The complete wine varieties guide
Learn about the major wine varieties with our A-Z guide, from Chenin Blanc to Vermentino
Ever find yourself staring at a wine list, unsure where to begin? We're here to help. BBC Good Food's wine expert Henry Jeffreys has everything you need to know about familiar grape varieties, including where in the world to find it, what to look for on a bottle label, what temperature to serve it at and what food to pair it with. You'll be a wine expert in no time.
Want to know even more about wine? Check out our BBC Good Food Wine Club. In partnership with Laithwaite’s, we’re offering discounts on exclusively selected cases of wine, chosen by wine experts and the BBC Good Food team, for you to subscribe to or buy as a gift. These curated cases come with pairing notes, the stories behind each bottle and serving suggestions. Your plan is customisable, plus Laithwaite’s will regularly send you exclusive offers on BBC Good Food collaboration cases.
Chardonnay is probably the best known and the most widespread of all grape varieties. Originally French, French bottles may confusingly not describe it as Chardonnay on the bottle, emphasising the specific region in France instead. As well as being drunk on its own, Chardonnay is one of the three principal grapes of Champagne, along with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. If a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine says ‘Blanc de Blancs’, it means it’s all Chardonnay.
Chardonnay has a particular affinity with oak – flavours of vanilla, cloves, coffee, coconut and hazelnuts on the palate are signs of oak influence. If you like oak, look for Californian wines or pricier Burgundies like Pouilly-Fuissé. If you prefer a more mineral style, seek out Chablis wines. Chardonnay is versatile in style and therefore can be paired with varied foods, but pairs particularly well with mild, buttery or creamy dishes – like our creamy tomato risotto.
Find out more with our full guide to Chardonnay.
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One of the wine world’s great all-rounders, Chenin Blanc is at home in a variety of styles: still or sparkling, dry or sweet, oaked or unoaked. It is most commonly found in South Africa or cooler parts of Australia, but originates from the Loire Valley in France. Its acidity means it pairs well with fatty foods such as rich meats or creamy cheese – match with goat's cheese stuffed roast chicken for an upmarket Sunday roast or warming slow-cooked lamb shanks.
Find out more with our full guide to Chenin Blanc.
Never heard of Durif? You're still likely to have tried it – similar in style to Syrah, it regularly appears in blended wines. It's a grape native to France but now much more commonly found in California (where it is used to darken red wines), Australia or Mexico. Durif makes big, bold reds with strong tannins – match it with similarly hearty food, such as this winter warmer black bean and pork stew.
Find out more with our full guide to Durif.
Proving that not all red wines should be drunk at room temperature, Gamay grapes produce perfumed red wines that are brilliant served a little chilled. Gamay is synonymous with the Beaujolais region and is not commonly found outside France – confusingly, Gamay may often just be labelled as Beaujolais. It can produce a variety of styles, often with cherry and blackberry notes. A versatile red, Gamay or Beaujolais will go with everything from roast chicken and fish to hard or soft cheeses and can even handle spice. Pair a refreshing Gamay with our indulgent macaroni cheese for a winning combination.
Find out more with our full guide to Gamay.
A grape you may not have heard of but are likely to have tasted – Garganega is the principle grape of Soave (a contender for Italy's best white wine). Native to the Veneto region, this is grown across northern Italy and Sicily, with a small amount produced in Australia but on the whole limited amounts found outside Italy. Garganega always has a refreshing acidity and should have an aroma of lemons and orange blossom, and a creamy taste reminiscent of almonds on the palate. Richer examples might take on flavours of peaches and tropical fruit, with a more pronounced nuttiness. It works brilliantly with food – try risotto, pesto or seafood dishes, like spaghetti with clams.
Find out more with our full guide to Garganega.
An unsung heroes of the wine world, Grenache is originally from Spain, where it’s known as Garnacha. It’s a significant component in wine blends from France to Australia and can produce red, rosé or even fortified wines. The flavour profile varies based on climate: in hot climates such as Australia there will be jammy strawberry notes, whilst cooler climates offer more herbal and floral aromas. Ageing brings spice and vanilla. This variety means different Grenaches can go with a wide range of food. It matches well with less spicy Asian foods – try with our saucy Japanese greens with sticky sesame rice.
Find out more with our full guide to Grenache.
Originally from France, Malbec is now most commonly associated with Argentina. Malbec can be grown all over the world and produces everything from sturdy reds to light, perfumed wines and can be used alone or in blends. In Argentina, Malbec has floral notes with plummy fruit and supple tannins. In Cahors in France, Malbec makes tannic wines with earthy flavours, but still retains the floral notes. Malbec is a brilliant wine to serve at a barbecue, or match the food to the location of the wine – for example try a Cahors Malbec with a a classic French cassoulet.
Find out more with our full guide to Malbec.
Marsanne originates from France but is now much better known in Australia – Victoria has the largest planting of Marsanne grapes in the world. In France it is grown in the Northern Rhône and blended with Roussanne to make long-lived and expensive white wines. Most Marsanne produces dry, still white wines and when young will have lemon and stone fruit flavours, whilst ageing mellows these to draw out a prominent honeysuckle style. Young Australian Marsanne is great with our easy fish recipes as well as strong-tasting vegetables like asparagus. The heavier wines from the Northern Rhône suit fatty foods like slow-roasted pork shoulder with leeks, apricots & thyme.
