When examining a bottle of white Burgundy (Burgundy is a wine region in France) many might not realize that they are looking at a bottle of Chardonnay. Yes, that is right. European wines tend to be categorized by their region while wines from the new world tend to be categorized by their grape varietals. Europeans tend to focus on what is called terroir or the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. California Chardonnays tend to be a very different style and that style generally comes from the wine making process rather then the terroir like their European counterparts. California wine makers in many cases will use different wine making styles and one of the most popular is aging in oak barrels which adds a butteriness or creaminess to the flavor of Chardonnay.
In old world wines, grapes produced in a given region are generally indigenous of that region. In Italy wines may have a DOC classification which means “designation of controlled origin.” and there are very strict rules which need to be followed regarding quality and authenticity to get this classification. In the region of Tuscany there are very high quality wines known as Super Tuscans produced by innovative wine makers but because these wine makers include non-indigenous grapes, particularly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah these wines will not receive the DOC classification.
Contrast that to the USA or Even South America where Oregon produces exquisite Pinot Noir which is the Red Burgundy grape of France. Mendoza, Argentina is well known for Malbec which is a red Bordeaux grape of France as other popular grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot (and very occasionally, Carménère) which all have been transplanted throughout the new world and are also red Bordeaux grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is originally a white Bordeaux grape that has been produced in New Zealand since the 1970’s and now the Marlboro region of New Zealand makes some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.
So next time you’re drinking a sparkling wine and wonder why it doesn’t say Champagne on the bottle remember. Champagne has to be made in the Champagne region of France and follow the rules of Champagne to labelled a true Champagne.
(Written by Michael Sundburg)