Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

A Study in Grape Varietals

A Study in Grape Varietals

The Grapevine

By Elspeth Brown

Maggie B’s just had an advertising opportunity with The Asheville Humane Society to name a litter of puppies. A normal litter of puppies ranges from five to six. There were 15 puppies in this litter; ten boys and fi ve girls. So I started looking through the grape varietals for names. Fortunately, there are more than 10,000 different wine grapes to choose from. This really got me wondering how many grapes I really knew.

The oldest recorded grapes were grown in Greece, Sicily and, possibly, China. Wine has been around forever. But the oldest known winery dates back to 4100 B. C. in Armenia. More than likely, the wine was produced using indigenous grapes from Armenia such as Khndoghni or Voskehat. Even though these grape varietals are still around, the oldest grapevine in the world is a Žametovka varietal from Slovenia clocking in at the ripe old age of 400. This vine even has its own museum.

The six most popular grapes in the market are for white wine: Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. The red grapes are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each country has grapes they are renowned for and that grow to the optimum quality there. South Africa is famous for the Pinotage grape, a red wine grape bred in 1925 that is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. They tend to taste medium-bodied with a little earthiness.

Argentina’s shining grape has always been Malbec. Originally planted in France in the Bordeaux, Loire Valley and Cahors regions, Malbec thrives in the warm, dry heat from Argentina’s sun. It produces ripe, ink-colored, fruit-forward wines.

Spain has a couple of well-known red grapes such as Grenache and Tempranillo. Tempranillo is Spain’s most famous grape. It produces a juice with hints of tobacco, spice and leather. Albariño is a white wine grape that is truly prized in Spain. It can taste rich and creamy, with flavors of apricots and ginger. The grape is also grown in Portugal for Vinho Verde wines, but rarely anywhere else.

Some of the weirder and wilder grapes are Kadarka, Ribolla and Optima. Kadarka is Hungary’s most widely grown grape. This red grape’s juice produces full-bodied, tannic wines, with an aromatic nose and some spice on the finish. The Ribolla grape has been grown in the Friuli region of Italy since the 12th century. It produces a dry, crisp, citrusy white wine with deep color. Optima is a German grape created in 1970. It is a cross between Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Riesling. These grapes are great because they grow in almost any condition. Most winemakers will blend Optima with other grapes to increase the sweetness of the wine.

I had so much fun researching all the grape varietals to find names for the puppies. With names like Nero, Gruner and Malbec, how can they not get adopted? Wine never gets boring and I learn and taste new grapes every day. Even if you are familiar with all 10,000 grape varietals, winemakers are always combining and concocting new blends of white, red and rosé, and that makes it quite hard to get complacent with wine. Get out there and taste the weird, wild and unusual grapes and have fun!

Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit or call 828.645.1111.

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