Wine Names: What Did You Say Your Name Was?

There is plenty of confusion about wine names. What do they mean? Why are they so mysterious? Can’t they make it easy for us?

No, they can’t make it easy for us because wine naming is an established custom that goes back centuries. Our only recourse is to understand the different ways that a wine can be named. That will give us a clue as to where the wine may come from. The short answer is that European wines tend to be named for the place where they were made, while wines made in the “new world”, that means everywhere else, tend to be named for the grape variety. Following this logic, lets say that you find a wine named Burgundy; this means that it comes from one of France's wine regions, specifically the Burgundy region.

Soon after, you come across a Pinot Noir; this tells you that the wine is made from the Pinot Noir grape. The crazy thing is that a French red Burgundy wine is made from the Pinot Noir grape!

But why this crazy quilt of names?

Actually they are intended to provide information. The European way is meant to tell you where a wine was made because the place has a great deal to do with the end result. The name of the wine region accurately describes the type of grape grown in the area; and it gives us information about the soil and climate conditions that define the particular wine that you have just tasted. Names that indicate a grape, rather than a region, focus on the characteristics of the grape itself; thus putting less importance on the climate conditions, soil, and other elements. Of course, climate and soil are extremely important in the production of wines. It's just that this way of naming wines chooses to de-emphasize those particular aspects, and emphasizes the distinctiveness of the grape.

To make it even more complicated, there are some names that tell you nothing about the region or the grape. These are brand names, usually trademarked, and usually using a blend of wines.

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There, now you know all about names.