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.
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.
If you've seen the movie Sideways, you know all about Pinot Noir. Right? As he says in the movie, Pinot Noir is a finicky grape, because it has very thin skins. It grows in tight bunches which historically made it susceptible to rot problems. Today this isn't as big a problem because of improvements in spraying techniques. Pinot Noir's classic French home is the Burgundy region, a place with the cool climate perfect for the development of the grape.
Because of its thin skins, Pinot Noir produces a very light-bodied wine, low in tannins. It typically exhibits fruit and perfume aromas, like raspberries, strawberries, or red cherries. Think red fruit here, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon's black fruit. Some prefer Pinot Noir young, while it's fruit flavors are in full bloom. Others enjoy the vegetal and barnyard notes that can develop as Pinot Noir ages in the bottle. Because of the lack of tannins, Pinot Noir is drinkable either very young or old.
Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir's most successful areas include Carneros and Sonoma in California, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Walker bay in South Africa, the Yarra Valley in Australia, and Martinbough, Marlborough and Central Ottago in New Zealand. Pinot Noir is also one of the essential grapes used to make Champagne.
Syrah is a grape that traditionally comes from the Northern Rhône area of France. In most other parts of the world, it's called Shiraz, which is the exact same grape. The Australians started calling their Syrah Shiraz, and their wines became so popular that the rest of the world for the most part has followed suit. In Australia, Syrah is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Syrah/Shiraz wines classically taste like blackberry and fruit flavors. In cooler climates like the Rhône valley, the wine will be high in tannins and acidity and have secondary charateristics of black pepper and occasionally mint. In warmer climates, like Australia, Shiraz is even fuller in body, but has softer tannins and secondary notes of sweeter spices, leather, and sometimes liquorice.