Appellations…by Any Other Name

Many things are often included on a wine label (see 5/18/11 post How to Read a Wine Label) and one of them is the Appellation. This is a big topic so I will only introduce it here. The appellation on a bottle of wine is an indication of the geographic place where the grapes that went into making that wine came from. There is usually a specific percentage that is required before a particular appellation can be used. In the United States our  Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) designates American Viticultural Areas. By the end of 2010 there were just under 200 different AVA’s. Since California is the most widely known, though they were not the first (Missouri actually had the first AVA back only as far as 1980), I will use them as my example. If the wine says California on the label and shows no other location, then 75% of the grapes in that wine must come from the state of California. The remaining 25% of the grapes can be sourced from anywhere else in the United States. If the grapes were imported from somewhere else the label must say so. If the label says Napa Valley as the most specific location then 85% of the grapes that make up that wine must have come from within Napa Valley. If the label says Rutherford or Howell Mountain or Oakville (all smaller AVA’s within Napa Valley) then 85% of the grapes must come from that much smaller source area. It is a way for wine producers to to tell you specifically the terroir of the wine. If you as a wine enthusiast have visited or tasted wines you liked from a specific area you might be inclined to like other wines from that area and have enough information to then seek them out. It is a pride of place thing when you see more narrow designations. As you learn more about the incredible diversity of wines you’ll see all of the elements that make each wine so very different from another. A key component is where the grapes come from. That place, that parcel, that row, that vine may have its own soil composition, microclimate, exposure to sun and rain, leaft canopy, etc. that will distinguish it from a parcel, a row, a vine an acre, a mile, a county away. The same chardonnay grapes grown in different places will yield a different wine. I like zinfandel, which is grown all over California but is particularly good from the Lodi sub-AVA of San Joaquin Valley, which is in turn a sub-AVA of California. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel says Lodi right on the label. Lodi has a Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights, and a soil composition of mostly deep loam with areas that are rocky, similar to the Rhone regions of France. Some of the oldest vines in the state still produce here. Tasting wines from this area taught me that I might like old vines from other parts of the world. Learning more about the wine’s appellation will help lead you to other wines you may like to try. The more you discern about a wine you enjoy the better able you will be to select your next potential favorite. In another post I will give some practical tips for if I like a wine from [fill in the blank place] then I might like a wine from [fill in the blank place].

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About WiningWays

Wine writing, appreciation, and education, including tasting, evaluation, and food pairings a specialty. Member, Society of Wine Educators.
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