European and domestic wine have a lot in common, but there are some key differences in the way that they present themselves. As you dive further and further into wine these differences become very apparent very quickly. Here are some major differences in the way that wine made in Europe is labeled versus a wine made in the United States.
Where are the Grapes?
On American wine bottles, the name of the grape tends to take center stage on the label, making it easy for consumers to tell if they are grabbing a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon. This can be a bit shocking when moving over to French or Italian wines where instead of grapes there is just the location that they were grown in. There are strict regulating bodies on what is allowed to be put on a label in Europe, this, in turn, regulates what is allowed to be put in the bottles. Therefore when you buy a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, you know that you are getting Sangiovese in the bottle.
Why are there so many locations?
German Riesling and wines from Burgundy are notorious for being extensively wordy. The worst offenders are the premier cru vineyards. These labels will state the city (which is hyphenated with the top vineyard site), the term Premier Cru, then it will name the vineyard. This same practice has carried over into Germany which is coupled with particularly long names. In contrast, many US labels will simply include the most relevant location and it is often placed in an inconspicuous location. This shows the difference in what is most important to highlight, in Europe the location or terroir is the most important. In the US the producer and the house style tend to be considered the most important aspect of the wine.
Producers in the US have regularly led their labeling techniques with their artistic foot forward. Some so much that the entire label is art, like Sine Qua Non and Orin Swift. This has even widely been adopted by the natural wine movement in the US. Although there are a few outliers in Europe that have adopted more artistic labels (Chateau Mouton Rothschild has regularly been an exception) the vast majority of producers have maintained their more classic look.
Although there may be some extreme differences in the way that they present themselves, there are great examples of delicious wine behind all styles of label. Lucky for us, tasting what is behind the label is the best part about wine.
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