Appellation in Wine Selection
by Karl Webber, Beer & Wine department
Let’s talk about appellation. No, I’m not talking about a hike on the Appalachian Trail. When the former spelling is used with regard to wine, it’s a reference to where the wine came from and specifically, where the grapes were grown. It won’t always mean where the wine was actually made because many wines are made off site of the vineyards where the grapes are grown.
Appellation indicates the country, region, state and/or county in which the grapes were grown. It can be reduced even further to certain vineyards or locations within a vineyard. Imagine a big circle with corresponding circles on the inside getting smaller and smaller.
In the U.S., wines are named for the grape from which they’re made and there must be a minimum of 75% of that grape in the wine. In Europe, wines are named for the region in which the grapes are grown, even though the same types of grapes are used to make wine as here in the U.S. Some European wines for export to the U.S. are now using the grape type on the label to make it easier for consumers to determine grape varietal type.
With European wines, appellation is important in the sense of knowing your geography when choosing wine because the label may not even contain the name of the grape. It is less mysterious in the U.S. because we use the varietal naming system. As an aside, blended wines that contain less than the minimum 75% of a single grape from which they would be named can be called any name. This is where appellation comes in.
Think about those circles again. If a label says American Riesling, the grapes could be from anywhere in the U.S. If it says California chardonnay, the grapes are from California only. If it says Napa Valley cabernet, the grapes are from Napa Valley only. As the circles get smaller, factors of geography, climate, and soil become even more important related to appellation.
Napa Valley in California is about 30 miles long and from one to five miles wide, yet contains a wildly varying degree of growing climates. Now we’re talking about smaller circles within circles, such as Calistoga, Rutherford, or Oakville. These are towns along state highway 29 and you may see them on your wine label.
The circles can then keep getting smaller to the wineries within towns and even to certain vineyards within the wine estate itself. This is where the much-prized single vineyard cabernets would originate.
I hope that this information is helpful to you in understanding and choosing wines. Also, I hope it will encourage you to make new selections based on appellations. Saluté.