What is the difference between a varietal wine and a regional wine?

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Q:

What is the difference between a varietal wine and a regional wine? When you are first entering the world of wine, one of the most confusing concepts is the difference between varietal and regionally (appellation) labelled wines. The difference between these two types of wine comes not only from what appears on the wine label, but also from the winemaking process.

Varietal wines are most commonly produced in New-World wine regions, with the exception of noble varietals, which are the wines made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling - these wines have been made and labeled as such for centuries.

A:

Varietal wines are those which have been made from one particular variety of grape. For example, some of the most common grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (or Shiraz), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The wines in these cases are named after the grape variety used to make them. Although this name will always be clearly and prominently stated on the wine’s label, the region in which the wine was made may also be stated.

Regional Wines are made and labelled according to the area in which the grapes were grown. Some of most common examples of these regional wines are Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis. These names are the ones featured on the regional wine labels, often accompanied by the vintage.

Regional Wines are made according to local laws which can affect a variety of aspects of the winemaking process. The laws often dictate the type and proportion of a blend of grape varieties to be used, however, that is not to say that regional wines are not sometimes made from one single variety. Local laws also determine other factors within the vineyard such as density of grapes grown per hectare and whether or not vines can be irrigated.

Regional Wines are much more common to Old-World wine producing areas, where the consensus is that terroir is the most significant factor involved in producing quality wine. Thus, it is more important to state where the wine was made, rather than what grape it is made from.

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Written by Tim McKirdy
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Tim McKirdy is a Buenos Aires based food and drinks writer, with a background in classical French cooking and Argentine wine. After years spent working in some of London's top kitchens, Tim can now be found trying to perfect the art of cooking meat over fire with a glass of red in hand Full Bio