The Grape Species Almost All Red Wines Come From

One of the true pleasures of wine — besides drinking it of course — is learning about the sheer diversity of wine types cultivated across the world. Masterclass says there are an estimated 10,000 varieties of wine grapes grown, an almost unfathomable number to anyone whose wine vocabulary stops at Pinot Noir and Merlot. Wine is also intricately tied to climate and growing conditions like soil type, with variables like proximity to salt air having an impact on the wine's characteristics (via Vine Pair). This combination of different varietals and the influence of regional conditions makes enjoying wine an endless process of surprise and discovery that no person ever truly finishes.

It did not always used to be that way. Wine's variety is the product of thousands of years of cross breeding and cultural diffusion. Many of the most well-known, classic wines of today, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are descended from a smaller number of "founder grapes" that arose in specific regions, like Cab Sav's French parent the Cabernet Franc (via Wine Spectator). Some grape types are thousands of years old, so old we don't even know their specific origins yet. But what is even more amazing is that much of this diversity all happens within one species of grape.

Vitis vinifera is the origin of most well-known red wines

Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon — you may think there is a big difference, but according to Wine Folly, they all come from one species of grape vine, Vitis vinifera. The granddaddy of all your favorite dry reds likely originated somewhere in eastern Turkey, or the Caucasus mountain ranges, where wild grapes still resemble the now-domesticated species (via Wine Folly). As traders spread grapes through northern Africa and into the Mediterranean, they adapted to their new surroundings, or as Thought Co. notes, were bred with local wild varieties, giving birth to the massive range of styles that can be found within Vitis vinifera today.

That is a pretty imposing heritage for just one specific grape, but Vitis vinifera did not stop at red. According to Cornell, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio — all popular white wines that were bred to adapt to colder climates — sprung from the same family tree. So whether you need a nice minerally white to pair with your seafood, or an acidic red for your pizza, next time you reach for a bottle, the chances are you have Vitis vinifera to thank for making your meal (and our culinary world) that much better.