A recent wine tasting in Cambridge supplied the following information about how to identify the grape variety from which a really good wine is made. Other remarks were offered, too. These notes are somewhat subjective but I found them useful.
SAUVIGNON BLANC grape: wine very pale, sometimes a greenish tinge. Very powerful "nose" - floral, sometimes gooseberry aroma; hint of pear drops. Keeping time about 3 years.
CHARDONNAY grape: slightly darker; aroma reminiscent of wet wool (an accurate description, to my surprise); this is the main Champagne grape. Keeps about 6 years.
RIESLING: pale golden colour; smells of apples, citrus, and hints of petrol. Long-lived wine; 20+ years if acidity is right.
GEWURTZTRAMINER: pale golden colour, smella of lychees and rose petals; sometimes a hint of sulphur (hydrogen sulphide); thick, oily texture. Gewurtztraminer is a white grape with a pinkish tinge.
PINOT NOIR: a grape very sensitive to changes in the weather. Often overrated. Aroma of boiled beetroot or brassicas - sometimes a powerful "farmyard" smell. Good value from South Africa or New Zealand. French Pinot Noir often rather harsh and disappointing.
TEMPRANILLO grape: More fruity, less harsh, no brassica smell, much tannin. Generally better than previous grape.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON: this is the basis of clarets. Aroma of cigar boxes, blackberries, Xmas cake, blackcurrants, chocolate. Often blended with Merlot.
SYRAH (Shiraz): Gamey smell; aroma of sweaty leather. Produces long lived wines: 30-40 years. Often difficult to distinguish a good claret from a Shiraz.
Unusually for red grapes, SYRAH is grown in the UK: at the Nytember vineyard, Lewes, Sussex.
LESS NOTEWORTHY GRAPES
SYLVANER (German white): Germany's second grape; big crops but slight flavour. At its best in the dry Steinwein of Franconia.
KERNER (German white): New cross between Riesling and red Trollinger. Spicy, fruity; often better than Sylvaner.
MULLER-THURGAU (German white): Riesling x Sylvaner; often a bit flat or flabby due to lack of acidity. Can be very good in sweet wines but rarely of Riesling standard.
CATAWBA (American native grape): heavy crops of fruity though strongly "foxy" wines, either white or pink. Popular in last century.
SEYVAL BLANC : French-American hybrid white grape; grows well in Southern England. Not allowed in top French vineyards. Good fruity wines without foxiness of Catawba grape.
MERLOT (French red grape; also in Italy and Switzerland): similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but wines softer and mature sooner.
CARIGNAN (commonest French grape): uninteresting red wines, low in acidity and tannin but OK for blending.
Nigel Deacon , Diversity Website
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