I recently had a guest on my wine tour that had just returned from Europe. She enjoyed the trip immensely but was confused at the way Europeans name their wines. What exactly goes into a Chianti or a Bordeaux blend? In New World wines such as the United States, the label will frequently tell you what variety that bottle holds. Is the wine Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay... just read the labels to find out. However, in Old World wine classification, the label tells you WHERE the wine is from and it is expected that the consumer knows what varieties are grown in that region. It can be very complicated, but to simplify and clear up some of the confusion of Old World wines, here are a few examples of what some of your favorites may contain:
Brunello di Montalcino-100% Sangiovese. Brunello is the local name for Sangiovese.
Chablis - Made from 100% Chardonnay
Champagne – Is normally made from a single variety or blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Pinot Meunier.
Chianti – Mostly Sangiovese with some small amounts added of indigenous grapes and some Internationals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot or some white grapes. It can also be 100% Sangiovese.
Rioja – Red Rioja is mostly a Tempranillo blend with added amounts of Garnacha, Carignan and Graciano.
Bordeaux- Red Bordeaux is primarily a blend of 2-3 grapes from the area. The main grapes are, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, however Malbec, Carmenere and Petit Verdot are also allowed.
Burgundy – Red Burgundy is mostly 100% Pinot Noir with some southern areas being Gamay driven.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape – This can be a blend of anywhere between 13-18 varieties including some white wine. Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Counoise, Cinsault and Roussanne are among the most famous.
Vouvray – Chenin Blanc based which is known as Pineau de la Loire in this area.
I hope this helps to take some of the mystery out of European wine labeling. Cheers!
Wines of the World Class #2
One of the most interesting items I learned in this class was that the Verde Valley was known by the Spaniards as the “Valley of the Grapes”. We have our own local varietal named Vitis Arizonica which is native to Arizona though not a great grape for making wine.
For quality grapes you need a good growing season, and a larger diurnal shift with a gradual temperature change. Soil should be loose and gravely which helps the water to drain. Rocks are good for holding heat, but clay, silt and sand are not the best growing conditions.
Minerals such as nitrogen, magnesium, iron, phosphate, potassium and calcium are also needed to create good wine. Even the PH of a wine plays a part and ranges from 3.0 to 3.6 depending on if it’s white or red.
The latitude, attitude, slope and direction of the slope also affects the quality of the grapes. Those grapes grown on the floor of the Valley tend to be the least expensive since grapes need to struggle to create excellent wines.
I’ve always been mystified with French wine classification, but in this class I learned that if it’s a Burgundy and it’s white, then it’s a Chardonnay and if it’s red well then it’s a Pinot Noir unless it’s a Beaujolais which is a Gamay grape.
In comparing Old World Wines to New World Wines, the Old World wines tend to be food pairing driven, are heavily restricted and labeled according to the place they are grown rather than the varietal.
New World wines have less emphasis on tradition and more on technology. Plus they tend to grow in hotter climates, are more fruit forward, have higher alcohol content and are labeled by the varietal.
Sue Schurgin is the manager of Sedona Wine and Beer Tours. She is studying for her CSW and sommelier certifications.