When you think of wine naming and wine labeling, you need to think about the “Old World” and “New World” of wine. “Old World” is Europe. “New World” is everywhere else.
With thousands of years of wine-making experience, the “Old World” knows exactly what grapes grow best in what places and what combinations of grapes work best together.
Because of this deep knowledge, the “Old World” tout terroir (the growing environment for the grapes) as the most important factor in determining a wine’s characteristics, and they name their wines after the regions (e.g., Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone).
When you taste a Red Burgundy, you know what to expect. Within reason, a Red Burgundy tastes like a Red Burgundy tastes like a Red Burgundy.
Interestingly, there are two reasons for a Red Burgundy to taste somewhat predictable. The first is terroir. The second is the wine naming and labeling rules European winemakers are beholden to follow. One of these rules is that Pinot Noir is the only red wine grape that can be grown in the Burgundy region of France. So when you say a Red Burgundy tastes like a Red Burgundy tastes like a Red Burgundy, you’re really saying a Pinot Noir tastes like a Pinot Noir tastes like a Pinot Noir.
In the “New World” of CA, Australia and other non-European locations, where we don’t have a long history of terroir, and we don’t have the same kind of wine naming and labeling rules around what grapes can be planted where, it’s more informative to call wines by the names of the grapes.
Pinot Noir is planted in Napa Valley, for example, alongside many other red grapes. If you were to say that a particular Pinot Noir tastes like a Red Napa Valley tastes like a Red Napa Valley tastes like a Red Napa Valley, you’d be in trouble because of the many different grapes grown in Napa Valley. It makes much more sense in CA and the rest of the “New World” to call the wine by its grape name, Pinot Noir.
Because “New World” wines are relatively new, the awareness of grape names is relatively new. Until the 1960s, most people had no clue about actual grape varieties. They might have known that they liked Red Burgundies, but they didn’t know that that meant that they liked Pinot Noir.
My next article will talk about how this relatively new knowledge of grape names has sparked some interesting discussions around blended wines vs. non-blended wines.
For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts about terroir and anything else having to do with “Old World” (Europe) vs. ”New World” wines, wine making and wine traditions.
Are all wines necessarily named after a particular grape-growing region (e.g. zinfandel, chardonnay, etc.)? Is there a secondary way of naming wines (if not named by region)?
In the “Old World” (Europe), wines are named after regions. In the “New World” (non-Europe), they’re named after the grapes.
It’s a philosophical difference in that the Old World’s tradition touts the region as the bigger determinant of wine character and quality. Hence, they name their wines after the region. The New World’s tradition touts the grape as the bigger determinant of wine character and quality. Hence, they name their wines after the grape.
We know that the truth is somewhere in between.
Really interesting…It seems logical that what you say about the truth being somewhere in between is correct…both the type of grape and the environment it is grown in would seem to have an influence on the wine. What about the actual processing of the wine? what type of cask it is aged in, how the grapes are crushed, etc.? how much impact does that have on a wine and is there a way to know that one wine produced by one winery is apt to be better than another?
Donna, you bring up a really good point. The third piece of the puzzle is the actual wine making. What type of oak is used? How long is the wine kept in oak? Is the wine aged and fermented in oak, or just aged in oak? Is the oak new or old? French or American? Does the wine go through malolactic fermentation? How are the grapes handled? Everything plays a role.
Really interesting! Since most of my experience is with “new world” wines I had no idea that the “old world” wines were named for the region. It is good to know that red burgundy is the same as Pinot Noir. Now that I know that I won’t be as hesitant to drink a red burgundy. Just gives me more choices in the wine world. 🙂
It is definitely helpful to know which wines correspond to which French regions. The good nes is that in most restaurants, they’ll say Pinot Noir, France, since they know most of us wouldn’t know what a Red Burgundy is. But this is helpful when shopping for wines at a store – or in France 🙂
This is so interesting, really makes me want to learn more about what I’m drinking.
I love wine, and usually just go by taste. I like it or I don’t. But, you’ve inspired me to get a little more educated. You are one smart wine lady!
The most important thing is to know what you like and honor that. But it is fun to learn a little about wine. The nice thing is whether you know a lot or a little, there’s always more to learn.
I love this, Betty! You make it so understandable & enjoyable. What I think would be fascinating to learn about is the history of appellation and growing prohibitions. Why, for example, do the French care so stringently about “one grape:one region?” It seems so controlling & obsessive. These kinds of “food rules” often have interesting roots, however, so I think it would be interesting to know.
Charlotte, thank you for these great ideas for future blog articles! It does seem incredibly obsessive. I can’t wait to do a little research.