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A friend of mine loves Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and with good reason. It’s a fresh aromatic white wine with grapefruit tastes and bright acidity. But would she enjoy it just as much by a different name?
Whenever we get together I bring a bottle of Sancerre and state: “This is Sauvignon Blanc also, but it’s grown in France so it’s labeled by the region.” She’s heard me repeat this over and over again, but is too polite to respond like my children would, “I know, I know, you’ve told me a million times.”
Granted, it took me something like a million tries to finally memorize which grape varieties are grown in which regions in France, Italy and Spain. Generally, European wines — with the exception of wines from Germany, Austria and a few other countries — are labeled by region. For example, Sancerre is a white wine from the Loire Valley region of France produced with Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
In America, the wine industry has made this simpler thanks to Frank Schooner, an American wine writer and merchant, who in the 1960s began promoting varietal labeling for consistency in marketing. Consumers could then recognize the wines they enjoyed by seeing the variety clearly stated on the label. Brilliant!
The most familiar wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But here’s where the European wines get confusing. French red Bordeaux is a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while a red Burgundy is 100 percent Pinot Noir. If you see white Burgundy or Chablis from France this wine is produced from only Chardonnay grapes. Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc, and white Bordeaux is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
A number of European wine producers are now including the grape variety on the label for obvious reasons – it’s easier to identify the wines. So pick up a bottle and compare the similarities and differences of the same wine variety grown in different wine regions.
Tags: Frank Schooner,
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.
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