The answer to that question may depend on where you live. The wine world is broken into two overarching regions: Old world and new world. You live in the old world if your country was a conqueror; you live in the new world if your country was a conquest. We’re talking about the past couple of hundred years – the Vikings aren’t part of this equation.
Most of the old world is in Europe, and most of the new world is in the southern hemisphere (though obviously not all). North America is firmly in the new-world category.
If you have an old-world point of view, you probably look at the wine world through its regions. That’s generally because these areas have wine-making laws that go back about 50 – 100 years, and wine-making traditions that can go back thousands of years. This creates a situation where each region has had generations to figure out what grows best and where. For example, except for some minor exceptions, white from Burgundy will be made from the Chardonnay grape and red from Pinot Noir. Therefore, there’s really no reason to list the grape variety on the label.
If you have a new-world view of wine, grape varieties are what tell you which wines you want to drink. You may prefer Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay. Unfortunately, all of this is very confusing because Pinot Noir from California doesn’t generally taste like Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and certainly not like Pinot Noir from a small appellation in Burgundy.
What’s a wine lover to do?
Since this column is directed toward readers in the new world, going forward I will be covering grape varieties. Obviously, I’m not able to include every possible grape in the world – there are thousands.
My goal is to discuss many different grapes (alphabetically), as well as how they taste locally and around the world. I hope the reader can then better understand grape varieties that may seem alien or obscure, but might appeal to their particular palate.
Please remember though: There are no absolutes in wine.
Up next: Aglianico