Regions & Grapes

Talking about Grape Varieties to Customers


The notion of terroir incorporates three elements: soil, climate and grape varieties. Varieties are the different types of grapes used to make a wine and are very often a factor of choice for customers when ordering a bottle. But should you be proposing a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay or a Merlot ? In this article, learn some basic knowledge that will help you talk grape varieties to customers.

Vitis vinifera

The grapes used to make wine come from the Vitis vinifera species, unlike table grapes, which come from different species. Vitis vinifera is native to Europe, but similar species can be found on the Asian and American continents. Winegrowing developed throughout the world with man’s travels, and the original European wine grape varieties developed widely. For example, a number of varieties native to south-west France can be found in South America, like Malbec, and even Loire varieties can be found around the world, like Chenin in South Africa.

Remember, also, that there are two main categories of varieties:


  • Black grape varieties from which you can obtain white or red juice (to produce white or red wine)
  • White grape varieties which can only produce white juice (and white wine).


Colour is not the only thing, though, that differentiates one grape variety from another. Berry size, leaf appearance and acidity are all important factors. Moreover, each variety brings its own aromas, flavours and other characteristics to the wine.

Grape varieties in France

There are nearly 200 varieties planted throughout France’s eleven wine regions, however a dozen or so stand out. Merlot, Ugni Blanc (mainly used for Cognac), Grenache Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay are a few of these.


However, these grape varieties are not all found in the same parts of France – the winegrowing conditions or terroir are a decisive factor in where they can be planted. For example, the Syrah grape will make excellent wines in the Rhone Valley or in Provence, while in Burgundy or the Loire Valley it will have trouble ripening.

Grape varieties around the world

In France and throughout the world, we find Vitis Vinefera wine grape varieties that have been grafted. So you have your traditional varieties – like Chardonnay, Malbec, Pinot Noir etc. – which are grafted onto vinestock of American origin.

Although, we don’t use the American varieties themselves in winemaking, it is thanks to their rootstock that there are still vines today in France, as they are resistant to the phylloxera pest that destroyed virtually all French vinestock in the mid-19th century.

There are however some producers and winegrowers that are able to offer wines from non-grafted vinestocks.

Learn more

Continue learning about wine with our brief guide to France’s most famous winegrowing regions. From appellations and grape varieties to soils and specific characteristics, we’ll take you on a whirlwind tour of the key wine regions of France. Read the article