Viognier (vee-oh-NYAY)

A Los Angeles restaurateur once described viognier this way: “If a good German riesling is like an ice skater (fast, racy, with a cutting edge), and chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (punchy, solid, powerful),… Continue reading

Zinfandel (ZIN-fan-dell)

For decades, zinfandel was the most widely planted red grape in California until cabernet sauvignon surpassed it in 1998. Now number two in acreage, zinfandel is a chameleon. It can be (and is) made into… Continue reading

Tempranillo (tem-pran-KNEE-oh)

Spain’s most famous red grape, tempranillo, makes a huge range of wine styles depending on where it is grown in Spain—and it’s grown in dozens of places. Tempranillo is, for example, the main grape in… Continue reading

Sémillon (SEM-ee-yawn)

A friend once told me that sémillon always brought back his childhood memories of the smell and taste of cotton sheets as he ran under the clothesline on a summer day. Whimsical as that description… Continue reading

Syrah (sear-AH)

Syrah has always reminded me of the kind of guy who wears cowboy boots with a tuxedo. Manly yet elegant. In fact, at the turn of the twentieth century, the British scholar and wine writer… Continue reading

Sangiovese (san-gee-oh-VAY-zee)

Italy’s most famous grape, sangiovese is responsible for the three great wines of Tuscany: Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. It’s also a major grape (if not the grape) in many… Continue reading

Sauvignon Blanc

The name sauvignon comes from the French sauvage, meaning “wild.” It’s a fitting name for a vine that, if left to its own devices, would grow with riotous abandon. Riotous, untamed and wild can also… Continue reading

Pinot Gris (PEE-no gree)

Depending on where it is grown, pinot gris—“gray” pinot—can taste strikingly different. Ironically, the best known pinot gris—Italian pinot grigio—is unquestionably usually the lowest in quality. It’s often utterly neutral stuff—serviceable but not significant; the… Continue reading

Pinot Noir (PEE-no No-WAHR)

Thought to be more than two thousand years old, pinot noir (along with savagin and gouais blanc) is considered one of the “founder varieties”—the great-great grandparent of scores of other well known grapes from chardonnay… Continue reading

Riesling (REEZ-ling)

Riesling is considered by many—possibly even most—wine experts to be the most noble and unique white grape variety in the world. The grape is thought to have originated in the Rheingau region of Germany, probably… Continue reading

Nebbiolo (neb-ee-OH-low)

One of the oldest and most important varieties in Piedmont, Italy, “nibiol” was first mentioned in Piedmontese documents in the early 13th century. Its parents are presumed extinct but its origin does appear to be… Continue reading

Mourvèdre (moor-VED-rah)

If you were ever an English major, you’ll know what I mean by this: mourvèdre is the Heathcliff of red grapes. It’s dark, hard-edged, almost brooding flavors are never light, juicy, or lively. Mourvèdre has… Continue reading