Find out more with our full guide to Marsanne.
Merlot can get a bad reputation by people thinking it is soft, straightforward and a bit dull. But there's more to it than you might think: it is planted across the world, and in Bordeaux (where it originates) it goes into some of the world's finest wines. Most Merlots are designed to be drunk young, but the best wines from Bordeaux will last for years. Merlots usually have rich, plummy fruit and chocolate notes, with soft tannins and relatively high alcohol content. In cooler climates, in can be more herbal and similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. When aged it gets becomes spicy and even more herbal. Merlot-rich wines from Bordeaux go very well with mushroom risotto, especially if you add a splash of the wine when cooking.
Find out more with our full guide to Merlot.
Petit Verdot is a grape that's rarely found solo. Instead, it makes a common appearance in blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It thrives in warm climates, making distinctive wines in Australia, California and South Africa to name just a few. Petit Verdot is high-tannin and when young can be a bit much so it usually spends time in oak, which tames the tannins and brings out a spicy side. This bold flavour means it pairs well with equally strong foods: think barbecued meats or lamb rogan josh. It’s also a good fit with roast beef at Sunday lunch, and hard cheeses.
Find out more with our full guide to Petit Verdot.
Pinot Grigio is one of the most popular grapes in Britain. Most Pinot Grigios you'll find here are simple dry wines from northern Italy, ideal for drinking cold on sunny days. Pinot Grigio is most commonly usually crisp, with citrus fruit, apples and a hint of spice. But, in Alsace, where it’s known as Pinot Gris, it makes perfumed wine dripping with honey and spice. Most Pinot Grigio is dry, but it’s also made in off-dry and even sweet styles, particularly in Alsace. Italian Pinot Grigio is great with seafood recipes or fresh veg dishes, like a vibrant green pea risotto. In off-dry form, it’s great with lighter Indian dishes and Thai recipes made with coconut.
Find out more with our full guide to Pinot Grigio.
Riesling is a white grape with a strong reputation. It's a cool climate grape, native to Germany but now grown across the world where it's not too hot – from Austria and Australia to Washington State and the Alsace in France. It is famous for its acidity – present even in the sweetest presentations of Riesling – and the exact flavours vary based on location. In the Moselle Valley in Germany you will find notes of green apple and blossom; in the Rhine, richer stone fruit flavour; or head to Australia’s Clare Valley for vivid lime notes. This all-rounder characteristic means you can find a style to match most dishes: try off-dry Rieslings with roast pork with crackling to balance the fat, and pair zingy Australian wines with the spice in Thai food, such as our Thai pork & peanut curry.
Find out more with our full guide to Riesling.
Syrah has soared in popularity since the 1980s and can be found far and wide beyond its native Rhône valley, being particularly strong in Chile, South Africa and Argentina. It's often known as Shiraz, particularly in Australia where it is the most planted grape. In the northern Rhône, Syrah can be surprisingly light-bodied with floral notes, while in Australia, flavours move towards rich cherry and chocolate. Try it with roast lamb or pair with spices in chickpea curry or North African dishes.
Find out more with our full guide to Syrah.
Tempranillo is an Iberian speciality. It’s best-known as the basis for Rioja but it’s grown all over the peninsula in both Spain and Portugal and further afield in Australia, Argentina and California too. Tempranillo is a chameleon grape, making everything from fruity light reds to oak-aged wines. The classic taste of tempranillo is strawberry but in hotter climates, you’ll get darker fruit like blackcurrants. At altitude, such as Rioja Alta, you’ll get more spices and floral aromas like violets, whilst classic oak ageing adds vanilla and tobacco. Follow the 'if it grows together, it goes together' rule for food pairing – since it is the dominant red grape in Spain and Portugal, Tempranillo is an excellent match with tapas and cured meats. Why not enjoy it alongside a feast of our delicious tapas such as ham croquetas, patatas bravas meatballs and sautéed chorizo with red wine?
Find out more with our full guide to Tempranillo.
Verdejo hails from northern Spain. It was traditionally used to make fortified wines but since the 1970s, has become one of Spain's best white wines, producing crisp and dry whites with pronounced acidity and grassy herbal flavour. Young, crisp Verdejo tastes best cold, whereas richer examples should be served a little warmer. The high acidity in Verdejo matches well with battered fish, as it cuts through the fat – try our beer-battered fish burgers. Richer examples are a great substitute for white Burgundy, and go well with buttery dishes and poultry.
Find out more with our full guide to Verdejo.
An increasingly popular white, Vermentino is most likely native to northern Italy but is found across the whole country, plus France (there are actually more hectares grown here than Italy), Australia and California too. Vermentino usually tastes of citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges and satsumas. There’s often an attractive bitter note too, reminiscent of grapefruit skin, apricots or almonds, whilst early picked examples can have a grassy edge and riper examples can be full of orange blossom. Best examples come from Piedmont and Sardinia and often have a salty, mineral edge. Good examples also age well, giving them body to stand up to to rich tomato dishes like ratatouille and pasta dishes.
Find out more with our full guide to Vermentino.