Skip to content Skip to footer

Less Common Red Grape Varieties Used in Wine


Some red grape varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo may not be as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, and Zinfandel, but they shouldn’t be ignored.

The following table describes these additional red grape varieties and their wines, which you can encounter either as varietal wines or as wines named for their place of production.

Some Less Common Red Grapes and Their Characteristics
Grape Type Characteristics
Aglianico From Southern Italy, where it makes Taurasi and other age-worthy, powerful red wines, high in tannin.
Barbera Italian variety that, oddly for a red grape, has little tannin but very high acidity. When fully ripe, it can give big, fruity wines with refreshing crispness. Many producers age the wine in new oak to increase the tannin level of their wine.
Cabernet Franc A parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, and often blended with it to make Bordeaux-style wines. Ripens earlier, and has more expressive, fruitier flavor (especially berries), as well as less tannin. A specialty of the Loire Valley in France, where it makes wines with place-names such as Chinon and Bourgeuil.
Gamay Excels in the Beaujolais district of France. It makes grapey wines that can be low in tannin — although the grape itself is fairly tannic. Neither the grape called Gamay Beaujolais in California nor the grape called Napa Gamay is true Gamay.
Grenache A Spanish grape by origin, called Garnacha there. (Most wine drinkers associate Grenache with France’s southern Rhône Valley more than with Spain, however.) Sometimes Grenache makes pale, high-alcohol wines that are dilute in flavor. It can make deeply colored wines with velvety texture and fruity aromas and flavors suggestive of raspberries.
Nebbiolo Outside of scattered sites in Northwestern Italy — mainly the Piedmont region — Nebbiolo just doesn’t make remarkable wine. But the extraordinary quality of Barolo and Barbaresco, two Piedmont wines, prove what greatness it can achieve under the right conditions. The Nebbiolo grape is high in both tannin and acid, but also gives enough alcohol to soften the package. Its color can be deep when the wine is young but can develop orangey tinges within a few years. Its complex aroma is fruity (strawberry, cherry), earthy and woodsy (tar, truffles), herbal (mint, eucalyptus, anise), and floral (roses).
Sangiovese This Italian grape has proven itself in the Tuscany region of Italy, especially in the Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti districts. Sangiovese makes wines that are medium to high in acidity and firm in tannin; the wines can be light-bodied to full-bodied. The aromas and flavors of the wines are fruity — especially cherry, often tart cherry — with floral nuances of violets and sometimes a slightly nutty character.
Tempranillo Tempranillo is Spain’s candidate for greatness. It gives wines deep color, low acidity, and only moderate alcohol. Modern renditions of Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero region and elsewhere in Spain prove what color and fruitiness this grape has. In more traditional wines, such as those of the Rioja region, much of the grape’s color and flavor is lost due to long wood aging and to blending with varieties that lack color, such as Grenache.