The most exciting thing that wine has going for it is it’s undeniable variability! This glorious aspect stems from three factors:

  1. There are numerous wine making styles available
  2. The influences of terroir
  3. Most importantly, there are different types of grapes (varietals) that each exhibit their own characteristics.
If you also suffer from the chronic seemingly incurable condition defined by easily getting bored of routine as I do, search no further for your life long solution; Vino. Each bottle is as different to the next as people. Depending on what you are feeling that day you can get something to suit your demeanour.
To explain this variation I need to get a bit technical on you, bare with me.


Vitis is the Genus that all grapes come from; that includes table grapes that are grown specifically for un-fermented consumption, and wine grapes. V. Vinifera is the specie that is most popularly used in wine making (the V. stands for Vitis).  It is considered a European specie and in itself has hundreds of different grape varietals.


Other species include but are not limited to V. Labrusca, V. Riparia, V. Aestivalis, V. Rupestris,  and V. Rotundifolia.  These are all American species. Very little wine is made out of them, however they are mainly used as root stocks onto which V. Vinifera varieties are grafted as they are immune to the Phylloxera louse unlike their European cousins (topic for a later post).


Additionally, there are hybrid species that have cross pollinated naturally and by human intervention. I shall focus specifically on V. Vinifera below.


The diversification in specie and variety manifests in differing sizes of grapes, flavour profiles, size of bunches and leaves, thickness of skin, time to mature, acidity, tannins, sugar content and susceptiblity to diseases and drought. All these translate to variations in the end product.


The word Cultivar is derived from Cultivated Varietal.


Taken from Rift Valley Winery: Naivasha, Kenya


White wines are usually more accessible and soft than reds as they have less tannins. In the beginning I was exclusively on whites for this reason.


The major white varietals are :

  • Sauvignon Blanc                                                    
  • Chardonnay  
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Colombar
  • Muscat
  • Riesling and
  • Viognier. 

The less well known whites are:

  • Carignan Blanc
  • Clariette Blanche
  • Crouchen
  • Gewurtztraminer
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Muscadelle
  • Palomino
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Roussanne
  • Sémillon and 
  • Ugni Blanc

    Different White Single Varietals from L’ Ormarins: Franschhoek, SA
Taken at Constantia Glen: Constantia, SA

The tannins in reds allow for longer potential ageing.
 The major red varietals are:
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Petit Verdot
  • Pinotage
  • Shiraz/Syrah
  • Sangiovese
  • Tinta Barocca and
  • Touriga Nacional.
The less well known reds are:
  • Babera
  • Carignan
  • Cinsaut/ Hermitage
  • Malbec
  • Mourvedre
  • Nebbiolo
  • Ruby Cabernet
  • Tempranillo and
  • Zinfandel

These lists are far from exhaustive. My current wine knowledge is purely South African based and thus these lists reflect the norm in SA. Had I started my vino life somewhere else it would be totally different.
The decision determining which variety should be planted is based on the terroir, the style of wine being made, the laws and traditions of that particular region and the viticulturalist’s final decision.


Where as having each grape varietal by it’s own accentuates the contrasting characteristics, a wine maker can blend two or more varieties to bring about an insane symphony of flavours. By law, a wine label must only have the name of a variety that consists more than 15% of the bottle content. This means that a number of the “Single Varietal” wines you have tasted before probably have been blends of some sort, however not significant.



 …Next time you find yourself standing in front of an aisle of liquor trying to decide what to take with you to that party, try something new. Pick either a variety you’ve never tried before or a farm you’ve never heard of! If it turns out nasty you can leave it on the table for another sap to gladly finish. Or if it’s great, you can spend the rest of the night hogging the entire bottle. Moral of the story, you should be experimenting as much as you possibly can. That’s the only way to know wine….
Yours in wine…

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