First grown in ancient Phoenicia, then Greece, and finally Italy, the Aglianico (ahn-lahn-ico) grape, according to famed oenologist Denis Dubourdieu, has "probably the longest consumer history of all." Its high tannins and acidity are evidence of its ability to age (and since it's been around since ancient Phoenicia, we bet that's true).
Barolo is one of Italy's most prized and beloved wines. In fact, the varietal itself has a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation, which basically assures (a) its origin and (b) its quality. Grown in northern Italy's Piedmont region, the complex Barolo is comprised of nebbiolo grapes and ages just beautifully.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is synonymous with "red wine" in popular culture. Cultivated in almost every wine-producing country, as it's quite easy to grow, these grapes offer a wine that has noticeable tannins and acidity, helping the wine age quite well. A climate's growing temperature will greatly affect the tasting notes found in this grape, ranging from black currant in cooler climates to black cherry and black olives in warmer growing areas.
Originating from the Bordeaux region of France, but now grown in every wine-producing region worldwide, Chardonnay is one of the most palatable wine varietals. Because it's grown in so many different climates, this light- to medium-bodied wine has quite a range of flavors and textures. Notable for its acidity, Chardonnay usually boasts flavors of apple, pear, and citrus.
Grown in central Tuscany, from whence it derives its name, Chianti was once known as the wine that appeared in the classic, basket-weave bottle frequently found in Italian restaurants, though it now appears in sleek, modern bottles. Comprised mostly of Sangiovese grapes, Chianti is earthy and rustic, and its high acidity makes the wine a great accompaniment to food.
Unless you closely follow Italian wine, chances are that the Sicilian Nero d'Avola (nee-ROH da-VOE-lah) may not seem as familiar as the venerable Chardonnay or Merlot. But this grape makes a wine that's dark, lucious, and very drinkable, and it blends well with other grapes.
Hailing from the Bordeaux region of France, Merlot is a dark-blue-skinned grape that produces one of the most popular varietals in the world. The softer tannin structure and a medium-bodied feel make Merlot a great blending partner with Cabernet Sauvignon. Complete with notes of cherry, cocoa, vanilla, and spice, there's no wonder why the Merlot is such a popular varietal.
One of the oldest grape varieties in the world, the "Muscat" grape boasts over two hundred varieties that range in color from white to pink to nearly black. Known as "Moscato" when bottled in Australia and California, this wine is usually sweet with layers floral notes.
Grown primarily in southern France, in the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions, the Picpoul is a wine grape known for light-skinned and dark-skinned varieties that blend quite well. The most notable of the Picpoul wines is Picpoul De Pinet, a full-bodied white with a light chartreuse color.
Grown in Italy as Pinot Grigio, but known in France as Pinot Gris (given pinot for its pine-cone-cluster grapes and gris because the grapes often look gray), this grape can produce a fruity, almost tropical wine ranging in colors from golden yellow to light pink. In Italy, the grape is harvested early to cut some of the grape's sweetness, giving it acidic notes that delightfully balance the wine.
The Pinot Noir grape is grown in cool regions the world over, but the grape's most famous growing place is in the Burgundy region of France. The name comes from the French pinot, meaning "pine" and noir, meaning "black," a nod to the grape's close fruit cluster in the shape of a pine cone and the grape's dark color. Fruity and complex, the pinot noir produces some of the finest wines in the world.
Hailing from just north of Venice, the Prosecco grape is an Italian white that lends itself to sweeter flavors. Unlike Champagne, Prosecco isn't fermented in the bottle; it's fermented in stainless steel tanks, which means you have to drink it pretty quickly — within three years of its vintage — to enjoy it at its peak. Prosecco's fermentation process also spells out a lower price for a delicious product: a good entry-level Champagne is usually around $40, whereas a good entry-level Prosecco will cost you about $14.
Riesling is a sweeter grape varietal originally cultivated in the Rhine region of Germany, but is now grown the world over. Because of its terroir expressive nature, the taste of the finished wine will depend on the temperature of its growing climate: cooler temperatures yield notes of apples and tree fruit, while warmer climates yield citrus flavors. Though known as a sweeter wine, riesling grapes can yield a dry or semi-dry product.
Originating from the Bordeaux region of France, the Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape that derives its name from the French for "wild white," as the grapes grew wild in the southwest French region. Typically consumed young, Sauvignon Blancs are cultivated in most wine-producing countries, and are lauded for their crisp, refreshing, dry profile. Raw fish lovers, rejoice: this varietal is one of the few that pairs well with sushi.
Known as Syrah to the world, but Shiraz in Australia, this dark grape produces delicious medium- to full-bodied wines. Tasting notes vary widely on climate, going from blackberry, mint, and black pepper in the cooler to licorice, spice, and anise in the warmer. Syrah/Shiraz is used as a varietal but also blends well with several wines.
Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine, grown in the northwest Minho province. You may think the "Verde" in its name refers to the color green—not necessarily (the wine is usually the palest shade of vermillion). The "Verde" here indicates that this wine is intended to be consumed when it's very young—as in, two years after bottling. Lively and bright, some are slightly effervescent, thanks to a carbon dioxide injection inserted at bottling.
Grown in more than 10% of California's vineyards, the Zinfandel is a dark-skinned grape that produces a robust red wine with prominent fruity notes and hints of black pepper and anise. Hailed as a Californian wine for the past 130 years, the grape's true origins have been mysterious until quite recently, when researchers discovered the grape's DNA can be traced to Croatia.