Major grape varieties & wines


Amarone della Valpolicella

A full-bodied, chocolate and raisin-scented wine made from dried grapes. The
same varieties – Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara – are used to
make Valpolicella in northern Italy. Grapes are laid out to dry for several
months, then fermented dry and aged in oak, yielding high alcohol dense wines.
Modern styles have an intense sweet cherry and chocolate cake flavour with
incredible richness, making it ideal for hearty Korean barbecues.


A floral-scented aromatic wine made from Nebbiolo grapes produced around the
village of Barbaresco in Piedmont, northwest Italy. It is similar to Barolo,
but with less concentration and lower levels of tannin and acidity. It is
generally a fruitier and rounder wine than Barolo as it is aged for a shorter
period of time in oak before bottling. The firm tannins make it wonderful for
pairing with skewered meat like satay.


A versatile red grape variety from Piedmont, Italy, with a deep ruby colour
and full-bodied berry fruit. It used to be made as a cheap and cheerful style
but serious wines are able to replicate the density and concentrated fruit
character of Nebbiolo-based wines with lively acidity and fairly firm tannins.
Still, it is a less serious wine than Barolo and many are ready to be enjoyed
fairly young with hearty, meat-based Asian dishes.


Takes its name from the village ‘Barolo’ in Piedmont, northwest
Italy and is the most concentrated style of wine produced from the Nebbiolo
grape and considered to be one of Italy’s finest red wines. Barolos have
very distinctive aromatics of rose petals, violets and tar. The pale colour can
be misleading since Barolos are highly tannic and powerful with high
concentration of fruit, alcohol and acidity. The aging potential of the best
examples are at par with those from the top Bordeaux châteaux. Mature
Barolos are wonderful accompaniments to many meat-based Shanghainese and
northern Chinese dishes.

Brunello di Montalcino

This is a superior clone of Sangiovese developed in the Montalcino region of
Tuscany and is never blended with other varieties. It produces some of the
finest and most complex Italian red wines and by law, it can only be released
into the market in its fourth year with two years in cask. These are serious
wines with long aging potential and its savoury flavours work well with
umami-laden savoury stews from Japan or Korea.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The world’s most renowned red grape variety that grows well in many
climates but ideally suited for temperate rather than very hot or cool regions.
The small berry size and thick skins produce wines that are dense, full-bodied,
tannic and capable of producing wines of great richness, concentration and
longevity. However, even when fully ripe, the variety can have distinctively
vegetal or herbaceous undertones. It is often found blended or as a single
varietal and some of the most classic examples have rich concentrated black
currant notes and are found in Bordeaux, Napa Valley and Coonawarra. This
variety is challenging to pair with many Asian cuisines because of its high
tannins, however, mature wines are wonderful matches and much more

Cabernet Franc

This variety is often in the shadows of its more famous blending partner,
Cabernet Sauvignon. The variety shares similar herbaceous undertones with
Cabernet Sauvignon but often lacks the depth and rarely has the concentration
– notable exceptions are in Saint-Emilion and in wines such as Cheval
Blanc. In the Loire Valley, the wines are medium-bodied with blackberry fruit
and a distinctive pencil-shaving character. As a single varietal wine, it is
difficult to pair with Asian dishes but when blended, it pairs well with fatty
pork dishes from Korea and northern China.

Chianti Classico

A region in Tuscany producing wines from Sangiovese often blended with other
Italian varieties and international red varieties. The wines are generally
medium-bodied with sour cherry, earthy notes and the best examples such as the
Riserva are aged for at least two years prior to being released in the market.
Examples of Chianti Classico that are not too tannic can be good accompaniments
to dishes that may seem challenging such as hot pots and sukiyaki.


An early ripening Italian variety which is almost exclusive to northwest
Piedmont and predominantly bottled as a single varietal. It produces soft,
round, fruity wines with aromas of licorice and dark cherry and has a deep
purple hue. These early consuming wines are good everyday options for simple
Indian or Korean meals.


