We humans like to throw around a lot of terms with the number 7…lucky 7, 7 deadly sins, 7 wonders of the world, the 7 hills of Rome & Istanbul, 7 wise masters, etc. But have you heard of the 7 Noble Grapes?
If you’re a wine enthusiast, but novice like myself, you might have heard someone reference the 7 Noble Grapes while you were out touring a vineyard. I know I have and just nodded my head in agreement not wanting to interrupt with a dumb question.
Well, I love dumb questions, and I am not ashamed of being a novice. So, I was happy to learn about the 7 Noble Grapes in my WSET Foundations Course. The 7 Noble Grapes are 7 international varietals of grapes that are used to make wine that are able to grow almost anywhere and tend to have consistent, true flavors.
There are 3 white grape varietals and 4 red grape varietals that have such acclaim: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah (France)/Shiraz (elsewhere). Let me share the basics of what I learned about each one.
THE 3 NOBLE WHITE GRAPES
Chardonnay – the best-known grape in the world! Vintners love this grape varietal because they can put their own signature style on it. The wines from this grape tend to be full-bodied with a rich, creamy texture. Many have spent time in oak barrels, giving them flavors of vanilla & spice. Cool region chardonnays tend to have aromas of green fruits (apple, pear), citrus notes (grapefruit, lemon) and are high in acidity. Examples: cold region Chablis, warm region California Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc – these wines are intensely fruity and range from light to medium bodied with a refreshing high acidity. They are almost always dry and have strong aromas of green fruit (apple, pear), citrus (grapefruit, lime), herbaceous notes (cut grass, green bell pepper, asparagus). Examples: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre.
Riesling – this grape produces wine that varies drastically. It can range from dry to sweet, light to medium bodies. It is intensely fruity in aroma and flavors range from stone fruits (peach, apricot) to citrus (lime) and floral notes. This is the classic grape of Germany, but can be found in other regions. Examples: Alsatian & Australian Riesling.
THE 4 NOBLE RED/BLACK GRAPES
Cabernet Sauvignon – a true crowd pleaser. Deeply colored, high in tannin, high in acidity, dry, ranges between medium to full-bodied. Typical flavors of black fruit (black currant, black cherry) & herbaceous notes (green bell pepper, mint). Oak is frequently used to soften the tannins and add flavors of spice & vanilla. Often blended, classic examples of Cabernet blends: Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon + Merlot), California & Australia (Cabernet Sauvignon + Shiraz).
Merlot – I like to think of this as a feminine red varietal that is a softer and milder alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. They are typically full-bodied, low to medium tannins. They are intensely fruity in flavor and aromas can range from those of red fruits (plum especially, strawberry) to those of black fruits (blackberry, black cherry). They can gain richness from maturing in oak, which gives aspects of vanilla and spice. An example of a merlot based Bordeaux that is a true Coup de Coeur: St. Émilion.
Pinot Noir – An elegant grape that is lighter in color and body than the other three noble red grapes. Low to medium tannins and high acidity. The wines are marked by flavors of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry). Examples: Burgundy, France (Old World), Willamette Valley, Washington State (New World).
Syrah / Shiraz – called Syrah in France and Shiraz elsewhere, this grape packs a power punch of flavor and intensity. The wines made from Syrah/Shiraz tend to be rich & peppery, deeply colored, full-bodied with medium to high tannins. Aromas include black fruits (black cherry), spice (black pepper, clove), and herbaceous notes of mint. Examples: wines from the Northern Rhône (Côte Rôtie, Hermitage), wines from Shiraz from Australia.
Do you have a love for one of these varietals? Had you ever heard of the 7 Noble Grapes? Tell me.
Link to the Mommelier Wine Jargon Toolkit
 Some experts claim there are actually 18 noble grapes and other claim there should only be 5 noble grapes that are all red. We learned about the 7, and that’s what I’ve heard before.
Photo: “Crown Royal Black Silhouette” License: CC0 Public Domain