Pinot Noir produces the lightest bodied wines of the red noble grapes. The grapes are named because their bunches are similar in shape to a pine cone (pinot in French) and are very dark, tending toward black (noir in French). Wines produced from Pinot Noir grapes can have light and delicate flavors of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and cola. Or, Pinot Noir can be big and bold with dark fruit flavors making it seem more like a Syrah or Merlot.
In France, the wines of Burgundy are made from the Pinot Noir grape. Pinot Noir is most commonly blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to produce Champagne.
Grenache (or Granacha in Spain) is a medium-bodied wine that is light in color and can have flavors of strawberry, black cherry and raspberry. It's also been described as having flavors of candied fruit, spices and cinnamon.
In France, Grenache is grown in the southern Rhone Valley and throughout both Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. It is most commonly blended with Syrah and Mourvedre (GSM) in the Cotes du Rhone wines, and is the primary grape used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Smooth and easy to drink are common descriptions for wines produced from the Merlot grape. Merlot tends to have lighter tannins hence the description of 'smooth.' Flavors are wide ranging depending on the region where the grape is grown and the winemaker's style. Common descriptions of Merlot include black cherry and plum, but oak aging can impart flavors of vanilla, tobacco and cloves.
Because of Merlot's smoothness, the grape is used to soften wines made from more tannic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. In France, Merlot is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux wines of Medoc (Left Bank) and is the primary grape used in wines of the Right Bank including Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.
Most commonly known in the wine world as Chianti for the region in Italy that has made wines from this grape so famous. Sangiovese grapes can produce delicate floral flavors along with fruit-forward flavors of tart cherry, strawberry, fig and plum, or it can produce rustic, bold, tannic wines with flavors of roasted red pepper, oregano and thyme.
Neggiolo grapes produce wines with aromas of roses and black cherries. These wines are high in acidity and with very bold tannin. Nebbiolo has been described has having distinctive scents of tar and roses.
Nebbiolo is the grape variety used in red wines of Piedmont, northwestern Italy, the most notable being Barolo and Barbaresco.
Tempranillo produces full-bodied wines with flavors of red fruits such as cherry and strawberry along with black currants, plum, prunes and even tomato. Oak aging produces flavors of vanilla, chocolate, tobacco and leather. While considered a full-bodied wine, Tempranillo typically has medium acidity and tannin along with a more translucent color, reminiscent of a medium-bodied wine.
Tempranillo is the grape variety that is used in some of the finest red wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Rioja and Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its base. In Portugal, Tempranillo is widely used in the Douro Valley both for table wines and fortified wines (i.e., Port).
Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most famous red wine grape variety. It produces a full-bodied wine with bold black-fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black currant. Oak aging produces flavors of vanilla, tobacco, licorice, and black pepper. Cabernet Sauvignon is deep in color with bold tannin and moderate acidity.
In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux wines of Medoc (Left Bank).
An interesting note on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is that DNA testing has proven that it is actually a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Syrah (or Shiraz in Australia) wines have been described as being floral in their youth, and then developing more peppery and herbaceous flavors as it ages. Flavors include leather and smoky scents, blackcurrant and licorice. Syrah is a dark, full-bodied wine with big initial flavor and a notable finish.
Syrah is often blended due to its deep color and bold tannins. In the southern France (Rhone) it is common for Syrah to be blended with Grenache and Mourvedre in the famous GSM blends.
Malbec is a black-skinned grape that began in France but is now grown extensively in Argentina. It produces a full-bodied fruit-forward wine that can range from having fruit flavors of black cherry and raspberry to plum and blackberry. Oak aging produces flavors of chocolate, leather and sweet tobacco.