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Grapes that Become Wine The Wine We Love

Chardonnay is arguably the most well known white grape variety.
Grown in chalky soils, the French mastered its growth and production making it a noble wine.  It can be found all over the world but is highlighted in California, Australia and South America. Chardonnay loves oak.  Wines made from Chardonnay are dry and exhibit flavors of green apple, butter, almonds, honey, ripe melon and vanilla.  Chardonnay is a versatile wine and can go with just about any meal - from chicken to fish to macaroni and cheese.

Gamay Noir
Gamay Noir is the secondary red grape of the Burgundy region (after Pinot Noir); particularly in Beaujolais (where it is just called Beaujolais). It is also grown in California and Australia. Gamay is fermented by carbonic maceration and is rarely oaked. This variety does not play well with others and as such is vinified on its own.  Gamay is a wine that is fresh and fruity and best enjoyed while it is young (max. 2 years). It has a blue-purple hue, low alcohol and a bouquet of strawberries and cherries.  Gamay should be served slightly chilled.  It goes great with cheese and crackers, chicken, fish and light pastas.  Need a sandwich wine? - This is it. 

Grenache can be found in many parts of the world but is best known for making roses in France’s Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions and especially in Spain.  Its prestige comes from being part of the base to Chateauneuf du pape.  Grenache wines are best drunk young with raspberry and pepper flavors becoming fullest when slightly chilled.  Serve with lamb, veal or pork.

Merlot is a red variety that originates in Bordeaux. The most famous of all is Pomerol’s Chateau Petrus. However, it is grown world wide including cool climates.  The low tannins help this wine to be wonderful on its own but also to be used to soften even the heaviest of Cabs. It thin skin makes it susceptible to fungus and rot and needs to be carefully tended to in the vineyard.  Most Merlots are aged in oak and are ready to drink in 4 to 8 years.  Merlot is often described as delicious with plums, berries and violets in the aroma.  To help enjoy a Merlot, serve with a beef or lamb dish. 

Pinot Blanc
Although not a popular variety, Pinot Blanc produces a wine that can range from medium bodied to crisp and light.  It is often mistaken for Chardonnay and as such referred to the “poor man’s Chardonnay.”  Although it is vinified without oak, similar tastes to Chardonnay like apples, honey and vanilla predominate the flavors.  Pinot Blanc is grown in the Alsace region of France, Germany and Italy, where they call is Pinot Bianco. Wines made from Pinot Blanc compliment light pasta dishes, seafood plates and chicken.  I would take an Alsatian Pinot Blanc any day!

Pinot Noir
Nothing says elegance and class like a smooth, silky Pinot Noir.  It is a stubborn grape to grow and will only produce in perfect conditions of chalky soils, gentle sloping vineyards and enough sun to ripen the grapes without over doing it.  France’s Burgundy region, the state of Oregon and our own Northern Michigan provide for Pinot Noir’s strong-willed needs.  There are of course, other regions that are producing Pinot Noir, some to increasing success like California’s Russian River Valley. Pinot Noir in its ideal, is a red, medium-bodied, dry wine with cherries, strawberries, violets and licorice aromas that ages well and feels like satin on the tongue.  Its sear perfection in the final product only excuses its difficultness in its creation.  Pinot Noir goes well with roast pork, turkey and baked ham.

Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is slowly becoming a favorite of mine.  For years it has brought me distaste with its tart and tang.  The high acid brings a bite that is harsh on the tongue.  However, I recently have gone back to the Bordeaux section and am learning to enjoy Sauv Blanc for all it has to offer. New Zealand, Chile and California are also making great bottles of the variety but it is the Fume Blancs that I am relishing these days. Sauv Blanc is full of grass, gooseberry, asparagus, grapefruit and minerals.  And let’s not forget the “catbox”. These are not your average flavors. But the stainless steel fermentation gives this variety a crispness and zest that I am learning to crave.  Sauv Blancs will go with just about anything including spices such as garlic and cilantro.


The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) is published on a monthly basis compliments of Liana Bennett. Its main purpose is to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages. Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to [email protected]  Please feel free to share this e-newsletter with your friends or forward their email address to Liana to be added to the list. Thank you and of course, I hope you have enjoyed The BAR and have learned something new! -

Liana Bennett holds a Bachelors of Home Economics from the University of British Columbia and a Masters of Foodservice Management from Michigan State University.  She has worked in several capacities in the both the hospitality and beverage alcohol industries. Currently she is spending her time writing and teaching classes.  She now resides in Michigan with her husband, three children and their dog.



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