A red French variety predominantly planted in Beaujolais, France. Gamay
produces wines of relatively low alcohol, high acidity with a simple aroma of
freshly picked red fruits. Its high acidity, light body and refreshing style
makes this an extremely versatile, underappreciated wine to pair with many
Asian meals. It is perfect for simple Japanese everyday food such as donburi as
well as casual southeast Asian meals


A drought-and-heat-resistant variety widely planted in Spain and southern
France. It yields fruity, spicy wines with medium body and fairly low tannins.
Highly irrigated vines produce pale innocuous wines but producers in
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France, or in Priorat, Spain, prove that
Grenache-based wines can be serious, age-worthy reds. Most Grenache-based wines
such as simple Côtes du Rhône are ideal, safe red wine options that
can complement a range of flavours in numerous Asian cuisines including
Cantonese, Japanese, Shanghainese, Thai, Singaporean and Korean.

Italian IGT wine

IGT stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica, a classification introduced in
1992 for Italian wines that used different varieties or opted for wine-making
decisions that were not in keeping with the DOC and DOCG system. These wines
often commanded higher prices and were aimed for an international audience.
Typically, IGT reds are bolder, more fruit forward than traditional versions
and have a strong new oak influence. Unfortunately, these tannic, high alcohol
styles are not as compatible with many Asian dishes as their traditional


In France, this variety has declined in popularity but has proved to be
successful in Argentina. The best examples display rich, ripe blackberry fruit
character with hints of violet and are capable of extended cellaring. The
chewy, high tannins make this a challenging variety to pair with Asian dishes
but can work with stewed meat dishes from India or Korea.


One of Bordeaux’s great black grape varieties providing softness and
rounding out the tough tannins of its frequent blending partner, Cabernet
Sauvignon. The best examples are found on the right bank of Bordeaux and the
wines can be just as dense, concentrated and capable of long-aging as those
from Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines. Generally, Merlot has plumy,
approachable fruit with velvety textured tannins. These characters make it a
wonderful accompaniment to flavourful Asian dishes such as yakitori, roasted
meats and beef satays because the rounded tannins do not clash with the spices
and salt content in the dish.


A widely planted red variety named after the town of Montepulciano in
Tuscany. This late-ripening variety produces full-bodied red wines, notably in
Abruzzo, with modest acidity and tannins. Generally, the wines are made for
early drinking and are simple, affordable accompaniments to hearty meals.


This late-ripening black variety is popular across the south of France and
Spain where it is most commonly found in blended reds. It provides the colour
and tannin structure for wines blended with Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.
Regions such as Bandol in Provence do produce Mourvèdre-based wines but
the quantities are small and the powerful tannins make it challenging to pair
with Asian dishes.


This great black variety is native to northern Italy’s Piedmont region
where it produces fine, aromatic and complex Barolos and Barbarescos capable of
long aging. The thin skins and fickle nature of this variety make it an
extremely challenging variety to handle and ripen reliably. However, the best
examples have great concentration, complex aromatics and capacity to age for
decades. Mature Nebbiolo pair beautifully with numerous game and poultry dishes
such as roasted squab, duck and goose. Please see Barolo and Barbaresco.


This is an indigenous dark-skinned southern Italian variety available both
as a single variety and as a blend. Widely found in Puglia and most often
enjoyed as a robust full-bodied wine with simple meat dishes.


Pinotage is a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault and is mostly closely
associated with South Africa. The best examples from carefully managed yields
are full-bodied, meaty with a wild red berry character. Some examples can have
a smokey, burnt flavour with volatile aromas. The gamey and spicy character
makes it appropriate for red meat dishes, but avoid those from the hot inland
regions which can have excessive alcohol.

Pinot Noir

A fickle, thin-skinned variety that has beckoned growers to meet its
demanding needs to produce ethereal wines with finesse and elegance. Pinot Noir
requires painstaking attention to detail from both the grower and winemaker.
The variety requires cool climates with sufficient sunshine to enable the
grapes to ripen slowly and develop ripe raspberry and strawberry-scented wines.
Complex examples have multiple fruit layers including hints of earth, mushroom,
undergrowth and game, despite its light body and elegant character. The very
best examples are found in Burgundy but many cool sites in the New World are
beginning to produce fantastic Pinot Noirs. Well-made Pinot Noir is versatile,
refreshing and elegant – the perfect red wine partner for many Asian
meals. This is my first choice for nearly all my Asian meals, whether it is
Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Thai.


