Signature red grape varieties hail from specific locations

Edward Finstein

Bottles of champagne

When it comes to red wine, there are certain grape varieties that are synonymous with particular countries. I’m talking about a variety that a country excels in and is known for. Sure, there are many other varieties that a country produces, but these are what puts them on the wine map of the world.

Argentina, and specifically the Mendoza region of the country, does a great job with malbec. This traditional, not particularly long-lived, Bordeaux varietal is usually blended in with other grapes in France mainly because it is not warm enough there to properly ripen it to the point where it can play solo in a wine. However, in Argentina, longer hang time on the vine because of more heat units allows this variety to ripen and become concentrated enough to star in a uni-varietal vino, even with moderate aging potential. It creates dark, full wines with plumy, blackberry, black cherry, milk chocolate, violet notes. Argentina has truly made this baby its own.

I don’t think there is a wine drinker on the planet who is not familiar with shiraz from Australia. It’s the same grape as syrah in France, but Australia’s unique climate produces a sweeter more coffee, chocolaty version of the wine along with the same spicy, earthy, blackberry nuances. It’s a delightful “New World” version of the grape.

Almost entirely indigenous to California comes zinfandel. Genetically, almost the same grape as primitivo in Italy, this somewhat jammy, raspberried, spicy, alcoholic red shines in the golden state. It has made quite a reputation for itself, not only in its original form, but also as a rosé (blush, white zinfandel).

If you travel to South Africa and the Cape, you will see lots of pinotage.

The genetically modified crossing of pinot noir and cinsault has become the hallmark of South Africa. With its unique aromas and flavors

of cherry, smoke, earth, plum, and medicinal notes, it is a robust wine that does justice to hearty fare and game.

Back to Europe

Italian wine lovers rejoice — this country has two biggies.

Pretty much all wine consumers know the merits of sangiovese, especially from Tuscany. As perhaps the most well-known and touted red variety that the country offers, it is found in such winners as brunello, vino nobile, and Chianti, and it’s hard to deny its beauty. Full of tart cherry, sweet leather, plum, violet, and red berry, it’s absolutely dynamite with all types of cuisine, especially Italian.

Then, there’s nebbiolo, especially from Piedmonte, that is the heart and soul of such classics as Barolo and Barbaresco. Wines like these that smack of roses, truffles, cherries, leather, tar, and tobacco are legendary.

Pinot noir is known as the “heartbreak grape” because it’s hard to grow, deletes nutrients from the soil, young vines don’t make great wine, and clonal selection is so important. Perhaps no other place on the planet does a good job with this grape as consistently as Burgundy, France. It is “Valhalla” for this variety. Stewed red fruit, earth, boiled beetroot, and delicate spiciness is what they’re all about here.

Spain makes some fabulous red wines, but none more exciting and delicious than those spawned from tempranillo. In fact, it is the essence of world-famous Rioja. With yummy notes of sweet red fruit, tobacco, vanilla, and round mellow tannins, it is one fine sip.

What better way to start the New Year than with one or more of these signature red varietal wines?

© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2017. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. For more information, visit,,,, or

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