The world of fine wine can be a confusing place. At a time where supermarket shelves are stacked with varietally labelled wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot - the older, more traditional method of labelling geographically can seem unnecessarily complicated for those used to seeing the name of the grape on the front of the bottle.
Even with regional labelling that we are more familiar with such as Rioja or Chablis, it can be difficult to piece together just what you are drinking - our handy guide aims to answer all of your questions and leave you in a position where you will know exactly what to expect of what’s inside the bottle.
For higher alcohol drinks, the volume of alcohol will preserve the liquid inside and ensure that it has immense longevity. It is generally agreed that this will be from around the 20% abv mark which includes the majority of fortified wines and spirits; one of the reasons why fortified wine is such a popular long term investment option.
For the majority of other wines, the generally accepted method of discerning the drinkability of what is inside is to look at external factors on the bottle; the condition of the capsule, the fill level and the colour and clarity of the liquid when viewed backlit with a torch. At Chiswick we consider these factors in advance of entering a lot to sale and our detailed photography ensures that these elements are as visible as possible within our online catalogues. We will also undertake by request condition reports for those seeking a more in depth opinion.
Europe is home to many of the international grape varieties that we use to make wine. Winegrowing regions in Europe were first identified by the Romans, who began planting vines and employing wine making techniques which are still used today. Since those early days of viticulture, winemakers continued to experiment with terrain in order to determine where certain varieties of grape would thrive. Those that did would come to dominate wine production in the region they were grown, leading to an association between the region and the variety, and bottles of wine being labelled with the region alone. A bottle labelled Burgundy, tells you that it was made in the Burgundy wine region, long identified as providing the best growing conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot noir based wines. Within these regions, smaller appellations can provide you with even more information on the style of wine to expect; if a wine is labelled as being from Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, then you know that not only will it be a Pinot Noir dominated wine, but also that it will bear the distinct characteristics of Gevrey-Chambertin.
New World viticulture began centuries ago but it was in the 19th century, when European varieties were first exported and experimented with across the new terrain on offer, that premium wines - competitive with those of Europe – were produced. Malbec from Cahors in France found a new home on the plateaus of Mendoza in Argentina; Zinfandel, known as Primitivo where it has long been cultivated in the Puglia region of Italy, found a new expression in California and Semillon, famously the primary grape in the dessert wines of Sauternes, was breathed new life as a dry white in Australia’s Hunter Valley to name a few. Initially made in imitation of their European counterparts and bearing their names, it was common to see wines with contradictory names such as “Australian Burgundy”. By the mid-20th century, a push for varietal labelling by pioneering New World winemakers led to it becoming commonplace and eventually, the dominant method of wine labelling.
Select a grape variety below and we will suggest wines they feature in.
You should try: Right bank Bordeaux, Pomerol, Saint Emilion.
The right bank of the Gironde river central to the Bordeaux wine region is the home of the Merlot grape. It is usually the dominant grape in a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties, though 100% Merlot wines are not uncommon.
You should try: Left bank Bordeaux, Medoc, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe, Margaux, Graves, Pessac Leognan.
The left bank of the Gironde river that runs through the Bordeaux wine region is the home of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and of some of the names most associated with fine wine around the world. It is usually the dominant grape in a blend with the other Bordeaux grape varieties.
You should try: Burgundy, Gevrey Chambertin, Vosne Romanee, Pommard, Mercurey, Nuits Saints Georges, Aloxe Corton, Volnay, Pernand Vergelesses, Auxey-Duresses, Santenay, Givry
The broad and diverse Burgundy wine region is the home of Pinot Noir. Pioneering techniques across this varied terroir have led to it boasting some of the most expensive and collectable wines in the world, though the vast number of vineyards and sub-regions mean that it caters to a wide range of styles and budgets. The Burgundian mastery of this grape variety mean that there is a red Burgundy out there for every palate.
You should try: Northern Rhône, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas, Saint Joseph.
The Shiraz grape, also known as Syrah, has long been cultivated at the northern end of the Rhône Valley. Tempered by the Mistral wind resulting in a cooler climate than the southern half of the region, it has been delighting wine drinkers with its produce for over 2000 years.
You should try: Southern Rhône, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacquyras, Rasteau, Cairanne
Though likely originating from Spain, the Southern Rhône is where the Grenache grape found its home in French viticulture. One of the world’s most planted grape varieties, it is made into both rosé and red wines and flourishes in hot conditions. It is usually the dominant grape in a blend of numerous permitted Rhône varieties. It’s sweetened rosé variant – White Grenache – drew enormous mainstream popularity in the 21st century, though these days its more refined red form is becoming ever more commonplace.
You should try: Cahors
Finding its most famous expression on the plateaus of Argentina, the Malbec grape was once widely grown across France, though its home was and remains the vineyards of the small commune of Cahors in southern France.
You should try: Rioja, Ribera del Duero
In a case of the region appearing on the bottle more frequently than the variety, though not necessarily making it obvious what you are drinking; it is tempranillo which makes up the bulk of the blend for the wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero and which wine drinkers enjoy gallons of annually.
You should try: Loire Valley, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, White Bordeaux, Graves
Whilst Sauvignon Blanc has its origin in the Bordeaux wine region, it is also widely planted throughout the Loire Valley Wine region, particularly in the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. In Bordeaux it used to make complex blended whites with ageing potential and the crisp and refreshing expression of the Loire is an interesting alternative to the powerfully fruity Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand which have become so popular in the 21st century.
You should try: White Burgundy, Chablis, Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet, Puligny Montrachet, Rully, Saint-Aubin, Macon, Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran
One of the world’s most versatile grapes, it is often said that there is a chardonnay for everyone, something which is displayed within its homeland of Burgundy alone. From the fresh, crisp whites of Chablis to the rich, buttery expression of the Meursault region and everything in between. The array of white wines Burgundy has to offer is something worth exploring.