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The 4 classic red grape varieties

There are hundreds of grape varieties to make but the 4 Classic Red Grape Varieties of the World are:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Bordeaux surpasses all other wines, the elegant aromas of blackcurrant, plums, black cherries, cedar wood, and cigar box.   It is a grape that has travelled well; Napa Valley and Washington in the USA, Chile and Australia produce superb Cabernet Sauvignons.  Some of the worlds most famous and expensive wines are made from this grape, Chateaux Margaux and Chateaux Laffite in Bordeaux as well as Screaming Eagle, which will set you back over €1000 per bottle from California to name three.  For more affordable new world and top quality Cabernets look out for Valdeviseo or Concha y Toro from Chile, Chateaux St Michelle from Washington, Lindemans or Penfolds from Australia.

Pinot Noir

At its best is sublime, silky and sensual but it can be the most frustrating of grape varieties. Notoriously difficult to grow and ripen, quality can vary greatly with vintage where the grapes are grown.  So it pays to check out the region, the producer and vintage before handing over your credit card.

While Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Bordeaux, Pinot Noir rules supreme in Burgundy. I often think that a good bottle of Pinot Noir from Burgundy costs over €100 because of the four bottles I buy three of them won’t be good…but when it is good it is fantastic.  After many years in the world of wine I still find it difficult to choose wines from Burgundy, without spending a fortune!  Away from Burgundy I adore Pinot Noir from New Zealand, which has become the second best producer of this fickle grape variety.   Its lightness, earthy, farmyard aromas, black cherry and smokey character make it a wonderful wine to combine with food.  Look out for Felton Road or Yealands Estate. Also Oregon, in the USA, on the same latitude as Burgundy and famed for its Pinots.


Merlot makes a marriage made in heaven with Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, where it is most widely planted grape. It softens the toughness of a young Cabernet Sauvignon and its ripe tannins add to the wines smoothness.  Chateau Petrus, one of the most famous wines in the world from Pomerol in Bordeaux is nearly 100% Merlot. It is a grape variety that has travelled well and makes superb wines particularly in the US, Italy and Chile where it ripens well to make wonderfully smooth wines full of black fruits, chocolate and tobacco flavours.


Mouth filling, opulent, spicy, raspberry, black fruit and black pepper. Another grape whose home is in France, this time in the northern Rhone valley.  After Bordeaux and Burgundy the Rhone Valley is the third most important wine region in France.  Look out for wines from Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Croze Hermitage, actually as I write this I am drinking a glass of Cave de Tain Les Hauts du Fief, wonderfully rich and smooth, black fruits and a touch of black pepper.

Syrah is a grape that has travelled well and stunning wines have been made from it in South Africa and Australia, where it is known as Shiraz and probably offers the best quality and value.  ‘Aussie’ Shiraz is affordable, friendly and loved by many wine drinkers around the globe.  Check out the wines of Penfolds, Lindemanns and d’Arenberg.

While these are the big 4 grape there are many other noble varieties such as Nebbiolo from Italy, Tempranillo, Grenache, Zinfandel…..

Image: Bordeaux | La Passion Du Vin

Written by

I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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