In the world of grape hierarchy, six special varieties sit slightly above the rest. These ‘Noble Grape’ varieties-- yes, this term actually exists--comprise some of viticulture’s most important grapes, due to their cultural and historical importance, as well as international renown. We challenge you to test your knowledge-- can you guess which grape varieties make up the noble six? (Hint, there are three whites and three reds!)
Noble White Varieties
Chardonnay might possibly be viticulture’s most important white grape variety; from elegant and refined Grand Crus of Burgundy, to crisp, Blanc de Blancs styles of Champagne, to the signature, rich expressions from California, the grape is basically a chameleon-- that’s to say, it can adapt to an array of climates, soil types, and vinification processes. We recommend getting to know the versatility of Chardonnay better by tasting multiple varietal expressions side by side, hailing from various growing regions across the globe.
Sauvignon Blanc’s high acid and distinct flavor profile make these wines some of the most easily identifiable (and drinkable) in the entire world. Old World expressions, specifically from the Loire Valley, tend to show more mineral-driven, flinty notes, while New World expressions (think California and New Zealand) lean towards the more fruit-forward and green side, showing notes of tropical fruit, grass, and bell pepper.
The only indigenous German variety in the bunch! (The other five noble grapes are native to France.) Riesling is definitely viticulture’s most misunderstood variety. Wines produced from Riesling range all over the spectrum, from bone dry to sticky sweet. From New York to Alsace, Australia to Germany, Riesling based wines are some of the most versatile and food-friendly bottles on the planet; off-dry expressions pair insanely well with spicy food and various Asian cuisines.
Noble Red Varieties
More likely than not, your first sip of red wine probably came from a glass (or box…) of Cabernet Sauvignon, deemed one of the world’s most recognizable varieties. Cab is cultivated in basically every major wine growing region, though the expressions of the grape greatly vary. From Left Bank Bordeaux blends, to Napa’s powerhouse expressions, all the way to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon produces medium-full bodied wines, showing an array of flavors, depending on the region; most, however, tend to be fruit-forward and palate-coating, tinged with cedar, sweet spice, and/or eucalyptus undertones.
Merlot took a pretty heavy hit after the ‘Sideways’ epidemic of the early 2000s; thankfully, most of these stereotypes are finally breaking. Known for its silky tannins and juicy fruit-forwardness, Merlot based wines are both smooth and supple, pairing gorgeously with an array of foods. Right Bank Bordeaux and domestic varietal bottlings (think Washington, California, and New York) are some of our favorites.
Pinot Noir: the most noble of them all? Perhaps. This finicky variety is actually quite difficult to cultivate, as it demands extremely specific growing conditions to produce well-balanced, high-quality fruit (consider it the Goldilocks of grapes!) From France to California, Germany and beyond, growers everywhere strive to create optimal growing conditions for the variety, seeking to produce exquisite, terroir-reflective wines. Honestly, if we could only drink one regional wine for the rest of our lives, it might just be Red Burgundy.
Most consumers’ love affair with wine traces back to a glass-- or few-- of one or more of these Noble Grapes. Their sentimental value, insane versatility, and massive viticultural importance are what continue to make us fall in love with these six varieties every day. Cheers!