the differences in the organoleptic characters of Primitivo and Zinfandel. See Zinfandel, below.

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Considered by many as one of the best white grapes, Riesling can be traced back to at least 15th century Germany. It has many assets, including versatility: it is made in dry and dessert styles defined by distinct varietal characteristics while reflecting terroir, longevity and a balance of sugars and acidity. Rieslings from the Mosel River region of Germany and the Alsace, France are among the best. In the Mosel River valley, steep hillsides afford the vines plenty of sun exposure and shelter them from winds. This cool climate yields benchmark wines with intense aromas and flavors and low alcohol levels. As a dessert wine, Riesling is made in late harvest, botrytised and ice wine styles. In California, Riesling (a cold weather-loving variety) does well in Mendocino, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. In general, these offer well-ripened fruit and racy acidity with bolder alcohol levels. Arroyo Seco Riesling is know for a unique style: a richer concentration of floral (rose petal and violets) and tropical fruit notes than the German offerings along with apple, apricot, peach and pear notes, lower acidity, higher alcohol and minerality. Depending on origin and age, aromas such as diesel, kerosene, petroleum and terpene can be detected.

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Following in the footsteps of Viognier whose popularity has risen recently, this rust-colored grape is coming to some considerable attention in California’s Central Coast despite being planted to only some 200 acres. Thought originate from the Rhône Valley and the Isere Valley (in eastern France), the grape all but became extinct as it fell by the wayside because it is so difficult to grow. It is prone to many diseases and vagaries of the climate and gives irregular yields. Dedicated vintners selected more sturdy and consistent clones to breed the weak traits out of the variety. It maintains its place in the Rhône region a part of many white blends with Marsanne and Viognier. At its best, it has high acidity and potential for longevity. It gives rich wines that, with increasing temperature of the growing season or year, gain in alcohol and drop in acidity. At its best, Roussanne can have considerable longevity. Roussanne expresses floral aromas and apricot, honey, pear as well as mineral qualities.

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See: Pinot gris.

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Sangiovese is the staple grape of Chianti where it is generally blended with the red grapes Canaiolo and Colorino and  the white Trebbiano. The name is often said to originate from "sangue di Giove" (“blood of Jupiter"), but Jeremy Parzen prestens a solid treatise disputing this etymology. Sangiovese ripens early (a possible true etymologic origin of the name, according to Parzen) and gives fruity, moderately acidic wines with a medium body. Most commonly expressed are aromas and flavors of strawberry, blueberry, orange peel and, occasionally, plums.

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Sauvignon blanc

(SAW-veen-YOHN blahnk)

Thought to originate from France’s Loire Valley, Sauvignon blanc was first brought to California from Sauternes in the 1880s. It quickly gained popularity and thrived in the Livermore Valley. In 1968 Robert Mondavi changed the style of his Sauvignon blanc from a sweet to a dry style. To mark the difference, he coined the name “Fumé Blanc”, which is a combination of the names “Pouilly-Fumé”, (a dry Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) and “Sauvignon blanc”. Following suit with Mondavi (and on his encouragement), many American producers still use this name with considerable variation. Some examples we have encountered include a blend of Sauvignon blanc and Semillon (a rather common practice in California and in Bordeaux). Even individual producers in the Central Coast produce several distinct styles each year including a late harvest, botrytised dessert style. Today, over 15,000 acres are planted to this variety in California. A robust producer, Sauvignon blanc tends to become rather neutral if allowed to overproduce. Nonetheless, it is quite distinct even in its most base form. Although some may expect a "cat box" or “cat piss” characteristic to be part of Sauvignon blanc’s typical flavor profile, it occurs when the grapes are insufficiently ripe. On the other end of the spectrum, melon aromas and flavors come out with increased sun exposure and ripeness. Sauvignon blanc is also marked by mineral and high acidity, even in late harvest offerings. Uniformly, tart white gooseberry characteristics are present in better examples. Other fruit include grapefruit and lime. Lemon grass is another defining characteristic. Vegetal aromas and flavors described as asparagus, bell pepper and grass.

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(shi-RAZ or shi-RAHZ)

The Australian name for Sirah. While Australia may be planted with a different clonal selection than California, Shiraz and Sirah are essentially the same grape.  Most likely named after the ancient Persian city of of Shiraz, this ancient variety was proven by DNA analysis (in part at U.C. Davis) to be a native of the northern Rhône region of France. Some sources suggest that the Shiraz clone is of Hermitage (northern Rhône appellation) origin. Sirah is also an accepted and approved alternate name for Sirah in the US. No matter the name, Sirah generally gives tannic and spicy red wines with some potential for longevity. Sirah is very expressive of climate: in hotter regions like the home of Australia's Shiraz, juicy fruit flavors tend to dominate the spices whereas a cool climate tends to reverse the proportion.  

