Virtually all New World wines are labelled with the name of the grape as the most prominent item. That is not so for European wines, with the exception of Alsace. This state of affairs is at last changing, but only for the least expensive wines.
Previously, and even now for the classic wines, European wines have been labelled by region, domain or estate, producer and shipper. Very often there is no indication at all of the grape type (or combination). What is Chassagne-Montrachet? Actually a superb Chardonnay from Burgundy, but it won’t say Chardonnay on the label and Burgundy will be unreadably small. What is Chateau Latour? Actually a blend, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, from Bordeaux and again no such indication on the label. And it isn’t only the French; what is Piesporter Michelsberg? It goes on. There are thousands of these names – 10,000 Chateaux in 57 Appellations in the Bordeaux region alone. No wonder people find choosing wine difficult; less wonder that continental Europeans wonder why their wine exports have fallen.
In the pages of this section I will focus on the type of grape and explain what labels it might hide behind. However some of the most important wine styles are blends of grape varieties and I include some of these. Knowing the character of each constituent grape helps you appreciate these wines.
I shall concentrate on French wines because (a) they are the archetypes on which New World wines are based, and (b) they are made for drinking with food, indoors, in a climate rather like ours in the UK. However I shall not be exclusive, other nations will get a look in.