TOP TEN GLOBAL WINE VARIETIES
There are an estimated 9,500 to 10,000 varieties of grapes grown worldwide. The exact number is difficult to determine due mostly to different local or regional names for the same grape. Trebbiano in Italy, for example, is ugni blanc in part of France or roussan in another, and monastrell in Spain is mataro in Australia and mourvedre in France.
Swedish wine writers Per and Britt Karlsson noted recently in an article published in Forbes that the most widely planted grapes globally are not for winemaking but for eating fresh or dried as raisins. The leading varieties include kyoho grown primarily in China and East Asia and sultanina or Thompson Seedless as it’s known in the U.S.
Of the some 1400 varieties used for wine production fewer than two dozen are the principle grapes cultivated in nearly 40% of the world’s approximately 6.5 million hectares of vineyards. Cabernet sauvignon leads all other plantings globally with about 340,000 hectares or 5% of total vineyards devoted to wine. Merlot is second and tempranillo, the primary red wine grape in Spain, is third followed by airén, chardonnary, syrah, grenache, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and trebbiano in that order.
With the exception of airén, a relatively bland white grape widely grown in Spain where most of it is ultimately distilled for use in various brandies, these are grapes widely known to wine aficionados for their distinctive flavors and styles of wine. Merlot constitutes the largest number of vineyard hectares in France where it is the majority grape in the famed Bordeaux wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol. Of course, cabernet sauvignon owes much of its popularity to Bordeaux as well where it is the main grape in Chateaux of worldwide fame including Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut Brion.
California has also boosted the fame of cabernet sauvignon along with chardonnay where each variety takes a 10% share of total hectares cultivated. Chardonnay from Napa Valley gained fame against those from Burgundy in the much heralded 1976 tasting in Paris where mainly French judges scored a California wine, Chateau Montelena, the winner over four highly regarded Burgundy competitors.
All of the top ten grape varieties plus another half dozen are so prevalent in the world’s vineyards because the vines produce abundant crops in the soil and climate conditions of their particular regions. Sauvignon blanc dominates almost 60% of the New Zealand’s annual wine production because the vines flourish in the country’s ecosystem and yield predictably crisp slightly grassy tasting wines that have come to define the variety.
If you’re looking for a thoroughly enjoyable tasting pick up two of each of the nine prominent varieties from different regions—say a pinot noir from Burgundy and one from Napa in California—and compare. A convenient place to shop is in the Gourmet Wine Center adjacent to the supermarket at the Paragon where three different companies, two upstairs and one on the main floor, offer a wide spectrum of price and quality. Chokdee!
WRITTEN BY: R. JAMES MULLEN