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A vigorous variety, this northern Portuguese native is one of very few dark grapes whose pulp (and juice) contain pigment and is often used to impart its vivid color to blends. Currently, it is more widely planted in Australia, California and South Africa. Its high sugar content makes for higher alcohol levels. Souzào gives concentrated color and ripe, juicy blackberry, licorice and raisin flavors. Read more about Port.

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Syrah is an ancient varietal proven by DNA analysis (in part at U.C. Davis) to be a native of the northern Rhône region of France. Prior to this evidence, its origin was disputed between the Rhône region and that around the Persian city of Shiraz – hence the two names for the grape. Sirah is also an accepted and approved alternate spelling. Syrah gives tannic and spicy red wines with significant longevity. Because of its weight, it contributes body and structure to blends with the softer, fruitier Grenache and Mourvèdre. In the southern Rhône, these varieties make up the core of Châteauneuf du Pape reds. Syrah not only needs hot climates but thrives in them - as its rapid propagation in California and Australia demonstrates. It is also widely grown in the southern portion of Oregon, Washington and South Africa. It was first planted in California in 1971 from cuttings from the Hermitage appellation in northern Rhône and Australian Shiraz cuttings (which are said by some to be of Hermitage origin themselves). There was a surge in planting of the variety seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Current reports indicate total California Syrah acreage to be approaching 20,000 acres - which makes up about four percent of California's vineyards. San Luis Obispo County leads the state with some 2,500 acres within its boundaries. The thick-skinned, very darkly pigmented grapes give inky, deep colored wines described as violet or nearly black. Syrah is very tannic, rich, chewy and textured and is typified by high alcohol and a spice-over-fruit character. The latter tends to be more accentuated in cooler climates where the grapes develop a higher skin-to-pulp ratio. This can be nicely demonstrated by tasting Syrahs from growers spanning the north-south gamut of the Central Coast regions. Although expressivity may vary slightly between different clones, Syrah typically shows black (sometimes white) pepper, licorice, clove, thyme and bay leaf as part of its spice component. The dark fruit typically expressed are blueberries, black currants and blackberries. Syrah may also show cedar or sandalwood notes. As with just about all wines, bottle age brings out terroir and cedar, tobacco, earth and leathery notes.

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Believed to be of Basque origin, this thick-skinned grape from the Pyrenees, in the southwest of France, most likely derives its name from its character. It is most commonly known to connoisseurs as the key grape in the aromatic and tannic Madiran wines of southwestern France (where it seems to be on the decline). Its other claim to global fame is that it is thought to have been the grape that started Uruguay's wine industry. It is easy to grow, being a consistent producer of moderate yields. A thick skin protects this late ripening variety from gray rot and powdery mildew and frost. Tannat produces rich, full-bodied, tannic red wines from its dark berries. While it is conventionally blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is not the secret ingredient in 'fruit-bombs'. Notably, though, it makes for popular varietal wines in Central America. Outside of France and Uruguay, it is grown in Argentina and, in limited amounts in California and a few other states after receiving official recognition fro the TTB in 2002 (as a result of a petition put forth by Tablas Creek Vineyard). It can be austere and hard to approach in its youth but its natural acidity preserves its fruit while the tannins soften over time. Tannat can express strong plum raspberry but these are generally dominated by spicy characteristics such as cocoa, coffee and vanilla accented by leathery notes.

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This thick-skinned Spanish variety is believed to originate in northern Spain and some have suggested that it shares its ancestral lineage with Pinot Noir. The primary grape of Rioja wines, it has been called the Spanish answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. The name, Tempranillo, is a derivation of “temprano” – the Spanish word for “early” This is very fitting as the variety ripens several weeks earlier than other red varieties. It has almost always been used as part of a blend in dry table wines, often with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan or Grenache and the lesser know Graciano, Mazuelo and Mourvèdre (also called Monastrell). Tempranillo plays a minor role in Port (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal). It is typified by lower acidity and lower sugars (and, thus, lower potential alcohol). This characteristic makes it both successful in hot climates and an excellent food pairing. Although it is planted in Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, California and Chile it is at its best in cooler growing regions. Tempranillo produces deep-colored wines with tannins approachable in youth. It can also withstand a heavier oak treatment and age gracefully in both barrel and bottle. In its youth, Tempranillo offers strawberry, cherry and black currant aromas and flavors accompanied by toffee, spices, herbal and earthy characteristics such as olive and tobacco as well as leather and mineral elements. It is a grape of many names depending on location and it is believed that much of the Valdepeñas grown for California’s jug wines is actually Tempranillo. Also know as Tinta Roriz.    

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Tinta amarela

(TEEN-tah ama-REL-ah)

A Portuguese native that is waning in popularity in the Duoro Valley but is a staple of the Dão region. It shows aromas and flavors of black fruit as well as tea and tobacco leaves. Read more about Port.

