Like most young people and wine I started with the New World. The quirky, colourful packaging and the information contained within would tell me what grape variety was used to make this wine. Where it was made. Who made it and what they did to it to put their stamp on it. And of course, being an ignorant so and so who never bothered to learn any other language other than his native tongue, it was SO useful to have it written in English.
Until I started working in wine I was sure Old World winemakers were trying to confuse me for the fun of it. It didn’t, however, take me long to get to grips with the basics of each country and region. I learned very quickly that many Old World producers expect you to know the style, quality and sometimes even the grape varieties of the wine inside the bottle just by working out where it is from. Ironically, these days I regularly find myself helping other people get to grips with the basics, and it’s not difficult to teach ourselves with a wealth of information at our fingertips through a few clicks of a mouse.
To keep you even more on your game, the people who make the rules often like to change the rules. Regions of production may be amalgamated with neighbouring areas, or some may break away. The technicalities of wine production may be amended in an attempt to raise quality or perhaps even lower the barriers to more winemakers who want to carry the name of the denomination. New classifications may crop up promising the use of grapes sourced from certain plots of land or the minimum amount of time it must be aged in oak before bottling.
Recently it was agreed by a ruling council that a new top-tier classification would be introduced into the great Tuscan wine producing region of Chianti. Generally speaking, the quality improves (and you pay more) from basic ‘Chianti’ to ‘Chianti Classico’ and finally ‘Riserva’. Although no name has yet been given, the new classification will sit above Riserva and essentially represent single vineyard wines that can only be released thirty months after harvesting. It is supposed to create another distinction. To create a higher value brand and guarantee the very best quality.
Undoubtedly the regulations and labelling of ‘appellation’ wines does help us find the quality and style of wine we enjoy. Practice makes perfect in my opinion. It’s important to be inquisitive, research or ask for advice when choosing your wine. Build up a familiarisation of what each region has to offer. Often it’s not all about the grape variety, which perhaps the big New World brands have us looking for.
At the same time, keep in mind that there’s no exact science to these things. Just because one wine has come from organic vineyards and had two years ageing in barrel doesn’t mean you’re not going to prefer the inexpensive regional blend aged in stainless steel tanks for three weeks. It’s all about personal taste.