This one is going to be fun, interesting and very informative. As the title suggests, we are going to talk about how wines are named. For sure you have seen the different wine names or naming styles on wine labels.
So why some wines are named by a town or a region and some wines are named by the grape they are made from?
In the post below, we are going to use bullet points for the different wine naming categories to make them easier to understand.
The most common ways of naming wines:
By their grape variety
By the place where the grapes grew
By the winery that made the wine/ by the person that made the wine / or something random
WINES NAMED BY THE GRAPE (or grapes) VARIETY
American wines are named by the grape variety (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay…).
Wines named by the grape variety are called varietal wines or varietals.
Varietal wine normally has only one grape variety. But each country has different regulations on this. It means that each country or even a wine-growing region can decide the minimum percentage of grapes that has to be in the wine, so the wine will be called a varietal wine.
Varietal wines can have a small % of other grape varieties added to them. This is typically done to improve the wine or achieve a specific style.
If a varietal wine has other varieties in it, most of the time, it is not specified on the label.
Varietal wine ensures you the minimum % of the grape (designated for that wine) to be in the wine.
Fact: When a wine is sold in the US and is named with two grape varieties Sémillon-Chardonnay, the label must state the % of each variety, and the total must be 100%.
WINES NAMED BY THE PLACE OF GRAPE GROWING
The majority of European wines are named by the region where the grapes are grown. - Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti and others.
By naming the wines, by the place of grape growth, the consumer can get more information about each wine and easily understand what is in the bottle.
The growth place shows which grapes are grown there to make that wine (due to strict regulations) and the place has a significant influence on the character of the grapes and later the wine.
To be able to understand this naming of wines (and the character those wines will have), one must know something about the specific growing region/places. Like climate, type of soil, sun exposure…
Some non-European countries like America, Australia, Chile, South Afrika are putting both the place of grape growing and the grape variety on their labels. - However here the fundamental thing is the grape variety and not so much the place of grape growing itself. Therefore, also the place of growth is usually written in smaller letters. - Still, it is essential to understand how a Merlot from South Africa will taste.
If a wine has on its labelled Sonoma Valley, it merely means that the grapes will be 85% from that region. - The naming “Sonoma Valley” will not define the type of wine or specify the grape variety.
Non-European grape growing areas are broader than European grape growing areas. F.eks. California and Chianti Classico in Italy. Therefore, if a wine is named California, it will tell you almost nothing.
WHAT IS TERROIR?
Is the European concept that wines should be named by the place they come from.
“Terroir” is a French word with no direct translation in English, so everyone just uses “Terroir”. à “terre” means soil.
The explanation/definition about “terroir”: is the combination of the natural factors (top and subsoil, climate, sun, rain, wind, fog), the hillside slope, and altitude that a particular vineyard lies on.
Chances of two vineyards having the same “terroir” are very slim.
Shortly: Terroir is a unique combination of the natural factors of a specific vineyard.
WINES NAMED BY SOMETHING RANDOM
The brand name is usually the name of the company or the winemaker/producer that made the wine.
Most wines have brand names (see examples below), including the wines named by their grape variety. Most common brand names are the names of wineries that make the wines.
Example: Cakebread (brand name) Sauvignon Blanc (grape name).
Example: Vigna '800 (brand name) Valpolicella (place of growth).
Some wineries make a number of different wines and the brand name is not explicit enough to be the actual name of the wine (see examples below).
Example: Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon -> is made by the Robert Mondavi Winery and the grape name Cabernet Sauvignon.
Example: Fontodi Chianti Classico -> is made by the Fontodi winery and the place of grape growing Chianti Classico.
Some wines have only a brand name. Wine can be named only Salamandre and red French wine, and it will not provide any other identification or very little.
Wines named only with a brand name and without indication of grape variety or place of grape growing (other than the country of production) are considered the most inexpensive and basic wines on the market. Those wines are from the EU and are not vintage-dated.
The producers of specific wines create proprietary names. F.eks. Tapestry, Conundrum, Insignia, Trilogy.
American wines with proprietary names usually contain wine from a blend of different grape varieties.
European wines with proprietary names are probably wines from grapes which, are not approved for that wine-growing region, so the regional name will not appear on the label.
A brand name can apply for a number of different wines, a proprietary name usually refers to only for one specific wine.
Example: Under the Fetzer brand from California: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a number of their wines.
Example: Under the Louis Jadot brand from France: Beaujolais, Pouilly-Fuissé, Mâcon-Villages.
Proprietary named wines are typically made in small quantities, high in quality and are expensive.
Names as Burgundy, Chianti, Chablis, Champagne, Rhine wine, Sherry, Port and Sauternes are names that should apply only to wines produced in those specific places. -> Sadly these names have been misused for a long time, so they have lost their original meaning.
The European Union has been negotiating with the US government for two decades, and they have agreed that these names (mentioned above), can no longer be sued for American wines.
Wines which had those names (mentioned above) before March 2006 are allowed to continue to use those names.
COMMON EUROPEAN PLACE-NAMES FOR WINES
In the table below, you are going to find some of the common European place named wines. These wines are also some of the most known European wines. The first one Beaujolais is one of my all-time favourites. Try it and you will know what I am talking about.
Source: Wine all-in-one for dummies, by Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Maryann Egan. Page 34-39.
Ps. Click on the pictures of the wine bottles to read more about them and where to get them.
As always have a Winederful day! :)