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Know your grapes & how they taste

Having an inkling about how a wine is going to taste can really help when it comes to finding new bottles to try – you’ll be able to pin down your favourite styles and find wines with similar characteristics.

And while a wine you really love can be enjoyed alongside any food, we’ll recommend a couple of dishes per grape that complement the wine’s particular flavour.

Top red grapes of the world

Cabernet Sauvignon

The hero grape of Bordeaux, powering wines like Château Lafite. But Cabernet also flourishes in California’s Napa Valley, South Africa’s Stellenbosch, and Australia’s Coonawarra.

The thick skin deepens colour and tannins, making bold wines ideal for cellaring.

Full-bodied black fruits are at the core of a good Cabernet – blackcurrant and black cherry in particular, with hints of baking spices, green bell pepper and mint. Goes well with rich steak and black pepper sauces.

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Pinot Noir

A lightly coloured, thin-skinned grape that’s the prized possession of Burgundy. Outstanding Pinots also come from New Zealand and cooler parts of Australia (like Yarra Valley or Tasmania), while Chile is emerging as a great-value option.

The best examples are elegant and light, rather than full-on like Cabernet or Shiraz. Look of for flavours of raspberry, cherry and hints of violet.

Most are ideal enjoyed young, but Pinot Noirs built for ageing will develop ‘gamey’ notes, leather, even mushroom and an earthy ‘forest floor’ character. Goes well with duck, chicken or pork dishes.

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Originally used in Bordeaux to soften Cabernet Sauvignon (or in its own right), these days the lush, juicy flavours of Malbec are the signature of Argentina. Chile and Australia also provide decent offerings.

Generally a medium to full-bodied wine, and delivers plum, blackberry and damson flavours with floral notes and a hint of smoky dark chocolate. The best Malbecs are often much better-priced that other top reds, so can offer great value.

Goes perfectly with grilled meats, so make sure you’ve got a bottle handy at your next barbeque!

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Also known as Syrah, this inky-dark grape is behind the almost opaque reds of Hermitage, “France’s manliest wine” as wine writer Hugh Johnson puts it. But Australian Shiraz has gathered a huge following recently, particularly from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

Makes the darkest, boldest reds of any red grape here, so expect intensely rich flavours of smoky blackberry, dark chocolate and liquorice spice. Oak ageing adds notes of toast and vanilla.

Shiraz wines aren't afraid to match up with bold foods – pair it with hearty stews, beef dishes, and if you’re feeling adventurous, a spicy Shiraz can sometimes go surprisingly well with a vegetable curry.

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Bordeaux’s other big gun, most famously grown around the villages of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. It’s lighter in tannin and body than Cabernet, but often has a plumper body with more warming alcohol.

Chile has become a front-runner in the southern hemisphere for offering both great value Merlots as well as premium, top-end examples.

‘Plummy’ is a classic description for Merlot, alongside blackcurrants, blackberries and damson. Merlot can pair well with a wide range of foods thanks to its softness – we recommend lighter meats, medium strength cheese and rich vegetable dishes.

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Top white grapes of the world


A grape that certainly travels well – you’ll find delicious Chardonnays wherever in the world you go. From classic white Burgundies like steely, mineral Chablis and luxuriously stone-fruited Meursaults, to stars from the ‘New World’, including Australia’s Margaret River, and Sonoma in California.

Chardonnay is a basically a blank canvas for winemakers, as this little grape can make a huge range of styles depending on the required end result. But at its core, Chardonnay delivers peach, apricot and grapefruit flavour.

Pair with hearty fish dishes - crab, lobster, cod, or a delicious fish pie.

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Sauvignon Blanc

Easily the UK’s favourite white right now. And there are two distinct styles currently in vogue. The explosively aromatic Sauvignons of New Zealand, with their distinct cut-grass, gooseberry and guava flavour, and the more restrained, elegant Sauvignons of France.

In New Zealand, Marlborough is the go-to region for the best examples, while France’s Loire Valley offers up world-famous names like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

Pair with rich cheeses, oysters, and delicate fish like sole.

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While not a big-name grape just yet, it’s amazing how often people fall in love with Viognier when they first taste a properly good one. Like Condrieu, a 100% Viognier from the Rhône Valley renowned for its voluptuous texture, heady floral aromas and brilliant peachy flavour.

For some delicious, well-priced examples of Viognier, head to Australia, South Africa or America, where styles range from light and intense to bold and creamy.

Our top tips for food pairings are chicken tagine, roasted pork and fried tofu.

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“Undisputedly the most magnificent white wine grape” as Master of Wine Jancis Robinson puts it.

The best examples come from Germany and Alsace – piercingly fresh, with waterfalls of clear citrus fruits. Also exceptional are Rieslings from Clare Valley and Eden Valley in Australia.

Rarely oaked, Rieslings can be sweet or dry, with a core of green apple, lemons and floral notes. Many can age for decades, developing distinct petrol aromas. Pairs well with almost any food, but goes especially well with goats cheese and salads. Medium-sweet Rieslings pairs with spicy Thai dishes.

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Pinot Grigio

One grape, capable of making two completely distinct styles. When from its homeland Italy, the style tends towards freshness and crisp acidity. Tasty examples of this style can also be found in nearby in Hungary.

For a more opulent, weighty style, head to Alsace – where it’s known as Pinot Gris. Peachy, nutty, and hints of ginger spice, with a creamier palate, higher alcohol and notes of sweetness.

Pinot Grigio goes well with tomatoey Italian dishes, while Pinot Gris pairs with light fish and fresh vegetables.

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That’s it for grapes!

But if you ever feel like you might need a refresher at some point, make sure you go back to the Wine Knowledge Hub and bookmark it! You never know when it might come in handy …