Impress your friends and family next time you visit a wine estate by showing them how to tell the different vines apart by their leaves. The study of vine leaves is known as ampelography, and that alone is a pretty cool quiz-night fact to know.

But now that we’ve got that technical word out of the way, we’d like to keep the rest of this article as simple as possible. Below, we’ve listed all the wine grapes grown at Wildekrans Wine Estate, and tried our best to describe the different leaves in the easiest way possible, and included pics for easy reference.

One thing to note is that each vineyard almost has its own personality, and becomes so familiar the winemaker / viticulturist that it is difficult for them to describe. They just instantly recognize the varietal, and whether everything is well, or not, with the vines.

Each vine, and leaf is slightly unique, just like a thumb-print. You learn to recognise them just as you would a loved one in a crowd, yet to describe them to others becomes somewhat difficult as it’s difficult to capture the ‘essence’ amongst the slightly dry sounding visual characteristics.

We’ve added some literal descriptions to ours to make it easier to remember, as no-one wants to read a textbook on a wine estate website!

To start, one quick interesting way to distinguish whether the vine is a red grape vine, or a white wine variety is to look at the overall shape. In most cases, red grape leaves have an almost classic “maple leaf” shape, while white wine grape leaves are more rounded.

Then a few other things to look out for are the lobes and teeth on the leaves. If the leaf were a hand, the lobes would be the fingers. Some leaves have prominent lobes, other leaves have none. The teeth are the serrations on the outside edge of the leaf. Some are jagged and sharp while others are rounded.

You will see us mention sinuses a fair amount below. This has nothing to do with hay-fever, but rather a term for the spaces or gaps between each leaf-lobe. To be specific, there are two main kinds of sinuses to look out for on vine leaves:

Petiolar sinus – Refers to the empty spaces surrounding the stem from the leaf (so the ‘main’ sinus at the ‘top’ of the leaf).

Lateral sinus – deep notches between the lobes (the rest of the sinuses that separate the lobes).

Let’s take a look at some examples below:-

Cabernet Franc

Dark green 5-lobed leaves, slightly open and overlapped with sharp, pointy teeth on the tips. Think of the maple leaf on the Canadian flag if you will.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Mid green leaves with 3-5 lobes with u-shaped sinuses between the lobes. The lobes overlap slightly, giving the sinuses the impression that they have been cut out. Jagged, uneven, slightly rounded teeth on the tips. Think of this one as the leaf with bullet-holes.

Chardonnay

A medium sized leaf composed of five lobes that give a pentagonal shape to the leaf. Very shallow sinuses and short, broad teeth. Think of this one like a cross between and ivy leaf and the Castle of Good Hope…

Chenin Blanc

Medium-sized, round leaves, generally three-lobed and dark green. Resembles jagged angel wings.

Grenache

Medium-sized, mostly entire leaves with a shallow main sinus. Lateral sinuses are narrow and U-shaped. Teeth are short and sharp, and the upper leaf surface is very smooth and waxy. This one looks a bit like a flapping angel.

Hanepoot

Dark green, medium-sized five lobed leaves that are almost entire. Rounded, jagged shape with a very narrow main sinus. Smooth, frilly, dark are the key ingredients to this appearance.

Merlot

Large-sized 5 lobed leaves with well-differentiated lobes that are slightly overlapped. Pentagonal shape with a deep, rounded petiolar sinus. Another maple leaf, but with the texture reminiscent of a mint leaf.

Pinot Noir

Medium-sized, pentagonal shaped leaves, consisting of 3-5 lobes which are slightly overlapped. The lobes face each other towards the lower side of the blade in a coxcomb shape, with short teeth, and a twisted, strongly blistered leaf blade. A bit like a flapping butterfly this one.

Pinotage

Wedge-shaped, oblong large thick leaves, with five lobes, open sinuses with a fairly frequent tooth inside. Short teeth on leaf edges with straight sides. Finely blistered leaf blade with undulation between the veins. The chewed maple-leaf… this one looks like someone has feasted very neatly in the sinuses, and almost left the shape of two bunny ears behind.

Riesling

Small 3 to 5-lobed leaves with lobes often overlapping to appear entire. Closed U-shaped sinuses. Blistered leaf surface, and short, rounded teeth. Think of a pretty frilly rosette when you look at this one.

Sauvignon Blanc

Contorted, medium-sized, leaves with a rounded shape. 3-5 lobes only slightly obvious, with convex leaf that does not lie flat, but is rather ruffled at the edges. Leaves have rounded teeth. U-shaped petiolar sinus. This one is very definitely disc-shaped and frilly…

Semillion

A medium-sized, round leaf, with five lobes. An open or slightly open petiole sinus, short teeth compared to their width at the base with straight or convex sides. Leaf blade is slightly twisted and very regularly blistered. This one looks a lot like a surprised face with a beard!

Shiraz

Medium, mostly 3 to 5-lobed leaves with reduced inferior lateral sinuses, U-shaped petiolar sinus and short, sharp teeth. Leaf surface occasionally blistered and puckered near petiole junction. This one almost looks like a set of angel wings, albeit clumsily asymmetrical at times.

Tempranillio

A large-sized leaf composed of 5-7 lobes which are slightly overlapped, forming a pentagon. Large, sharp teeth. The flame… This one reminds us of the fire emoji.

One of the handiest tips to keep in mind while impressing your friends (and learning) is if you walk around long enough, you’ll eventually find the signage for the particular vineyard block, proudly displaying the varietal and age of the vines in each block. A good way to double-check!

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