Chapter 4: Comparing Wines

Chapter 4: Comparing Wines

Wines produced in California and Europe are often from the same grapes and are too often directly compared. While there may be similarities with regard to the varieties used, the soil and climate are often so different (not to mention the skill, experience and style objectives of the winemakers) that these comparisons can be the truest form of the "apples versus oranges" cliché. This is not to say we shouldn't plant or make Pinot Noir because it won't taste like Burgundy, or Nebbiolo because it won't taste like Barbaresco. I believe a winemaker's first duty is to make a wine, which is true to the grape and vineyard. France makes the best French wine in the world. Oregon makes the best Oregon wine in the world. While you should revere great wines and try to emulate their greatness, I don't believe we should be trying to copy them. These lofty goals usually end in failure. We should try to do our best with what we have to work with instead of making a "me too" wine.

The following is a listing of premium grapes and their origin or best-known areas of production.

Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux, France, Chile, Australia, California
Merlot Bordeaux, France, Friuli, Chile, California
Pinot Noir Burgundy, France, Oregon, California
Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache Rhone and Provence, France, Australia, California
Sangiovese Chianti, Italy
Nebbiolo Piedmont (Barolo, Barbaresco), Italy
Barbera Piedmont, Italy. California
Chenin Blanc Vouvray, France, South Africa, Australia
Chardonnay Burgundy and  Chablis, France, South Africa, Chile, Australia
Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc) Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, France, South Africa, Chile, Australia, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Graves, France
Riesling Alsace, France, Mosel, Rheingau, Germany, South Africa, Australia
Gewürztraminer Alsace, France, Rhinehessen, Germany, Friuli, Italy


The vintage date tells when the grapes were picked and converted into wine. It says nothing about when the wine was placed in the bottle or when it became available to the consumer.

It can provide useful information because it is often the only gauge of quality we have to go on. Vintage conditions vary from year to year. Mother Nature is unpredictable, often bringing hailstorms, frost,  rains, unusual cold or hot spells at the wrong time. Wide vintage variation and, occasionally, total losses, are a way of life for the winegrowers of Europe. The big difference in California and many other temperate areas is that the wine crop seldom experiences a major loss or a vintage of very poor quality.

For most of the world's finest wines, knowing about a specific vintage is helpful because it tells you something about the wine's quality and also about its aging potential.