Wine Designations

Karen Frazier
three wines

Designation is one way of identifying wine types. While it would seem simple to designate wines, in truth labeling laws differ throughout the world. This makes the issue far more complex, and often confusing.

How Wines Are Designated

Winemakers typically label wines in one of two ways: by grape varietal or by style. In general, France, Spain, and Italy designate wine types by region while the United States, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and other New World wine producers tend to designate by varietal (type of grape.)

France

In France, winemakers designate wines by the region. Wine laws are quite complex, and require that only certain grapes be blended into wines from each region. No other winemakers can legally designate their wines in the same way (for example, American wine makers cannot use the designation Champagne, which is only allowed on wines from France's Champagne region made in the traditional methode champenoise). Take a look at a few of France's red wine producing regions:

  • Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines blended with other grapes like Cabernet Franc and Malbec
  • Rhone: Syrah and Grenache-based reds with blends of many other grapes
  • Burgundy: Red wines made with Pinot Noir grapes or white wines made with Chardonnay
  • Champagne: Sparkling whites made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (in the methode champenoise)

Italy

Italy, like France, labels wine according to the region. Here are a few of Italy's regional wine styles.

  • Barolo and Barbaresco: Wines made with the Nebbiolo grape
  • Chianti and Brunello: Wines made with Sangiovese
  • Super Tuscan: Cabernet Sauvignon blend wines

United States and Other New World Regions

In some wine regions, they may designate the wines according to the types of grapes used. In other words, designation is by varietal such as:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Viognier
  • Riesling
  • Merlot
  • Grenache
  • Syrah or Shiraz

These wine regions typically require wines labeled by varietal contain at least 75 percent of that grape. These regions may also make wine blends of two or more grapes, which they typically specify in the small print on the label. They may also label their wines as being in the style of a French or Italian region, such as Bordeaux blend or Chianti-style.

Making Sense of It All

If you still remain confused when purchasing wine, don't be afraid to ask. Wine shop owners and restaurant personnel are typically well-versed in the wines they sell, and can explain to you exactly what you are getting. Most appreciate questions from customers and enjoy steering you to wines you will enjoy.

Wine Designations