They used to be six, now they are 18. These grapes aren’t called noble because they belong to an aristocratic breed or were grown by kings. They simply are the 18 most widespread grapes grown around the world – the international varieties. These grapes do have main growing regions, where they are notable for the expression of the local "terroir", but can be grown in other areas with success. Below you’ll find a description of each along with common wine grapes that have similar profiles.
Cabernet Sauvignon: full-bodied and high in tannins. Actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Similar to: Montepulciano, Cabernet Franc
Grenache: light yet fruit forward and spicy. The most widely planted red wine variety in the world.
Similar to: Carignan, Primitivo
Malbec: Robust tannins and dark fruits flavours. A minor varietal in Boreaux wine, it has become the unofficial national grape of Argentina.
Similar to: Nero d’Avola, Mourvèdre, Touriga Nacional.
Merlot: Fruit forward with smooth tannins. The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle (French for “blackbird”), probably a reference to the color of the grape.
Similar to: Cinsault, Carménère
Nebbiolo: High in acid and tannins but light in color. Thought to derive its name from the Italian word for "fog" (nebbia) in reference to the intense fog that often sets into certain parts of Piedmont during harvest season.
Similar to: Aglianico
Pinot Noir: The lightest red grape, acid and aromatic. Chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France.
Similar to: Gamay, St. Laurent
Sangiovese: Aromatic like Pinot Noir but with darker fruit aromas and bolder tannins. Derives its name from the Latin sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove" (the Latin equivalent of Zeus).
Similar to: Touriga Franca, Counoise
Syrah: Full-bodied with soft tannin, jammy fruit and spice notes. Known as Shiraz in Australia, where it is the most grown red variety.
Similar to: Barbera, Dolcetto, Mencia
Tempranillo: Earthy with rustic tobacco notes and high tannins. It is the main grape used in Rioja, and is often referred to as Spain's noble grape.
Similar to: Sagrantino
Chardonnay: Dry and medium- to full-bodied but actually very neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the grape being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. Grown wherever wine is produced.
Similar to: Roussanne
Chenin Blanc: Zesty with flowers and lemon aromas. Emblematic of the Loire Valley but also the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen.
Similar to: Albariño, Vihno Verde
Gewurtzraminer: High natural sugar content that yields off-dry to sweet wines with honey and lychee notes. Its skin has a pink to red colour similar to common red table grape.
Similar to: Malvasia, Torrontés
Moscato: Sweet grape, tastes like peach and orange blossom. Also known as Muscat. Some theories claim it is the oldest domesticated grape variety.
Similar to: Müller Thurgau
Pinot Gris: Crisp and citrusy. Grown around the globe with the "spicy" full-bodied Alsatian and lighter-bodied, more acidic Italian styles being most widely recognized (the latter more commonly known as Pinot Grigio).
Similar to: Garganega, Assyrtiko, Pinot Blanc, Grenache Blanc
Riesling: Very tart flavor ranging from dry to sweet with citrusy aromas. Known to be highly "terroir-expressive", meaning that the character of Riesling wines is greatly influenced by the wine's place of origin.
Similar to: Sylvaner, Tokaji
Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp, dry and herbacious. Some New World Sauvignon blancs, particularly from California, may also be called "Fume Blanc".
Similar to: Vermentino, Friulano, Grüner Veltliner, Verdicchio, Colombard
Sémillon: Medium- to full-bodied with Meyer lemon notes yielding dry and sweet wines. It is the preeminent white grape in the Bordeaux region.
Similar to: Grillo, Trebbiano, Ugni Blanc
Viognier: Medium-bodied with a soft character and flower aromas. The only permitted grape for Rhône Valley’s famous Condrieu wine.