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Tinto barroca

(TEEN-to BAH-RO-kah)
The most productive and easiest to grow of all the Port varietals. Because of its very thin skin, it can produced wines with high extract of color and flavor but minimal tannins. It also makes fruity, aromatic and soft dry varietal wines as well as red blends. Typical aromas and flavors include: black cherries, plums as well as flowers.  Read more about Port.

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Tinta cão

(TEEN-tah sah_oo)

One of the favorite and best Port varietals from the Duoro valley. This thick-skinned variety reveals floral and spicy aromas as well as  black cherry and spice flavors.  Read more about Port.

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Tinta roriz

(TEEN-tah RO-reez)
The Portuguese name for Tempranillo. This Spanish variety is used both in Ports and dry table wines (which are best blended with Carignan or Grenache). It offers strawberry, cherry and black currant aromas and flavors accompanied by toffee, spices, herbal and earthy characteristics such as olive and tobacco as well as leather and mineral elements. Read more about Port.

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Touriga francesa

(TOH-ree-gah fran-TSE-sa)
Considered one of the best Port varietals. To avoid confusion with the much lesser known Touriga francisca, it was renamed Touriga franca in 2001. Name aside, this variety contributes fruit and floral elements to the blend.  Read more about Port.

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Touriga naçional

(TOH-ree-gah nats_eeo-NAHL)

Known as "Mortagua" in Portugal and simply "Touriga" this grape is considered the best and finest variety for port. It is also blended with other varieties in Portugal to make rich table wines. The very small, dark berries make for small yields of deep colored, tannic wines with considerable longevity. Valued for its quality, it is grown not only in the Iberian peninsula but also in Argentina, Australia, Chile and several locations in the United States in addition to California. This grape gives structured, dark colored wine with intense berry aromas and ripe flavors of blackberry, black currant, blueberry, floral notes of roses and violets, licorice, chocolate and tea.  Read more about Port.

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Verdelho traces its Portuguese history for at least 500 years. This variety, with small, thick-skinned, golden-hued berries high in acidity ripens early and is capable of producing high yields. It is most readily associated with island of Madeira where it has been used to make dry table wines and sweet, fortified wines named after the island. It is planted on the mainland as well. Following the outbreak of Phyloxera, in 19th century Europe, not many Verdelho vines remained in Portugal. Finally, in the 1970s, proactive measures were undertaken on Madeira to revive the variety. It is now planted all over the world - though not necessarily in vast quantities. It is found in Australia, Portugal (where it is used to make white Port), Spain and makes its most significant foothold in Lodi and Amador County in California. As seems to be the case with many grapes of Iberian origin, Verdelho also may be present in other countries (including Italy) under different names. When made as a dry table wine in Portugal, Verdelho is crisp and tart. In the Central Coast, it tense to be fuller bodied, sweeter and more aromatic with notes of white flowers. This is also enhanced with oak treatment, which also affords Verdelho some longevity. Cooler climates bring out more citrus and herbal characteristics while more heat and hang time coaxes out tropical flavors. Verdelho walks a fine line in warmer climates as it can have high alcohol if picked too ripe.

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(VEE-own-YAY or VEEN-yay)

Viognier is a Rhône varietal rapidly becoming popular in California. In addition to being offered as a single varietal, it is often blended with Roussanne to make white Rhône blends and is also used in that region (and in California) to soften Syrah and Syrah-based red blends. It is being experimented with in unconventional blends with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. At its best, it shows perfumed floral aromas with tropical fruit flavors and a rich, almost viscous mouthfeel with a prominent mineral element. Aromas and flavors typical of Viognier include: Almond, Acacia, Anise, Apricot, Grapefruit, Guava, Honey, Kiwi, Mango, Melon, Mint, Orange Blossoms, Pear, Pineapple and Tangerine as well as floral and mineral notes. Warmer microclimates tend to produce a headier and heavier, low acid style. Cooler growing regions such as the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley AVAs tend to make a more balanced, brighter style with higher acidity. Viognier is also likely to be influenced by fermentation methods, much like Chardonnay. When fermented in new oak barrels, the wine will take on prominent oak characteristics.

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Zinfandel is THE grape of California. Initially thought to be of Italian origins, its ancestry has been traced to the Crljenak grape (pronounced: tsoorl-YEN-ak) of Croatian origins. DNA analysis in 2002 demonstrated that Crljenak, Primitivo and Zinfadel are the same variety and disproved previous beliefs that Zinfandel originated from the Primitivo grape. Efforts to establish Primitivo and Zinfandel as synonymous in the TTB's lexicon of grape varieties were strongly opposed, and the two continue to be listed as separate varieties. Since the two are viewed to be clonal variants of the same cultivar, work is currently underway to define the diferences in the organoleptic character of Primitivo and Zinfandel. Zinfandel has come a long way since its usage as the core of California 'jug wines' and some great varietal Zinfandel wines are now being produced with wines made from old vine fruit coming into the limelight of late. Zinfandel expresses very fruity, jammy raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry and black cherry - often with a "prickly", "peppery"or briary note.

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