International Red Wine Varieties

I’ve got a couple of mates who’ve given me an unfortunate nickname. “Lobs”, which is short for “Lobster”, is a completely hilarious reference to my knack of getting sunburnt. I’m a fair skinned lad, tend to leave my shirt on at the beach for fear of giving people snow blindness, and spend a fortune on sun tan lotion each summer (and spring, and autumn!).

The odd occasion I forget the slip, slap, slop and I get royally punished by the sun gods. I was on holiday with one of the aforementioned mates in Sardinia, and we were down the beach on the first day. I’d whacked a load of factor 40 “fur kinder” stuff on and settled down to reading my book. Boredom being what it is I ended up going for a swim in the sea, got out again and settled back down to the book. Guess what? It wasn’t waterproof. I ended up looking like a lobster fresh from the pot, with the white outline on my chest of a book and the two arms that held it. The nickname was born!

Obviously enough, I need to be very careful how much exposure to the sun I get, and how to cope with too little or too much. You seeing the link yet? Yup, it’s just like the grapes that are used in making wines, and red wines in particular.

The big word for grape growing is ripeness…

Some grapes (for reasons varying from the thickness of their skins, to their ability to take on water, produce sugars in the grapes etc) need certain climates. Wine makers have found the best places to grow grapes over the years to make the most desired levels of ripeness.

Some grapes need lots of heat, some don’t. Some need the heat long and slow over the year, some need bursts at certain points of the year. In the “old world” this was probably done by trial and error over the hundreds of years. In the “new world” this was a mix of trial and error for old vineyards, and modern thinking and planning for the new sites.

Certain grapes are well spread due to the historical info we have on them, and the techniques that have grown up around them. It’s these that have spread around the world and are benchmarks for all areas and countries.

Pinot Noir…

is another I’d never drunk much of til about a year or so ago. It’s a thin skinned grape that needs a nice cool climate to ripen properly. Too hot and you get too much sugar and not enough water in the fruit, so it gets a bit too jammy. So perfect conditions are found in France, Germany, and New Zealand.

Mostly it’s made in light, fairly fruity styles which should be drunk young. In some places, France especially, they can be oaked and aged.

Also watch for French and German labelling. In France the main area is Burgundy, and again they are labelled after the village or area they are made in. Ask at your wine shop. In Germany the grape is known as Spatburgunder, so that’ll be on the label instead.


likes it either moderate or hot in climate. Bordeaux has historically done famous wines from Merlot (Pomerol and Saint Emilion), but as you get into hotter regions like Italy and Chile you start to get much more body and alcohol.

I have to say it’s right up there for me. I spent an awesome week down in Bordeaux with my good mate JB from 20h33, he sorted me out. I can’t recommend it enough.

Cabernet Sauvignon…

is arguably the most famous and well travelled red wine variety. This has been helped recently by Australian brilliance and a very famous produce from Bordeaux (the Medoc and Haut-Medoc).

Deep colours, lots of tannins, and lots of black fruit flavours make it a great wine for ageing and blending.

Syrah or Shiraz…

I’ll be honest, it’s not one I’ve spent much time drinking. I’ve never been out to any of the big producing areas, which is one of the best ways of getting to know anything about anything.

So what do I know from the first few bottles I’ve drunk? Well, it’s big and bold usually. Black fruit, heavy tannins. The classic regions are the Northern Rhone (that’s down South) in France where it’s known as Syrah, and Australia where it’s known as Shiraz.


As it tends to go hand in hand with Syrah, it’s another one I’ve not got much experience with. It tends to be big grapes with lots of sugar, which means lots of alcohol, but thin skins mean very light colour. This makes it ideal for roses or blending.

Most common areas are the Southern Rhone in France, and Spain, where it’s known as Garnacha.

Quick note on blends…

It’s very usual to blend grapes together. This is because if one grape is famous for giving fruit flavours, another high alcohol, etc, then you can blend the two together and get a wine that has both. Easy, right?

Common blends are with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot put together, and Syrah and Grenache.

A quick look outside as I come to the end of this post, and it’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining down.

That’ll be another fiver’s worth of sun lotion then!




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