Labeling the wines according to their varietals helps the consumer know what to expect when they select a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. For a U.S. wine label to bear the name of the variety, it must be made with no less that 75% of that grape variety in the total blend.
CHARDONNAY (shar-don-NAY) Chardonnay that is being extensively planted throughout the world. In addition to being highly prized, Chardonnay is easy to grow and quite versatile. It’s high in extract and, unless picked late, has good acid levels. Chardonnay is offered in the New World (outside western Europe) as big, creamy and juicy with copious amounts of oak. In Burgundy, it is more complex and long-lived, with less tropical and more mineral and apple flavors reflecting the cooler climate. The wide range of growing soils, as well as the winemaker’s influence, produces a diverse spectrum of Chardonnay wines with varying characteristics.
SAUVIGNON BLANC (SOH-ven-yawn BLANC) Sauvignon Blanc wines have noticeable acidity and a grassy, herbaceous aroma and flavor. They are crisp, flavorful wines that generally should be drunk young.
GEWURZTRAMINER (guh-VURTZ-trah-mee-ner) A friendly and willing grape of the Muscat family with rich, pungent character and a nose like roses and a can of lychee nuts. It is good in Germany and Italy; great in Alsace where even when dry, it is so pungent it seems best with dessert. Good versions exist in the New World.
PINOT GRIS/PINOT GRIGIO (PEE-noh-GREE) This pleasant and tasty grape offers good drinkability in Italy, where it is commonly referred to as Pinot Grigio, Germany and the New World, but reaches its greatest heights in Alsace. It can taste of cream and apples and exists in well-made versions both sweet and dry.
RIESLING (REESe-ling) One of the world’s greatest grapes, Riesling was treated with the respect it deserved 100 years ago when its finest bottlings routinely were bid for higher prices that Lafite or Latour. Grown throughout the world with mixed results, America offers decent versions and Australia gives the most credible of the New World offerings. Alsace offers the finest outside of Germany, with higher, more obtrusive alcohol levels. All of Germany‘s great wines (except a tiny portion) are from Riesling. This grape is rich and crisp when young, but can age for ten to fifty years and beyond, depending upon the winemaking style.
VIOGNIER (vee-ohn-YEA) A rare but cultish grape originating in Condrieu in the northern Rhone Valley. It is now being rapidly planted in California where it yields good examples showing pungent Gewurz-like notes and rich Chardonnay-like flavors.