Why Are Most French and Italian Wines Named After a Place Instead of a Grape?

green vineyardIn telling the story of my “epiphany wine,” I have mentioned the period of time when I used to have a glass of “Chablis” with my steak at the local Sizzler restaurant.

I knew nothing about wine then. First, I was pairing a white wine with red meat. There’s no law against it, but I wouldn’t do it today. Second, the “Chablis” wasn’t from France, but rather a non-descript white wine made by one of the big California wine corporations.

It wasn’t until several years later that I realized the practice of placing a French geographic name on a bottle of California wine was frowned upon by the French. It’s still being done today, but efforts are ongoing to end the practice. It may not happen anytime soon, however, because there’s big money in those non-French, French-sounding wines.

Which leads us to today’s Wine FAQ…

QUESTION: Why are most French and Italian wines named after a place instead of a grape?

ANSWER: In the early centuries of winemaking in those countries (and elsewhere in Europe), almost all wines were “field blends” consisting of multiple grape varieties. Thus, they had a regional character, and came to be known for that regional character.

As the world has “grown smaller,” that tradition has begun to change, with varietal names popping up on some bottles from those countries.

But for reasons involving both tradition and commerce, France continues to protect its regional names, which is why you should see name-places such as Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Chablis only on wines from those appellations of France.

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One comment on “Why Are Most French and Italian Wines Named After a Place Instead of a Grape?
  1. phildange says:

    The complete reason is that a wine is produced by one or several grapes growing on a special soil in a special place . The soil, “terroir” in French, is considered as the first element that creates a special wine . It has been worked upon by generations of wine makers along several decades or even centuries . Not forgetting the importance of the degree of insolation, rain, wind and type of vegetation around .
    A French wine is the child of a terroir, nobody in France bothers about the species of grapes it is made of, very few people actually could tell them . Myself I never read any grape name on a bottle until the last 20 years when Barbarian newbies seemed to have become interested in wine . Each time I read these grapes names on a bottle I know the “wine” comes from Anglophone countries or is made for to be sold to them .

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