If you don't know a vintage from a variety -- or think that "appellation" is just a strange spelling of that mountain range out East -- it's easy to cave in to the intimidation factor and start planning a backyard cookout rather than a wine-tasting party.
Beginners can start by understanding a few terms from the labels:
- Appellation: Generally, this is the name of the region in which a particular grape was grown. This can be a state (such as California), a geographic area (Napa Valley, California; Chablis, France), or simply the vineyard itself.
- Winery: The person or company who actually produced or bottled the wine (Stags' Leap, for example).
- Variety: The kinds of grapes, such as merlot, chardonnay, and zinfandel, in a particular wine. Labels of French and Italian wines don't usually list the variety. That's because in these and some other wine-growing nations, law mandates that wines from a designated appellation must be made from particular varieties of grapes. For example, if a wine carries the Chablis appellation, it will be made of chardonnay grapes -- so there's no need to list that on the bottle's label.
- Vintage: The grape harvest of a particular year.
- Varietal: A wine that is made mostly from one grape variety.
Continued on page 2: Choices, Choices