VOLUME 6, ISSUE 48
December 16, 2007
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Varietal Labeling

Alsace was the first region in the world to do varietal labeling, beginning in the early 20th century. Today, Alsace, like its neighbor Germany, requires that a wine must be 100% of the grape named on the label.

In America, varietal wines originally had to contain 51% of the grape named on the label. The Wine Labeling Act in 1982 changed increased the amount from 51% to 75%. Proprietary branding, for example that used on Meritage wines, developed shortly thereafter and allowed the use of any percentage blend of grapes on those wines.

Currently in California, a non-estate wine labeled with a county appellation (ie Sonoma) must contain 75% of the grape named on the label. For a sub-appellation like the Russian River Valley, 85% of the grapes must be the named varietal. For vineyard designated wines, 95% of the grapes must come from the named vineyard. For an estate bottled wine, 100% of the grapes must come from the appellation. In all cases, 95% of the grapes must come from the stated vintage (most other countries it is 85%).

Oregon was the first wine region in the United States to adopt labeling regulations. For many varietals such as Pinot Noir, 90% of the grapes must be the varietal named on the label. In New Zealand, 85% has to come from the varietal.

It is not unusual to add small amounts of other varietals to Pinot Noir. Syrah is often chosen to add color and structure. This may or may not be indicated on the label. Many producers prefer not to include this information fearing that the consumer will consider that Pinot Noir that is not 100% Pinot Noir is an inferior product. How the wine tastes is really the final arbitrator of quality and if a tiny percentage of Syrah adds interest or magic to the final wine, so much the better.

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