Wine Grapes: 101

Ever wonder what grapes are used to make wine?  The grapes you find in the supermarket like concord grapes are not grapes used to make wine, so what are the grapes used to make wine???

We’re more familiar with the names of these wine grapes than we realize:

Wine Grape Names

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah or Shiraz, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Muscat & Moscato, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc…

This my be common sense to some of you, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know that Cabernet Sauvignon is the actual name of the grape, not a broad general name for a certain style of wine.  When we see the name of the grape on a bottle it’s called “Varietal Labeling” and this occurs on New World wines yet rarely on Old World Wine.

Certain wine grapes are the same but have different names depending on what country their grown like Pinot Gris & Pinot Grigio, Syrah & Shiraz and Muscat & Moscato.

Wine Grape Facts

There are many species of grapes, but there are two of significance for this conversation:    

Vitis Lambrusca: the species of grapes we buy at the supermarket.

Vitis Vinifera: the species of grapes used to make wine.

Vitis Riparia, Vitis Rupestris and Vitis Berlandieri are a species used specifically for their resistance to certain pests and their rootstocks are grafted to the scion of Vitis Vinifera to make them resistant.

The rootstock is the part of the vine that is below the ground and the scion is the part of the vine that is above the ground, but inside the vine itself. (diagram courtesy of

Wine grapes are composed of Tannins, Acids and Sugar: It’s the balance of these factors that makes Vitis Vinifera so ideal for winemaking.

Acids and Sugar in Wine Grapes:

-Grapes start with more Acid and less Sugar

-As they ripen Acid levels decrease and Sugar levels increase.


-Tannins are found in the skins and a little in the seeds.

-Tannins create that dry sensation you feel on your tongue and gums when drinking red wine.

-Different wine grapes have different levels of tannin in their skins.

Different wine grapes thrive better in certain climates and when grown in certain soils which is why you don’t see Riesling or Syrah grown everywhere.  However, you may find wine growing regions that grow wine grapes where they shouldn’t be growing and the wines generally suck.

The same reason you don’t find Bananas or Pineapples grown in Montreal  is the same reason you don’t find Sangiovese in Moscow and therefore why certain wine grapes grow better in certain parts of the world.

Wine Grape Crosses:

There are also wine making grapes called crosses.  A cross combines two parent varietals into one.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross bred from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Yours Truly,

-The Modern Somm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *