Cariñena is the same grape as the French Carignan. As in France, it used only as a blending grape, giving additional alcohol and adding structure to the wine. In Rioja, it is called Mazuelo and is sometimes found in blends along with Tempranillo and Garnacha. It is also used in Priorato to blend with Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. There is also a DO and a town in Spain with the same name.
Monastrell is the same grape as the French Mouvedre. Monastrell does very well in the harsh and hot Spanish climate and is very resistant to disease. It produces wines that are very high in alcohol and body, and have a great deal of color. Monastrell is the most common grape used in the DO's of Jumilla, Yecla, Bullas, and Alicante. It also goes by Mataro in Catalan.
Graciano is a blending grape native to Rioja. It is used to add aromatics, tannins, and acidity to Rioja wines. Its production is very small, accounting for only 4% of the total grapes grown in Rioja. It is usually found planted in between the other grape varietals in the vineyard. If you want to impress your friends and sound really cool, you should pronounce it like Grathiano, because that's the way they say it in Spain!
Garnacha Tinta, which is the same grape as the French Grenache, is the most widely planted grape in Spain. It does well in the hot and arid areas so common to Spain. Garnacha is an important grape in many Rioja blends, and it is the primary grape in wine from Priorato. Garnacha produces a wine that is juicy and spicey. Some of these wines can be quite light bodied and fruity, while others, like Priorat, are much fuller bodied, dark, and spicey.
Tempranillo is the most prestigous grape grown in Rioja and Ribeira del Duero in Spain. It produces less alcholic wines than garnacha and can age very well, especially when it is blended. Tempranillo benefits from a cooler climate and requires more rainfall than garnacha. It produces a full bodied wine that has a fair amount of tannins, and often has notes of coffee or tobacco. Tempranillo also goes by the following names: Ull de Llebre (catalan), Tinta de Toro,Tinto Fino, Tinta del País, and Cencibel.
Malbec is a grape that originally found its home in Cahors in France, but has since fallen largely out of favor there and has risen to fame in South America, particularly in Argentina. It is allowed to be used as a blending grape in Bourdeaux and the Loire, although it is rarely seen these days. In Cahors it must be at least 80% of the blend, and it produces gamey, inky dark wines with moderate ageing possibilities. In Argentina, and to some extent Chile, Malbec is more spicey and rich, and can age for a very long time.
Torrontés is the name for a grape that exists around Galicia in Spain, and in Argentina, although they are not actually the same grape. In Spain, the grape shows up in white wines from Ribeiro. In Argentina, there are actually three different strains-- Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino, of which Riojano is the most important for export purposes. Torrontés Riojano at its best is aromatic and full bodied with high acidity, somewhat similar to Muscat. At its worst it can have very high alcohol and taste bitter. It is extremely well adapted to the high altitiude arid conditions often found in Argentina.
Sangiovese is Italy's most planted grape. It's at its best in Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It has think skin and can be prone to rot. It can often have a long ripening season, with harvests in Tuscany often not coming until October. This makes a long-lived, high-alchohol wine in hot years, and an overly acidic, high-tannin wine in cold years. Sangiovese is increasingly grown in areas outside Italy due to its popularity.
Cabernet Franc is a cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's less intense than it's cousin, softer in tannins, and ripens earlier. It's historic homeland is in the Loire valley and the cooler damper soils of St-Emilion. In St-Emilion it's planted to blend with Merlot, and in the Médoc and Graves it is planted as insurance in case Cabernet Sauvignon fails to ripen. The classic note of Cabernet Franc is a grassy character, which can be quite intense in northern Italy, but is at its best in Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny, and Anjou-Villages.
Almost every single red wine produced in Bordeaux is a blend of several grape varieties. This is in part because of the varying climate. Different grapes react differently to changes in weather: some may have thick skins that are more resistant to rot, while some others might ripen earlier or later in the season. The wine maker's job in Bordeaux is to mix these different varieties based on the weather in that given year, so as to produce the best wine possible. This method has been perfected over many generations of Bordeaux wine makers. While there are technically 14 grape varieties permitted under the AC regulations, in reality only 5 black grapes and 3 whites are ever used:
Cabernet is the classic black grape variety of Bordeaux. In the Médoc, it makes up 75% of the blend in wines. Throughout Bordeaux however, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up only 29% of the planting, because it produces relatively lower yields. The wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux are quality wines high in tannin. The classic aroma is of blackcurrants, but if the grapes do not ripen fully, it will have more of a vegetal quality, too tough to drink unless softened by blending with Merlot. It grows best on drained, warm, gravel soils.
This grape is grown mainly in Saint-Emilion, and somewhat in the Médoc and Graves. It has larger yields that Cabernet Sauvignon, but less body. The typical flavors are herbaceous and stalky, and the wine matures more rapidly than Cabernet Sauvignon. It prefers the same type of soil as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot produces a medium yield of full-bodies, moderately tannic wine. It can add softness, richness, and body to Cabernet Sauvignon in blends. The most important areas for Merlot are Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, where it is grown on limestone soil. By itself, Merlot doesn't have enough character to make a successful wine, unless it is grow in very low yields. When a Merlot wine like this is produced, it is still always blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc to add fruit aromas, color, and tannin.
Malbec in Bordeaux is mainly used for basic, easy to drink red wines, in areas like Bourg and Blaye. Its popularity is small and is on the decline.
This black grape is used only as a small additive in blends, to add tannin, color, and notes of spice to very fine Bordeaux wines.
Sémillon is the most planted white grape in Bordeaux. Because of its thin skin, it is very prone to rot. This makes it an excellent candidate for botrytized sweet wines. It produces full-bodied wines with a gold color.
Sauvignon Blanc is the exception to the rule that all Bordeaux wines are blends. In Bordeaux it does have the classic Vegetal and grassy aromas. It is sometimes blended, usually with Sémillon, where it provided high acidity to contrast with Sémillon's potential flabbiness.
Muscadelle has a distinctive grape flavor and is used as an important but minor element in sweet wines.