Let’s talk about wine regions. I went to Paris for my study abroad semester in college, and I was really excited because, you know, PARIS. I should remind you that, at this point, all I could tell you about wine was that it was red or white and that I only drank white wine. Right before I left, my grandpa tried to give me a crash course in French wine regions, and all I could remember is that pinot noir is called “Burgundy” in France. I couldn’t have told you why, except I thought that maybe it had something to do with the color burgundy. Then I went to France and drank a lot of wine and starting drinking red wine, and then I learned a thing or two about wine regions in Europe.
Old World vs New World
“Old World” (ie European) wines are classified by region instead of grape varietals. This is because Old World regulations revolve around a “this is the way it’s always been” mentality that you just don’t have in New World wine regions.
In Europe, there are very strict regulations about which grape you can plant in which region and what proportions of each grape are in your wines depending on where you are. If you’re French, then you have grown up knowing that the Burgundy region grows mostly Pinot Noir grapes. Instead of saying you’re drinking a Pinot Noir, you can just say you’re drinking a Burgundy wine, and everyone will know that it probably means a Pinot Noir.
For (another) example, if you’re in Italy, and you want to make a Chianti wine, it must be least 80% Sangiovese grapes, and they must all be from the Chianti region of Italy (in Tuscany). If you get all your grapes from the limited Chianti Classico sub-region, then you get to put a nifty little label on your bottle and call it a Chianti Classico. So, if you’re drinking a Chianti Classico, you know what grapes the wine is made from and where they are grown.
In the newer wine regions, such as the US, Australia, and South America, wine doesn’t have the traditional regulations that Europe has, so any grape can be grown anywhere. This makes the practice of labeling wines by varietal much more practical than labeling them by their region. Often, you’ll hear wines classified as “a California Merlot” or a “Washington Merlot”, which gives you a little more information about the wine, but the region alone won’t tell you what is in the wine you’re drinking.
In this series, we’ll talk about the different wine regions in the world; where they are and what grapes grow in which region.