Time For You Features

Wine: Know Your Classifications

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By David Flinthoff
Special to

So you want to know how wine is classified. However, you're worried that it might be above your head. There's really nothing to be frightened of. One, you know a little. And soon, you'll be an expert.

In many cases, wines are named for the place where they are made, such as Champagne, while others are named for the grapes the wines are made from, like Chardonnay or Merlot. Some get their name from other more known vineyards, which are slightly similar, such as Chablis and Burgundy. How a wine gets its name is also influenced by local laws and traditions, especially in Europe.

There are three basic categories of wine. Once you know these, you'll have good grounding.

The first thing to get to know is the regional wines come first. Most of the French, Italian and Portuguese wines are classed as regional wines and have regional names. These include names like Bordeaux, Chianti and Burgundy. Most of these wines are essentially European.

They are called regional wines because they have a deep history of wine making that has been governed by regulations. These regulations determine which grapes can be used for a wine—wines come from a particular geographical location.

Variety wines (which are also called varietals) are named from the grapes they are made from. In many countries wines are named for the variety of grape used in their making. But it doesn't mean that the wine is made 100% from the grape it is named by.

In California, 75 percent of one particular grape needs to be used to make the wine to be able to use the name of the grape. However, in France, for instance, it must contain 100% of the grape. The “New World” countries are usually more relaxed with regulations. “New World” wines will often be labeled by the name of the grape. European countries will usually use this for their everyday table wines like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The generic wines are more common in the United States than in other countries. They are very rare in Europe. These wines have no regulatory labeling and no content or place of origin requirements. This means that an American sparkling wine may be called Champagne even though it is not Champagne in the slightest. If this kind of naming is confusing to you, then go with the French made or other European wine for an assurance of higher quality.

Now you know the basic classifications, the next thing to do is buy a bottle and enjoy the wine!


David Flinthoff writes about wine and luxury in general.