Wine Grape Varieties(selected excerpts)
Wine grape varieties of commercial importance represent only a fraction of thousands of grapevine varieties grown throughout the world. The majority of those cultivated for wine production belong to the European vine species Vitis vinifera, which has been used to produce wine for more than six thousand years. In contrast to European varieties, there are many different species of grapes native to America that are commercially grown. The best known species is Vitis labrusca. There are also French-American varieties that are hybrid crosses between European and native, American varieties. Vinifera varieties are considered by many to be the best for producing world-class wines. Each different grape variety has its own particular character, defined by flavor, color, berry size, phenolics and the balance of sugars and acids contained in the fruit. Exactly how a grape variety’s characteristics manifest in finished wines is dependent on many factors, the most important of which is the terroir—soil and microclimate within the vineyard—viticultural management practices and the chosen winemaking technique. In addition to choosing the right variety in planting new vineyards the grower can select clones based on flavor profile, berry size, cluster shape, vine yields, vine vigor, bud break, and tolerances to heat, humidity and drought.
In Europe, the finest wines are known primarily by their regional names (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, for instance, are the major grapes of the Burgundy region in France). Elsewhere, however—as in Americas, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand—most wines are labeled by their varietal names.