Appellation: Know where your wine comes from
In this third part of a series about important wine terms and concepts, we'll talk about appellation, which tells you what region of the world your wine comes from. (You can read here about the first two terms, terroir and vintage.) Appellations are geographic areas that have been mapped out to identify the boundaries of a certain wine region, but in many countries they are more complex than just geographic areas.
Here's are the basics you need to know when buying wine, along with five recommendations of great wines, available at local stores, that illustrate particular famous appellations.
Every country that produces quality wine has set up a system to help identify a grape-growing region. Many countries take the boundaries further and set up rules and regulations for producing wine based on alcohol percentage, grape varieties, yields per acre, and more. The French, Italians, Spaniards, and Germans have built specific standards into their winemaking; however, the U.S., Australians, and South Americans lag behind.
In the U.S., the system that determines a region's boundaries is called an AVA (American Viticultural Area). The most famous AVA in America is Napa Valley, and within the region are 15 distinct subappellations. Other famous AVAs in the U.S. include Sonoma, Willamette Valley, Columbia Valley, and Paso Robles.
When you see Napa Valley on the label, it must contain at least 85 percent of grapes from the region. There are no limits in the U.S. to the type of grapes that can be grown in a given AVA, unlike in Bordeaux and Burgundy. If California appears on the label it means the grapes are grown in the state, but no further information is legally required.
My favorite labeling of all time is the 2002 Quilceda Creek Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one of the top 10 wines I have ever tasted, but it has the general AVA Washington State. The reason is that the grapes were from multiple single-vineyard lots and legally could not contain all of them on the label.
Countries such as France, Germany, Spain, and Italy have much tighter qualifications. The French call their system appellation d'origine controlee. The Germans call their system German wine classification. In Spain, it's denominacion de origen. And the Italians have several classifications for their wines. The top level in Italy is the denominazione di origine controllata e garantita.
In the Bordeaux region of France the most important subappellations (communes) include Pauillac, Margaux, St. Julien, St.-Estephe, Pomerol, and St.-Emilion. Wines from these communes are richer and more intense and feature strict requirements. The typical wine from the Pauillac appellation will be around 12.5% alcohol, yield less fruit per acre to increase concentration, feature the cabernet sauvignon grape blended with merlot, will be grown in gravel-like soil, and will be able to cellar for decades. Yes, the appellation is very important.
Remember, vintage is always an important factor in selecting a wine from any appellation. Top producers in Burgundy have made some poor wines due to weather.
Here are five wines that distinctly define the appellation the come from. All are available at Sorella Wine & Spirits and are on sale now through the weekend:
2008 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Riesling $13.97 Well-balanced wine with apricots, peach, floral, minerals, and apple. A touch of sweetness and medium finish. Just enjoy it on the porch on a hot summer day! 91 points
2008 William Fevre Champs Royaux Chablis $16.97 For those who hate chardonnay, try chardonnay from the Burgundy region and the subappellation of Chablis. Yes, Chablis is 100 percent chardonnay, not the cheap stuff you may have drank in the '70s. This wine features lemon, minerals, shells, and apple on a clean finish. A reliable wine year in and year out. 89 points
2007 Bergstrom Cumberland Valley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $47.97
This is a great example of pinot noir drinking well without aging. It is a great vintage from good producers. It's a fruit-forward style of pinot with cherry, raspberries, floral, and smooth tannins. A lovely wine to celebrate the end of the week. 94 points
2005 Moulin Delille St. Estephe $18.77 As one of the best Left Bank communes, this wine delivers way beyond its price point, featuring gravel, cherry, blackberries, vanilla, and oak. For under $20, it's hard to believe this wine is still on the shelves from one of the best vintages in the history of Bordeaux. 91 points
2004 Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva $18.97 It is hard to grow the sangiovese grape outside of Italy, and this wine is from a great vintage. Enjoy with a red pasta dish, as this wine is still tannic and contains spices, floral notes, raspberries, and earth elements. Medium finish with good acidity. 91 points
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