The Grape Beyond: Facts About Your Favourite Wines

We all have our go-to bottles that we tend to choose when we find ourselves in the wine section at the supermarket, but if you’re like us, then you don’t know a great deal more about them beyond what you can find out on the label. Over the last year, many of us have been spending a little more on our weekly wines, since we haven’t been able to enjoy them out in bars and restaurants. Here we give you some background on the UK’s favourite varieties, plus a few simple tips and tricks to get the most for your money.

Sauvignon Blanc

 

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Sauvignon blanc is a dry white wine that typically includes tasting notes of acidic fruits such as gooseberry, passion fruit, apple, lime, grapefruit and white peach. You might recall the way it can make your cheeks shudder, like when you eat something tart. SB is also regarded as a herbal wine, which means it has green notes, reminiscent of grass, lemongrass and even sometimes jalapeno peppers. It’s particularly vibrant when paired with dishes that feature flaky white fish, feta cheese and pesto, and works well with herby Asian cuisine too.

It’s widely accepted that sauvignon blanc originated in the Loire Valley in France, and here you’ll find that wines are named according to the village rather than the varietal, so some of the most popular sauvignon blancs from this area include Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

Another major producer of SB is New Zealand — the grape is actually the country’s most planted variety. Some prime areas that you might recognise from labels include Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay. This wine is one of our favourites, and is especially crisp and refreshing when served chilled on a sunny day — bliss!

If you like sauvignon blanc…give an aromatic riesling or a bright grüner veltliner a try.

Malbec

 

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Malbec is a rising star in the world of wine (plantings in Argentina have increased by 171 per cent since 2000), and it continues to grow in popularity — making for a very on-trend dinner accompaniment. While the full-bodied red is most commonly associated with Argentina, where more than 75 per cent of the world’s vines are planted, its roots lie in France. The grape never really thrived in its native country, but when a French botanist planted it in Mendoza in Argentina in 1868, it found its ideal terroir — a combination of high altitude and semi-arid desert conditions. One of the most well-known Argentinian producers of malbec, Catena Zapata, was voted The World’s Most Admired Wine Brand of 2020 by Drinks International.

One of the allures of malbec is that it feels a little rebellious — some of its characteristics include a bright magenta rim, a deep purple hue, a lower tannin level, and a smooth, chocolatey finish. It stars bold flavours of tobacco, cocoa, red plum and blackberry and works particularly well with blue cheese, lean red meats, and earthy spices.

If you like malbec…try syrah (also known as shiraz), which boasts savoury notes of olive and pepper.

Chardonnay

 

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Chardonnay originated in a small village in France, and translates to ‘place of thistles’. It’s the most planted white wine in the world, and you’ll find vineyards that produce the classic oaked chardonnay in warmer climates such as Australia, California, Argentina, France and Italy. Oak ageing adds sumptuous flavours of butter, vanilla and crème brûlée to the fruity aromas of yellow apple, pineapple and pear. It really comes into its own when paired with creamy cheeses like brie.

Unoaked chardonnay is more minerally and dry than the oaked version, and is similar in many ways to a sauvignon blanc, with bursts of lemon and green apple. There are so many different brands of chardonnay however, that the taste is incredibly diverse.

Chardonnay can also be made into a sparkling wine called blanc de blancs, which means ‘white of whites’ — it should almost certainly be 100% chardonnay.

If you like chardonnay…try viognier — it’s full bodied and oaky but leans towards flowery rather than fruity aromas.

Prosecco

 

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We’re not sure about you, but we had no idea that there were so many variations of the fizzy favourite that we enjoy during bottomless brunches, and well, at any moment worthy of celebration really…

Italy’s premier sparkling wine originates in the northeast of the country, with the finest hailing from the hills of Valdobbiadene. It is made using a tank method rather than the traditional method that champagne is known for, which takes place almost entirely inside the bottle.

There are three variations of sweetness, which can be really handy to know if you prefer your bubbles a little less sugary. Brut contains up to 12 grams of sugar per litre, extra dry contains between 12 and 17 grams, and dry is actually the sweetest, packing in 17 to 32 grams per litre.

Prosecco DOC, Prosecco Trieste DOC and Prosecco Treviso DOC are the most basic forms of the drink, while the high-end stuff will usually feature Valdobbiadene in its name. Asolo Prosecco DOCG is the only region in the area that makes an extra brut style.

If you like prosecco…try Spain’s cheap and cheerful Cava, or find out more about the style on a visit to one of the UK’s sparkling wine vineyards, such as Ridgeview or Denbies, where you can enjoy a tour and a tasting.

Merlot


Merlot is the second most planted grape in the world, closely behind its sibling cabernet sauvignon — with which it is often blended to make a Bordeaux. The name merlot is thought to be derived from the French for blackbird, which could be a reference to its deep colour, or the grape’s cheeky pests.

Merlot tends to contain notes of cherry, plum, blackberry and chocolate, however those grown in cool climates such as Bordeaux differ to those grown in warmer climates such as the Napa Valley. Those from Bordeaux might taste earthier, while warmer climate merlots are often aged in oak, which infuses them with a little smokiness. When it comes to the spectrum of red wines, merlot hovers around the middle in terms of acidity, tannin levels and alcohol, making it a safe bet for most mid-week meals — especially roast meats and tomato-based dishes.

If you like merlot…try the lighter pinot noir or an Italian Montepulciano.

Tips and Tricks

 

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  • Wine apps can give you a quick idea of which bottle to buy. With Vivino, you simply scan the label and it gives you reviews, ratings and average price points.
  • When you like a wine, make a note of it so that you can compare your preferences with other varieties and work out which complexities you like best.
  • Try and store your wine at a constant temperature in a cool, shaded place.

Our Picks for Spring

La Vielle Ferme Rosé, £7.50

 

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This blush-coloured wine produced in the Rhône Valley is beautifully light and easy to drink. It’s also very well priced! We’ll be eating al fresco with a glass of this as soon as temperatures start to rise.

Miraval Rosé, from £13.99

 

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This one is a little more on the pricey side, but just look at that bottle! This is the Provence rosé that is famously part-owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. It makes for an extra special spring celebration.

Chin Chin Vinho Verde, £12

 

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‘Natural’ wines are all the rage at the minute, and their cloudy — sometimes orangey— appearance makes them an Instagram favourite. Add an artistic label and you’ve got a real conversation piece! This Portuguese spritz is dry and citrusy — chin, chin indeed!

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About Marianne
Marianne

When Marianne isn't writing about all the wonderful places you can visit through dealchecker, she enjoys exploring London, visiting scenic spots within the UK and adventuring further afield whenever possible!

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