Did you know Chardonnay is made from Chardonnay grapes?
Chardonnay is an example of a varietal wine, and is made principally or solely with that type of grape.
U.S. law says that to call a wine by it’s varietal name, it must be at least 75% made with its principal grape. The minimum percentage in Europe and Australia is 85%. What that means is that other random grapes can be all up in your face and you wouldn’t even know it.
Most of the time those sneaky wine makers don’t let you know whether their wine is made entirely from the grape variety, or if they invited other stranger grapes to the party.
Which is weird because varietal wines are no better than non-varietal wines. Strangers can be fun too. They are just new friends we haven’t met yet. I personally welcome all grape varieties to my glass.
If a wine varietal has two or more grapes stated in the name–like Chardonnay-Viognier—the label must have the percentage of each, and those must be the only grapes in the bottle.
Wine makers don’t have a rule saying they have to name the wine by its varietal grape. They could call their wine John’s Special Elixir if they wanted. Most wine makers do this because it is easier to sell to North Americans with a varietal name.
European wines do their own thang. Many European winemakers name their wine for the region their grapes grow.
So Chianti, Cotes du Rhone, Valpolicella, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais (and many more) are all regions and not names of grapes?!
Just when I thought I was beginning to understand! WHY!?
Here’s why, Europeans are smart. This system gives you more information about the wine in your bottle. Each region has different characteristics that are particular to that area. Sunshine, rain, soil, slope of the land, wind and altitude are all examples of how each region is different. All of these factors change the taste of the wine, and each region has different factors. Therefore, it makes sense to name the grapes by the region.
If the U.S. played the same name game, it would make no sense. If a wine were simply named California it would be far too broad. California is 30% larger than Italy, which has over 300 specific wine regions.
This is a photo of my friend Lindsey and I in Tuscany, where Chianti is from. (I’m so cultured, I know)