Wine can be a mystifying subject and it doesn’t help that each country has its own protocol for wine names and labels. U.S. wine labels are relatively easy to decipher because most tell us the grape, the place it was produced, the year it was produced and even the percentage of alcohol. Although that certainly does not tell the whole story about what is inside the bottle, at least you know that if you like Chardonnay, you are getting Chardonnay.
The vast majority of European wine labels do not disclose the grape but are more focused on the region in which the wine was produced, for example, Burgundy in France. The chart below matches up five of the world’s most popular grape varieties with some of their aliases in other countries. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a useful reference to print out or put in your Palm or Blackberry. When you see these names in a wine store or on a restaurant wine list you will at least know that if you purchase/order a Gevrey-Chambertin you are not going to be drinking a Merlot.
Chardonnay – White Burgundy, France (Chablis, Corton-Charlemagne, Meursault, Montrachet, Macon Blanc, Pouilly Fuisse)
Sauvignon Blanc – Loire Valley, France (Sancerre, Pouilly Fume); White Bordeaux, France (Entre Deux Mers, Graves/Pessac Leognan — often blended with the Semillion grape)
Cabernet Sauvignon – Red Bordeaux (Medoc, Margaux, Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Listrac, Moulis, Graves/Pessac Leognan — blended with other grapes including Merlot & Cabernet Franc); Italian Super Tuscans (Tuscan IGT, Bolgheri — blended with other grapes including Merlot, Sangiovese and, increasingly, Syrah)
Merlot - Red Bordeaux (Saint Emilion, Cotes de Castillon, Cotes de Francs, Pomerol, Fronsac — blended with other grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc); Italian Super Tuscans (Tuscan IGT, Bolgheri — blended with other grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and, increasingly, Syrah)
Pinot Noir – Red Burgundy (Marsannay, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee, Flagey-Echezeaux, Nuits-St-Georges, Beaune, Savigny-les-Beaune, Chorey-les-Beaune, Pommard, Volnay); Austria & Germany (Spatburgunder); Italy (Pinot Nero)
Syrah – Australia (Shiraz); Northern Rhone (Cote Rotie, Cornas, Hermitage)