What are the Seven Noble Grape Varieties?

wine questions and queries

Wine Questions Answered

By Paul Howard

Q: I’m starting to put together a small wine cellar. I’m looking for something (preferably red and Italian) that will age well over, say, the next 8-10 years. Do you have any recommendations?
(No name) via email

A: Plenty! Sticking with dry Italian reds, begin with the classics: Barolo and Barbaresco, Amarone, Chianti Classico, Brunello and the related Super-Tuscans. All are designed to develop and improve in bottle over the timescales you suggest. Stick to producers with good reputations and vintages such as 2001, 2004 and 2006 and you won’t go far wrong. I’d also seek out a good independent merchant that can provide reliable advice and may let you try before you buy or stock less well known alternatives – these wines are rarely cheap but can give immense pleasure in the medium to long term.

barrel of sicillian grapesQ: I overheard a bar person talking about seven noble grape varieties. Was he as knowledgeable as he sounded? It’s the first I’ve heard about them….
Julie Hennigan, Otley

A: There are literally thousands of grape varieties. Of these, the so-called “noble” grapes are those that have a capability and have developed a reputation for making fine wine capable of ageing. However, there is no agreed definition of which grapes would qualify. It is fairly easy to make a case for the “international” varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir (in red) plus Chardonnay and Riesling in white. That’s six.

Then it would be fairly easy to add three more white classics; Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, and another red, Cabernet Franc. Should we stop at ten? Italians would be heartbroken if you left out Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, while the Spanish would insist on Tempranillo. In short, seven sounds reasonable but there is an interesting debate about qualification!


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