This is the principal black grape variety for quality wine in Tuscany,
producing wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscan
blends. Simple examples are medium-bodied with sour cherry fruit but the very
best examples have complex fruit characters with greater density and capability
to cellar for years. The simple examples are wonderful with a wide range of
everyday one-bowl rice or noodle meals while the serious versions pair well
with roasted meats, especially roast pork and duck. Please see Chianti Classico
and Brunello di Montalcino.

Super Tuscans

This term refers to high-profile Tuscan red wines produced outside the
traditional Italian classification system (DOC and DOCG). Often, international
varieties are used and can be blended with indigenous varieties such as
Sangiovese. This style was spearheaded in the 1960s by Antinori whose
pioneering wine, Sassicaia, brought both international attention and high
prices to the west coast region of Italy. Please see Italian IGT Wine.

Syrah / Shiraz

Fine examples of this variety can render rich, complex and distinctive
wines. It is the major variety in northern Rhône, France, and produces
distinctively spicy, complex, full-bodied red wines. Classic descriptors
include pepper, spice, leather and gamey flavours and Asian descriptors would
include roast goose, char siu meat, garam masala and Chinese five spice. Prime
examples are Côte-Rotie and Hermitage. It is also the dominant Australian
red wine variety, producing collectibles such as Grange and Hill of Grace. The
variety grows well in a fairly wide range of climates and terroirs and is
commonly found as both a single varietal wine as well as part of a blend.
Wonderful with hearty, flavourful Indian meals and many Southeast Asian
meat-based dishes.


An indigenous variety widely planted in northern Spain, capable of producing
a wide range of styles from simple strawberry and vanilla-scented wines to
rich, concentrated wines capable of long aging. Lighter versions are
medium-bodied with moderate alcohol and tannin levels. The denser versions are
full-bodied with chewy firm tannins and dark berry fruit. Tempranillo is well
suited to long oak maturation and the hallmark for traditional Rioja is the
sweet, coconut-scented American barrels. The cooler appellation of Ribera del
Duero produces Tempranillos with incredible concentration and intensity. Simple
Tempranillo-based wines are great everyday accompaniments to Asian snack foods
such as poh piah and gimbap (Korean rice rolls).


A region in Veneto, northeast Italy, producing wines using a blend of three
varieties – Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Basic Valpolicella is
light, fruity and made to be consumed young. Serious versions have denser red
cherry fruit characters and firmer tannins; however, very few Valpolicella is
made for cellaring. Amarone della Valpolicella uses the same three varieties
but grapes are dried prior to fermentation . Valpolicella, with fairly low
tannins and fruity character, is an extremely versatile wine and works well
with a range of Asian dishes including pan-fried and even spicy Sichuan

Zinfandel / Primitivo

Zinfandel is most closely associated with California and its reputation
ranges from off-dry inexpensive blush wine to serious full-bodied dry red wines
capable of aging. In Italy, it is known as Primitivo and found in the
southernmost regions such as Puglia. As a full-bodied dry red wine, Zinfandel /
Primitivo has ripe strawberry fruit characters and very high alcohol. The
intensely fruity character combined with high alcohol makes it difficult to
pair with many Asian dishes. However, it works well with robust stews and
roasted meats.


Known as Albarino in Spain and Alvarinho in Portugal. The wines are light in
body, high in acidity and express a green apple or citrus character in the
cooler climate of Vinho Verde, Portugal but a distinctive perfume and peachy
aroma similar to Viognier in the warmer region of Rías Baxis, Spain.
Sometimes, a slight prickle can be detected in young wines, adding to their
refreshing character. Albarino is a good accompaniment to seafood and many
Cantonese dishes.


