In the United States, we label our wines according to varietal.
Most labels mention a region, and some mention a subregion, but this is rarely as apparent as the varietal of the wine. This is actually a common trait for most New World wine regions, including South Africa, Australia and South America. The varietal is listed as the most important thing, with the region listed as a kind of side note.
That, however, is only true for the New World.
Old World winemakers often don’t even bother to put a varietal on their labels. They will typically categorize their wines by region, instead. Many of the most sought-after wines in the world don’t name a varietal.
The reason is that these regions are so established that a set varietal (or varietals) is always grown there. Barolo will always be made with 100 percent nebbiolo, Burgundy will always be pinot noir, and Bordeaux will always be a cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend.
U.S. wine regions are simply not as established as Italian, Spanish and French vineyards that have been growing grapes since what seems like the beginning of time. (I don’t think time existed before wine, anyway.)
We are progressing toward this end, though.
Most regions in California have their “usual suspect” grapes. For Napa, it’s cabernet sauvignon; for Paso Robles, it’s syrah; and for Santa Cruz, it’s pinot noir and chardonnay.
The region is becoming more and more prominent on our labels as our vineyards and AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) become better known. Sometime not too far in the future, you won’t see “cabernet” on a Napa wine label. It will simply say “Napa, Rutherford,” and then probably list a specific vineyard.
The poignant aspect about all of this is that region is actually more important than varietal in terms of wine. The soil and terroir make the most difference in the quality, aroma and flavor of the wine.
This is most evident when trying a California chardonnay against a white Burgundy. They are both from chardonnay grapes, but they are worlds apart in every other aspect.
Drinking varietals that come from regions that are known to make them well is usually a good way to assure yourself a quality bottle of wine. So, keep drinking that Santa Cruz pinot — we make some of the best in the world. Cheers!
• Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at [email protected].

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