Wines are usually named either by their grape variety or by their place of production. Generally speaking, European wines are named after the place of their production, with the grapes used often not appearing on the label. New World wines (those from everywhere except Europe and North Africa) are generally named for the grape variety. However, market recognition of particular regions and wineries is leading to their increased prominence on New World wine labels. Examples of recognized locales include: Napa Valley, Barossa Valley, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley, Cafayate, Marlborough, etc. Still, though, the grape variety is mostly mentioned on the label. This is not the case with most European wines because of tradition and legal restrictions.
Within Europe, a major exception to the no-grape rule is with German wines and wines from the Alsace region of France, for which it is not uncommon to find this information on the front label. To accommodate market demands, an increasing number of French winemakers are labeling their bottles with the variety or varieties of grapes included, as permitted by law.
Regional wine names
The taste of a wine depends not only on the grape species and varietal blend, but also on the ground and climate where it is cultivated. Historically, wines have been known by names reflecting their origin, and sometimes style: Bordeaux, Rioja, Mosel and Chianti are all legally defined names, reflecting the traditional wines produced in the named region. These naming conventions or “appellations” dictate not only where the grapes in a wine were grown, but also which grapes went into the wine and how they were vinified. The appellation system is strongest in the European Union.
Historical European designations are inconsistently applied in the United States. For example, in most of the world, wine labeled Champagne must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and fermented using a certain method, based on the international trademark agreements included in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. However, in the United States, there exists a legal definition called semi-generic that enables U.S. winemakers to use certain generic terms (Champagne, Hock, Sherry, etc.) if there appears next to the term the actual appellation of origin in order to prevent any possible confusion.
Generally only the most inexpensive, mass-produced wines make use of these place names as semi-generic wine names; most of those now use the more popular varietal labeling. For example, makers of American sparkling wines now generally find it to be of no advantage in the marketplace to use the name “Champagne” because the quality of their products is widely recognized. Thus, the finest sparkling wines from California will be labeled “sparkling wine”, while some less expensive sparkling wines from California as well as states such as Ohio and New York may bear such names as “Ohio Champagne” or “New York State Champagne”. Some European producers protest the practice for fear that it causes loss of sales.