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Choose Your Wine Like a Pro

Published on February 03, 2011

Wouldn't it be nice to go shopping for a bottle of wine, look at the labels, and have a good idea of how each one is going to taste? By understanding a couple of the main factors that determine a wine's flavor, you'll have a good idea of how that wine is going to taste before you shell out the money.

Two of the most important factors in a wine's flavor are the grape variety and where the wine is grown. The Old World (essentially Europe), puts more weight on the 'where', and the New World (USA, Australia, S. America...) prioritizes the grape variety. For example, a California wine will often be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, while a French wine made with the same grapes could be labeled as Bordeaux. In the New World, the label gives you both pieces of the puzzle, but in Europe you usually need some help because they rarely tell you what grapes they've used.

If you usually buy wines based on the grape, by also considering the climate you're more likely to get the wines you like. Say, for example, you're looking for a Pinot Noir. You can certainly expect some red fruit flavors such as raspberry, but a Pinot Noir grown in a hot California climate is going to be quite different from one grown in a cooler area, such as France's Burgundy region. Hotter weather means riper fruit and riper fruit results in fuller body, more color, and higher alcohol in the wine. That raspberry flavor is going to be more like a raspberry jam. Cooler weather usually means a more elegant, complex wine. In this case, that same raspberry flavor will be a lighter, fresher fruit, balanced with other vegetable and mineral aromas.

Want to compare some New World wines with their Old World counterparts? In most cases, wine-growing regions in New World regions are hotter than those in the Old World, so the European wines are often more restrained and less fruity.

Here are some of the more popular grapes, and the European wines where you'll find them:

If you're a fan of Oregon or New Zealand Pinot Noir, look to France's Burgundy region. The labels can reflect the entire region - Bourgogne, a part of it - Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, or a specific village or vineyard - Nuits St Georges or La Tache, for example. Ask at your local wine shop for suggestions.

Chardonnay too is originally from Burgundy, so look for a Bourgogne Blanc or a Meursault to compare.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are originally from Bordeaux. To try the European wines, in addition to looking for Bordeaux on the label, some of the most important villages are St. Emilion, Pomerol, Pauillac, or anything labeled Haut Medoc.

Are you a Riesling fan? Alsace makes some outstanding wines that balance Riesling's fruity flavors with a good crisp acidity. A plus with Alsace is that it's one of the rare French regions to use the grape variety on the label.

Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand? Try a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley. It's also one of the main grapes in white wines from Bordeaux.

Now, I could go into a lot more detail and talk about the different vintages and the various subregions, villages, and vineyards, but that's for another time.

About the Author:

John Giebler is a certified sommelier and has worked in toursim since 2000. He develops and leads culinary tours for Insider Wine Tours. John grew up in the U.S. and has lived in France and Italy since 1998.

Visit Insider Wine Tours for your next Wine Tour in Europe.

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Top 10 Varietals for August, 2019

Pinot Noir is the most popular wine varietal chosen by our visitors this month.

This varies by season so if you're looking for something tasty to drink this summer, Pinot Noir is a great choice. The others are shown below:

1. Pinot Noir
2. Red Bordeaux Blend
3. Syrah
4. Nebbiolo
5. Cabernet Sauvignon
6. Merlot
7. Chardonnay
8. Red Blend
9. Sangiovese
10. Riesling

Top 10 Producers for August, 2019

Wines from Sapphire Hill were selected by our visitors the most this month, making them the most popular choice for consumers.

If you're looking for a wine suggestion, Sapphire Hill might be a great place to start. The others are shown below.

1. Sapphire Hill
2. Phelan Vineyard
3. Stephen Test
4. Ferdinand Pieroth
5. Adelsheim
6. Silver Oak
7. Louis Jadot
8. Viansa
9. Andrew Will
10. Bruno Giacosa