California vs. European wines . . .
A friend who drinks California wines exclusively recently became curious about European wines. “What are the distinctions?, “ he asked. I knew my friend didn’t want to sign up for “Wine College.” Instead, he bought lunch while I tried to make the differences understandable.
As I explained, basically, there are two essential differences between California and European wines: How they taste and how they are labeled.
Generally, California wines are a bit more fruity, a touch higher in alcohol and slightly less acidic (tart) than their European cousins. All due to the differences in weather: European climates are cooler. Exceptions exist, but this is a good rule of thumb.
As far as what appears on the labels: With a few exceptions, California wines are named after their principal grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Merlot. This makes things relatively easy for consumers.
Europeans label differently. Their wines are named after the places where the vines grow: regions, towns, individual vineyards, etc. Since most European countries have laws designating which grapes can be planted (and only those grapes), in specific areas, if you know those laws you know which grape (or blends of grapes) are in the wines. This takes a while to learn and lots of consumers, including my friend, would rather not go through the trouble.
It probably helps to have a trusted advisor to help navigate this path.
Hope I’ve helped.
John Davis, founder, Wine Insiders