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Wine Club Classic Grapes: What are Noble Grape Varieties?

Category: Majestic guides

Wine Club Classic Grapes: What are Noble Grape Varieties?

In short:

There are estimated to be between 8,000 and 10,000 grape varieties in the world, yet only a select few could be described as classics, or what are known as ‘noble grapes.’ Join us in exploring the wines and regions linked to these timeless varieties.

What are noble grapes?

Noble grapes are the select few grape varieties that have earned a distinguished place in the history and art of winemaking. They're celebrated for their exceptional qualities and unique characteristics that reveal the essence of their terroir in which they’re grown. Noble grapes are the building blocks of classic wines that have captivated palates for generations.

Which grape varieties are considered to be noble grapes and where are they grown?

There are a total of 18 noble grape varieties planted worldwide. Here’s an overview of each one:

White Grapes

 is a versatile grape, ranging from crisp and unoaked with green apple notes to full-bodied and buttery with flavours of toast and vanilla. Popular regions include Burgundy, Napa Valley and Western Australia’s Margaret River.

Riesling's crisp acidity and aromatic profile span from dry to sweet, with flavours of green apple, citrus, and petrol notes in aged versions. Popular regions include the Mosel Valley, Alsace and Clare Valley in South Australia.

Sauvignon Blanc offers zesty acidity and bright flavours of grass, gooseberry, and tropical fruits. Popular regions include Marlborough, Sancerre and Napa Valley.

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, offering everything from dry and crisp to sweet and luscious, with flavours of honey, apple, and tropical fruits. Popular regions include Loire Valley, South Africa and California.

Albariño is a Spanish white grape known for its crispness, offering flavours of citrus, green apple, and mineral notes. Popular regions include Rías Baixas in Galicia, Portugal 's Vinho Verde and California.

Gewürztraminer is known for its aromatic intensity, featuring lychee, rose, and exotic fruit notes. Popular regions include Alsace, Germany and Oregon.

Viognier produces rich and aromatic wines with flavours of apricot, peach, and floral notes. Popular Regions: Northern Rhône Valley, California and Barossa Valley.


Red Grapes

Known for its bold and rich character, Cabernet Sauvignon wines are often marked by blackcurrant, plum, and cedar notes with firm tannins. Popular regions include Bordeaux, Napa Valley and Coonawarra in South Australia.

Merlot offers a velvety texture and flavours of plum, red berries, and a touch of chocolate. Significant regions include Bordeaux, Tuscany and Washington State.

Delicate and elegant, Pinot Noir wines showcase red fruit flavours, floral notes, and a unique expression of terroir. Popular regions include Burgundy, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Central Otago on New Zealand’s southern island.

Syrah/Shiraz yields bold wines with dark fruit, black pepper, and often a smoky or meaty character. Popular regions include the Rhône Valley, Barossa Valley and Napa Valley.

Zinfandel is known for its bold and jammy fruit character, with flavours of blackberry, raspberry, and often a hint of spice. Its home is California, most notably in the Lodi region, as well as Puglia

Malbec is a full-bodied grape with flavours of black cherry, plum, and a subtle earthy notes. Popular regions: Mendoza, Cahors and Washington State.

Tempranillo produces wines with red fruit, leather, and tobacco notes, and a medium to full body. Popular Regions: Rioja (Spain), Ribera del Duero (Spain), Toro (Spain).

Sangiovese is the heart of Italian wines, offering bright cherry, herbal, and sometimes earthy notes. Popular regions include Tuscany, most notably Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.

Grenache/Garnacha contributes to fruity and spicy wines with flavours of red berries, pepper, and herbs. Popular regions include the Rhône Valley, Priorat and Barossa Valley.

Nebbiolo creates powerful wines with rose, tar, and cherry notes, featuring high tannins and acidity. Popular regions include Piedmont, Barolo and Barbaresco.

Barbera yields wines with bright acidity and flavours of red cherry, raspberry, and often a hint of herbs. Popular regions include Piedmont, California and Argentina.

Noble grapes’ history

The history of noble grapes is intertwined with the history of winemaking itself. Centuries of tradition, innovation, and craftsmanship have elevated these varieties to their esteemed status. They’ve been the subject of poets, artists and sommeliers, leaving a legacy of taste and culture that continues to inspire wine lovers around the world.

Exploring wines made from noble grapes is an adventure in itself. These classics invite us to step outside our comfort zones, to savour new varieties, and to experience the flavours of diverse terroirs. With every glass, we embark on a journey through time, connecting with the heritage of winemaking while forging new and personal connections to the world of wine.

Food pairing with noble grape varieties

Pairing a wine with an ideal dish can take it from a good bottle to a great one. Noble grapes provide a perfect starting point for exploring food matching. Take a look at Wine Club’s top tips to consider when next deciding what bottle to open for the dinner table.

Match body with body

You’ll have heard about ‘red with beef’ and ‘white with fish’, but it’s more helpful to think about the body or ‘weight’ of your dish instead. Bigger-bodied wines go better with bigger-bodied foods. Steak is hefty – so a rich Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Tempranillo from Rioja could be perfect. Likewise, delicate fish goes better with something light, like Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley.

Consider how it's cooked

Gently steamed or poached foods – whether chicken, fish or veg – suit lighter wines like Albariño, which won’t overpower them. Meanwhile, full-flavoured roasted or grilled dishes, such as a leg of lamb, can stand up to a bold red made from Syrah or Sangiovese.

Balance tannin and acidity with fat

Hefty red wines from hotter regions in Spain, Italy and southern France have lots of tannin, so they suit foods that are high in protein and fat, like steak. But high-fat foods like cheese or cream can also go well with zippy white wines – such as unoaked Chardonnay. The acidity cuts through the fat to create a balanced feel.

Pair salty with sweet

Salty food, like cheese or nuts, are often good with a sweet wine, which offsets them. If you’re pairing a wine with dessert, choose a sticky wine that’s at least as sweet as the dish, or the dish might taste bitter. An off-dry Riesling from Germany or a ‘moelleux’ Chenin Blanc from the Loire could be a great choice.

Break the rules

Ultimately, the only thing that matters when pairing food with wine is that you like how it all tastes together. If you enjoy drinking Tempranillo with a prawn cocktail, or Sauvignon Blanc with steak and chips, go for it!

The festive season offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy tried-and-tested global favourites. Which is why for winter 2023, Wine Club’s case theme is Classic Grapes. Choose from one of three cases packed full of traditional bottles and discover for yourself the timeless appeal of noble grapes.

Find out more here.

Ali Mountjoy
Majestic Copywriter & Wine Club Lead - WSET Level 3

Ali first gained a taste for everything ‘wine’ when she moved to France after university. Upon returning to England a few years later, her equal love of good food led her to work as a sommelier in some of the country’s best restaurants, including Gidleigh Park, Rick Stein’s, Texture and Lucknam Park. Ali gets just as much pleasure from writing about wine as she does tasting it.