Bordeaux is famous for Cabernet-based blends—powerful wines with ripe, dark fruit flavors—while California's and Chile’s Cabernets have become stars in their own right. These wines make good candidates for aging, since their flavors soften and develop over time.
Originally from France, this grape has become the signature grape of Chile. Carménère has soft, round tannins and low acids, with flavors of herbs, blackberry, plum, smoke and sweet spice. Serve this medium-bodied wine at room temperature with baked ham, burritos, pizza or sausage.
Popular in the Rhône Valley and southern France, Grenache is the principal grape in the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in Banyuls, a dessert wine from Roussillon. As a table wine, it is dry and full-bodied, with low acidity and low tannins. Tasting of black cherry, strawberry, cranberry, leather and dry earth, it should be served at room temperature with full-flavored soups, grilled lamb, red meats, roasted chicken or sausage.
Centuries ago in Bordeaux, Malbec was a dominant part of many blends. Today, this Old World grape is reborn as Argentina’s young and exciting export. Most of the châteaux in France that still use this grape do so only sparingly, due to its reputation for sparse yields and lack of fruit on the tongue. However, those who still rely on Malbec find that it provides texture—that mouth-filling characteristic that makes a good wine almost chewy.
Softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, with medium tannins and acids, Merlot is a popular stand-alone varietal as well as a central blending grape in Bordeaux. Cool climates will highlight vegetal flavors, while warmer climates showcase ripe fruit. The right bank of Bordeaux is famous for Merlot-based blends. California and Washington are well known for Merlot bottled as a single varietal.
Wines from Burgundy use this grape, but New Zealand, Oregon and California have also had great success with Pinot Noir. The styles and flavors of a wine made from Pinot Noir are largely determined by where the grapes are grown. The finest examples are renowned for their elegance and subtle complexity.