Noble Grapes used to be considered the backbone of wine making industry, the essential varietals for producing the best quality wines. According to texts, these varieties, all originating from France, are supposed to be able to do well wherever they are planted, and even with any move to another region, they retain their character. This is why they are often referred to as noble or international varieties. As wine production methods has increased world-wide, so did hybrid grape varieties, resulting in a longer list of noble wines but historically, there are only six wines, three red and three white wines.
The Classic Grape, Pinot Noir
Although Pinot Noir originates from Burgundy, today Pinot Noir grapes are successfully grown in many wine producing counties known under different names. These red wine varietals are one of the oldest varieties, are rather delicate, and are demanding - they need a lot of attention both in the vineyards and cellars. To get the right flavors and complexity, the thin-skinned grapes must not be exposed to too much heat, in other words, they must not ripen too quickly. If the temperatures are too cool then they won’t ripen well. In France, Pinot Noir is sometimes referred to as Red Burgundy.
The Versatile Chardonnay Varietal
Chardonnay is one of the most successful, versatile and popular grapes.
Chardonnay grapes adapt easily and grow prolifically in various regions of the world. The rich, intense fruit flavors are very much appreciated in the United States and Australia, and the French use it to make the popular Chablis.
Chardonnay was so popular, at one point in its history, wine drinkers were branding it as "that perfect dry white". The wine community, didn’t much like the trend and wanted to show that other white wine alternatives to Chardonnay existed. They reacted by forming the ABC group which stands for Anything But Chardonnay. Wine makers then started looking into ways on how to vary the flavors of the grape; subtle nuances were discovered by varying the fermentation and aging techniques as well as by using stainless steel containers and barrels. Today, with new wine making techniques, Chardonnay is certainly anything but mundane. This grape variety continues to adapt to its terroir with ease, and it has earned its well-deserved place as one of the noble wines.
The King of Noble Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon
Hearty, reliable and highly adaptable, Cabernet Sauvignon makes some of the world’s finest wine. Here is a small red grape that is full of promise – it is well known, well travelled and well accepted and sometimes referred to as the King of Red Wine and the King of Noble Grapes
It was first associated with claret from Bordeaux and then recognized for its blending properties, also in Bordeaux. Today, we see it in different parts of the world either as a wine on its own or blended. In California for example, the best Cabernet wines are made from the Cabernet grapes alone.
The skin of the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal is very thick, making it full of tannin (the compound that make the mouth feel dry when drinking red wine). Most winemakers favor the technique of allowing their wines in spends 15 to 30 months or so in barrels, allowing the wine to oxidize slowly and reduce the effect of the tannin.
Sauvignon Blanc, The Classy White Varietal
The skin of this delicate white variety is tender, and the bunches grow tight; this combination usually denotes a delicate grape, which is the case for Sauvignon Blanc. But this hasn’t stopped the popularity of this crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc wine, recognized for its strong flavors and grown noticeably in the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Italy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
In France, Sauv Blanc is often blended with Sémillon, France’s third most planted variety. The grape variety does well in a climate that’s not too hot and the grapes must not be overripe when the wine is made to avoid the flavors being lost.
Often compared with Chardonnay, winemakers say it costs less to produce and grow Sauv Blanc than it is Chardonnay, it sells for less as well. The wine doesn’t age well, so it's best consumed young.
The German Staple, Riesling
Connoisseurs say Riesling grapes produce one of the sweetest white wines in the world; one that is full of flavors, delicate perfume, yet low in alcohol. This variety likes the European cool climates but does equally well in certain regions of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. It is usually fermented in stainless steel containers so as to preserve the floral aromas.
Riesling is often associated with noble rot, a fungus used for crafting white wine. The correct term for noble rot is Botrytis cinerea: it allows the grapes to concentrate through the evaporation of water. The result is a fairly complex wine, high in sugar and excellent for desserts. Noble rot might sound ominous, but it’s a good thing to have noble rot grapes, Riesling wine is a good example.
The Sensual Yet Simple Merlot
Merlot grapes are fairly easy to grow, they produce their buds early ripen early. The Wine Society says the grape is under-appreciated but is the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux. As it buds relatively early, it can be subjected to early frost. This wine is low in tannin, and Merlot grapes produce excellent single varietal wines as well as highly appreciated blends, a versatile wine with a wide range of flavors from deep to delicate.
Should we continue to use the term noble wine?
Today wine growers everywhere strive for the best achievable quality. Although it is true to say France lead the way with great terroir and know how, winegrowers have mastered technology adapting wine making skills and tools to make great quality wine. Each country, each region has its own terroir, their unique terroir. Admittedly, not all terroir is the same, some are much better than others but noble implies something special and out of the ordinary. Is the term perhaps overrated and slightly outdated?
Food Pairings for Noble Varietal Wines
When do we serve these noble wines? According to Vin de France ET Cépages (Wines and varieties from France), Guyot the Good Food Guide and Terroir France this is how we should be serving Noble wines:
- Because Pinot Noir is Light and subtle it goes with most dishes especially white meat such a poultry and veal. For those who drink only red wine, it is perfectly acceptable to have pinot noir with fish.
- French Chardonnay is adaptable, the perfect wine for all occasions. It’s great as an aperitif amongst friends and equally suitable at an elegant dinner party. Chardonnay is served with fish and seafood dishes as well as with Asiatic cuisine.
- Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect for red meat. This is the wine to serve at barbeques in the summer, but it is just as good for those long winters, when meat dishes need simmering.
- Guyot the Good Food Guide says that Sauvignon Blanc goes well with white meats from fish and shellfish to chicken and pork. They also go well with bell peppers, olives, fennel, spinach and watercress.
- Merlot is great for Mediterranean cuisine like ratatouille and roasted vegetables. It can also be served with roasted poultry and hamburgers.
- According to Terroir France, Riesling is brilliant with fish, seafood, shellfish and Alsatian dishes such as sauerkraut. They also recommend using Riesling wine for the famous French dish coq au vin.