Wine basics: What are grape varieties?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term grape varieties before. But what does it really mean? Why is it important?

Grape varieties are basically different types of grapes, each with its own taste, smell and look.

Some are red, some are white.

The best way to really understand grape varieties is by looking at apples.

There are lots of different varieties of apples! Some are very sweet, some are very sour.

Some are yellow, some are green and others are red.

And some grow well in cooler climates while others need a lot of heat.

That is very much like grape varieties.

Just like apples, grape varieties all give clear juice.

The flesh of all apples is white or of very pale yellow colour and the juice is clearish slightly yellow.

Red apples don’t give red juice.

The same is true of grapes. The flesh of all grapes is clearish/ greenish and the juice is clear, slightly yellow greenish.

No juice is red… red grapes will have clear juice.


How red grapes produce red wines doesn’t come from the grape juice, but from the wine making.

And that is why the way red wine is made is different to the way white wine is made!

There are nearly 10,000 different grape varieties grown in the world… Yes!! 10,000

Now fortunately all aren’t made into wine, well commercially that is, there are only a few thousands that are made into wine commercially.

A wine can be made from one single grape variety, which would be defined as a single varietal wine. Alternatively, it could be made 2 or more different grape varieties, in which case the would be called from a blend.

The idea is that each grape variety brings its own specificities…

A grape variety that is acidic and rather tannic could be blended with another that is rich and velvety.

Now, I’d like you to take a second, to think about how many grape varieties you can think off and I’d like you to think if you can categorise them into colour red or white.

Just press pause, and take a minute and think about it. Do this..

Ok, so I hope you’ve done this and that you’ve taken a minute to think about it.

Now how many did you think of?

More than 10? If you did, congratulations! That’s great!


A crazy fact is that 80% of the world’s wines (the wines you find commercially in shops or restaurants) actually come from only 8 grape varieties!

Yes! You heard right!

There are thousands of grape varieties, but 8 of them represent the vast majority of wines you can find.

How is that?

Well it’s pretty much the same as anything else…

Let’s look at books as a point of comparison

How many books would you say have been written?

Millions, right?

Yet most bookshops will only list a few thousands as those are the ones people buy.

Yes, Amazon apparently has 32 million books… But which ones actually sell?

Very few!

Maybe a couple of thousand?

Same is true with music!

Spotify probably has millions of songs but you could probably group the ones people actually listen to on your hard drive.

The great news is that if you learn about these 8 grape varieties, you’ll know most of the world’s wines!

You’ll be at ease in choosing a bottle anywhere you are.

What are these varieties?


Let’s start with the whites:

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier are the 4 most important white grape varieties.

Chardonnay is found all over the world, in hot climates and cool climates, it is sometimes oaked other times unoaked.

What’s interesting is that it isn’t always labelled as Chardonnay!

In Burgundy for example the white wines of Burgundy don’t show any mention of Chardonnay, but they are Chardonnay!

Chablis for example is made from 100% Chardonnay.

It’s funny how many times I’ve heard:  “I hate Chardonnay but I love Chablis“.

The truth is that Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile grape variety and can produce all different styles of wine.

From light and delicate all the way to rich and intense.

The thing is to learn which ones to expect.

And you could pretty much get along for the rest of your life with this single white grape variety as there are so many different examples.


For the reds, the varieties are:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Shiraz and Pinot Noir.

Bordeaux for example is made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, Syrah can be found in the great Cote Rotie wines, many Super Tuscans are also a blend of Cabernet or Merlot.

Master these 8 grape varieties and you could basically go anywhere, and choose a wine, you’re going to love, or that’s going to blend perfectly with whatever you’re eating, and at your budget.

Many people want to learn about tons of grape varieties, and they end up hardly knowing anything about lots of them.

Grape varieties and the wines they produce is not easy, try to master one, then another and you’ll be able to really enjoy yourself!

That’s why we created the definitive 8 grape varieties course! We go in depth on 8 varieties that are THE principal varieties.

After that you’ll also have benchmarks to work from.

You could go from a grape variety you know and explore others that are similar.


Grape varieties are at the base of wine, they will define what the wine tastes like, the aromas it will develop, its flavours, its ageing potential and much more.

You need to understand grape varieties to understand the wines they produce.

There are thousands of grape varieties, but focusing on the main ones will allow you to select wine with ease.

Learning the principal 8 grape varieties will allow you to understand nearly 80% of the world’s wines.