A white grape variety that is a true chameleon, producing a wide range of
quality wine styles under diverse climatic variations. Cool climate styles
produce crisp wines with high acidity and slightly green undertones whereas the
fruit character in warmer climates is more exotic, ranging from stone fruit
expressions to ripe, tropical fruits. Body and alcohol levels vary just as much
– from lean light-bodied wines to high alcohol full-bodied styles.
Chardonnay is equally versatile in the winery and many winemaking techniques
can change the style from barrel fermentation to lees stirring and oak aging.
Chardonnay can be found in nearly all the major wine growing regions and
countries in the world.

Chenin Blanc

This white grape variety has crisp acidity with fruit expressions that range
from citrus fruits to crisp apples. Styles can range from dry innocuous whites
to complex minerally off-dry styles and sweet wines capable of long aging. Many
of the plantings in South Africa and California produce simple wines for early
consumption while some of the best examples come from the Loire Valley in
France, with the potential to age for many years. High acidity makes it perfect
with creamy white sauces and even spicy food.

Fumé Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc was renamed Fumé Blanc in California by Robert
Mondavi in the 1970s and oak maturation became the standard for wines bearing
this name. Barrel fermentation and subsequent oak maturation can give these
typically lean wines more body. Occasionally, Semillon may be added to the
blend. These wines are perfect accompaniments to a wide range of medium-weight
Asian dishes because they have sufficient acidity, body and depth to stand up
to strong flavours. Please see Sauvignon Blanc.


A distinctively, spicy and intensely aromatic full-flavoured variety. The
best dry and sweet examples are found in Alsace, France where the climate
allows the grapes to ripen slowly, keeping the intense aromas balanced to
produce complex wines. Good examples are also found in northern Italy and in
the cooler regions of central Europe. Not an incredibly versatile wine but it
works well with cuisines that have strong aromatics, spices and sweetness in
their cooking such as Thai food.

GrÜner Veltliner

The most widely planted white grape variety in Austria is also found
elsewhere in Europe. The best examples develop Grand Cru Chablis-like
characteristics with age but generally, it produces wines with a light aroma of
white pepper and citrus which, combined with the high acidity, makes for a
great accompaniment to food. A very versatile wine that is great for dim sum,
tempura and a wide range of pan-fried dishes.


This is a very productive varietal producing full-bodied wines, high in
alcohol with a marzipan, dried herbs and sometimes floral character. Its
plantings now outweigh those of Roussanne which is a frequent blending partner
in northern Rhône. Marsanne is known as one of the major white varieties
in the Rhône. Although it has yet to gain popularity in Asia, the
savoury, herbal characters and full body are ideal for a wide range of Korean
and Taiwanese dishes.


Muscat has numerous clones and variations but all of the expressions share
an intensely grapey aroma. Excellent examples of dry styles are found in Alsace
while sweet styles, both fortified and unfortified, are planted in warmer
Mediterranean climates. The simplest wine styles are light-bodied and filled
with grapey, peach and floral aromas and are best consumed young. Sweet styles
can be fortified and the best examples are found in southern France. These
sweet wines are excellent with sticky rice cakes filled with sweet yellow bean
or sesame paste.


A reliable neutral white wine that is wonderful with oysters as well as
sashimi. The best examples are left on their lees for the winter months to give
the wines an extra dimension and rounded mid-palate. The Muscadet region lies
at the western end of the Loire Valley in France.

Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco (Italy)

A widely planted variety in Italy, Alsace, Germany and Austria. In Austria
and Italy, sparkling and still wines are often light and refreshing in
character. Its fuller-bodied examples can be quite similar in character to
Chardonnay and are versatile, great food wines. Sweet styles can also be made
such as those from Austria – Trockenbeerenauslese made from botrytised
Pinot Blanc grapes.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio (Italy)

A white variety producing fresh, crisp and lightly perfumed northern Italian
white wines which are often undistinguished. However, the best examples exhibit
herbal and citrus characters and can be intense, rich and full-bodied such as
those found in Alsace, France. The hint of spices in the richer styles helps
bring out the spices in Indian cuisine.


An aromatic variety with inherently high acidity. In cooler climates, it
expresses floral notes and citrus and apple fruit characters. In warmer
climates, the lime becomes more prominent and passion fruit and stone fruit
aromas can also be found. Rieslings are considered one of the most transparent
varieties since the best examples have a crystal clear way of expressing their
origins, especially their climate and soil. A wide range of styles are found
mainly in cool climate regions in Germany, Austria, Alsace, New Zealand and
Australia. Styles range from dry, lean, rich and full to off-dry and sweet. Its
crisp acidity and versatility make Riesling one of the most dependable
accompaniments to a wide range of Asian dishes.


