Grape-Region Decoder Ring

A colleague of mine was recently in a Spanish restaurant where she was presented with a simple wine list, about 10 whites and 10 reds, but not one wine was recognizable. Everything was lowercase print and it was not clear what was the italygrape or the region or the producer… Confusing to say the least. And while a lovely wine steward helped her select a nice wine to try, that kind of menu can be frustrating, even with only 20 wines. To help on that end, here is a quick cheat sheet on grapes & regions from Spain and Italy (since these are often the ones that have the more confusing indigenous grape varieties to stump us).

White Wines

What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?


A region in northwest Spain, Rueda produces white wines made from the Verdejo grape, occasionally with some Sauvignon Blanc blended in.

Crisp, dry, refreshing, with an almost herbaceous character. Good citrus and mineral aromas and flavors. If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, you will probably enjoy Rueda.


A grape from the Galacia region of Spain – Rias Baixas to be exact.

Makes a delicious aromatic wine, with floral and tropical fruit notes. Very crisp acidity balances this wine out – a perfect match for seafood.


A white grape grown in Southern Italy.

Apple and bananas. Not really taste like that, but can have great tropical fruit aromas and flavors, but not too heavy. A good medium-body wine.


A grape from Piedmont region of Italy.

Floral and nutty, with stone fruits like apples and pears as well. Crisp, medium-bodied. This is a very cool variety and goes with lots of foods.


What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?


A red grape from Spain, also known as Mourvedre in France and most other wine-producing regions. Monestrell wines usually come from Jumilla, Yecla or other regions in Spain.

Often from old-vines, Monestrell makes wines with concentrated ripe black fruit and spice. Typically rich and intense, occasionally “jammy”


A region just south of Barcelona in Spain, producing wines from old-vine Carignan and Garnacha in sandy soils

Very concentrated and intense, Priorat can have structured tannins with concentrated fruit. Some bottles are collectibles and age-worthy.


Barbera is a grape that actually makes it onto the label of the wine. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba are the most popular.

Barbera is a light bodied grape with lots of great fruit and acid – excellent food wine! Think pasta with red sauce.


It’s Zinfandel! Same grape DNA, but different name when it comes from Italy.

Also has a different flavor profile. Primitivo is not as concentrated and dense as some California Zinfandel. More rustic spice going on. But great fruit as well.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Montepulciano is the GRAPE here, Abruzzo is the region

Lots of ripe fruit and easy drinking. These are very approachable wines.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Montepulciano is the REGION here and the grape is Sangiovese, which is the noble grape (vino nobile) of the region.

Similar to Chianti. Sangiovese-based Tuscan red with good acid, cherry fruits and dusty tannins.

We’ll follow up to this segment next month so let us know what other grapes and regions cause confusion!