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.