Improved clones of Roussanne have encouraged plantings in the south of
France and California because it is capable of producing wines of high quality
and finesse with ability to age. The wines have very distinctive character
reminiscent of herbal tea which adds aromatics to Marsanne / Roussanne blends
frequently found in northern Rhône.

Sauvignon Blanc

A hugely popular international variety widely planted in Bordeaux, Loire and
New Zealand producing crisp and refreshing herbaceous wines. It can be fresh,
light and crisp or full-bodied, barrel-fermented and matured. The former
examples are often from cool climates and are wonderful with the range of
seafood dishes from Mumbai to Tokyo. Fuller-bodied styles are denser and can
express characters of flint and chalk such as the wines from
Pouilly-Fumé in Loire Valley, France. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is
often blended with Semillon and produces food-friendly wines that have the
weight as well as the acidity to match numerous white meat dishes such as
Sichuan-style chicken or Thai-style pork with basil.


This variety is rarely found on its own except in Australia. It has a
slightly oily texture, a waxy fruit character that can be confused with
Chardonnay and is capable of producing top quality dry and sweet wine. In the
Hunter Valley, the early harvest Semillons are lovely wines with the ability to
age for decades. When blended with Sauvignon Blanc, it adds roundness and body
as well as extra depth such as with Bordeaux dry whites. As a late-harvest
wine, it is capable of yielding amazingly complex and richly flavoured wines
and the best examples come from Sauternes, Bordeaux.


A widely recognised wine produced in Veneto, northeast Italy. It is made
from Garganega and can contain a small proportion of Chardonnay in the blend.
Most Soaves are light and refreshing with a delicate dried herb and nutty
aroma. This is a lovely and versatile wine that is easy to enjoy.

Trebbiano / Ugni Blanc (France)

Trebbiano is widely planted across Italy except for the far north where the
climate is too cool for the grapes to fully ripen. Given its rather bland
character, it is nearly always blended with other indigenous varieties with
more interesting aromas such as Grechetto, Malvasia and Verdello. The
restrained neutral fruit characters are actually a benefit to many Asian dishes
where wine is required as just a backdrop accompaniment to a spicy flavourful


The traditional grape of Rueda, Spain, it produces lightly aromatic, elegant
and refreshingly fruity wines. It is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc and
echoes its crisp acid, light-bodied style. Like its blending partner, Verdejo
is a versatile variety and a great partner to many seafood dishes, even spicy
ones like black pepper crab from Singapore.


One of Italy’s classic varieties produced in two DOC Zones, Verdicchio
di Matelica and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi near the Adriatic Sea, which
further explains its ideal accompaniment to seafood. Styles can range from
light and refreshing to fuller, more aromatic styles. Another food wine that
works well with a very wide range of dishes.


This variety is widely planted in Sardinia and to a lesser extent, Liguria;
examples can also be found in Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. In
Sardinia, the grapes are picked early to retain good acidity levels producing
fresh, crisp wines. Recently, fuller styles have started to emerge in the
market but they are still limited.


The finest examples of this full-bodied, aromatic variety can be found in
northern Rhône, expressing a delicate floral perfume, peach fruit notes,
mineral characteristics and a silky texture. It is a relatively difficult grape
to grow as it quickly develops high sugar levels which can result in unbalanced
alcoholic wines. The best examples are silky textured, full-bodied, filled with
the scent of flowers and have a persistent finish. The leaner styles with
minerality and fresh acidity are wonderful accompaniments to Thai and
Vietnamese dishes.


This is northern Spain’s most planted white grape variety, known as
Viura in Rioja and Macabeo in Catalunya. In the latter area, it is often used
for making sparkling wine, Cava. In Rioja, it is often aged in oak, producing a
medium-bodied wine, ideal for food. While other regions such as France have
plantings, it is not as significant as in northern Spain.

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