There are over four thousand identified and verified wine grapes in the world. Of those, only about 150 of them are planted commercially and in significant amounts. Of those one hundred fifty, nine are considered to be classic wine grapes. Think you can name them? Whites: chardonnay, chenin blanc, Riesling, sauvignon blanc and Semillon. Reds: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and syrah.
What? No zinfandel? No pinot grigio? No viognier? No worries! To be considered a "classic" wine grape, a variety must have proven it can make a considerable quality wine over an extended period of time and be grown well in more than one place. While our world of wine is getting increasingly diverse here in America, generations of Old World winemakers rely on these classic grape varieties. On the other hand, Old World wine makers have a bevy of indigenous grapes at their disposal to create wines we in America may never get the chance to taste, due to small batches made and never exported.
Today we will discover the "M" grapes - only one of which is a "classic."
Merlot - the classic. Known as one of the main Bordeaux red varietals, it is almost always blended in that region. It has also found a footing in California, where it can be done as a stand alone or as a blend. It has also proven itself well in Chile, the Tre Venezie region of Italy, the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, as well as Washington state, New York and Virginia here on US soil. Try a 2010 Napa Valley merlot form Fields Family Wines.
Mourvedre - a major red wine grape of the Rhone region of France, a vital ingredient in their GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends. Thanks to the Rhone Rangers, plantings of this grape, as well as other Rhone varieties, gained ground in California in the mid-1980's. In Spain, this grape goes by the name Monastrell. It is also known in California vineyards as Mataro. Look for a Monastrell coming soon from Riaza Wines in Lodi.
Malvasia - actually a family of grapes, producing both red and white varieties. The white variety is what we find most commonly in the US. It is thought to have originated in Greece, and has flourished in several European vineyards in France, Italy, Portugal (where it is referred to as Malmsey), and Spain, as well as several California vineyards.
Muscat - another one of those "family" grapes, again found in both red and white styles of wine. It can range from a dry white to a sparkling to a sweet dessert red or white. Some names one might see are muscat canelli, orange muscat, black muscat, muscat Alexandria, and muscat blanc a` petits grains. It can be found in many wine growing regions. Known as moscato in Italy, where it's most famous version of thie grape is sweet and slightly sparkling - Moscato d'Asti.
Marsanne - another Rhone varietal, white this time, that is enjoying the California lifestyle! Typically blended in France, in California it has been done as a stand alone varietal. It is also enjoying popularity in Australia and in Washington state.
The list of "M" grapes goes on: macabeo, moscofilero, Muller-Thurgau, mavrodaphne, muscadelle, muscadine, etc., etc., etc. While many of these are indigenous to certain countries, a quick visit to Total Wine might nab a few of them. If you are fortunate enough to come across ANY of the "M" grapes, give them a chance to prove themselves as worthy of being "Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Good!"