Are You Hooked On Varietal Labels?

Hello Friends,

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wine tasting and luncheon that featured the wines of Southwest France. The event took place at BLT Steak in Washington DC and was hosted by Fred Dexheimer of Juiceman Consulting. Fred is very passionate about this Old World wine-producing region and provided a lot of information throughout the duration of the function. The purpose of this get-together was to highlight, as well as to promote, the wines of Southwest France, or as the French say, Sud-Ouest. The Sud-Ouest is an often overlooked wine-producing region that delivers quality wines at reasonable prices. A few weeks after this event, I recall telling a few friends about the food and wines I enjoyed. It was then that I realized that while a few of my friends enjoy a good Virginia (or New World) “Petit Manseng,” “Tannat,” or “Malbec,” they had no clue what wines I was referring to when I said, “Jurançon,” “Madiran,” and “Cahors.”

Enjoy Malbec? Try the wines of Cahors.

One of the main things I personally enjoy about wine is that you never run out of new things to taste and learn. I’m a relatively late bloomer to the wonderful world of wine, but you know the saying, better late than never. Before wine captured my attention, one of my other interests, history, led me to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s abode, not the wine trail) in 2005. Following a tour of the home, I spotted a Virginia wine grape sign and visited Jefferson Vineyard. That was my first time visiting a winery/tasting room and sipping good table wine. I ended that day at Kluge Estate, and in the process, I guess you can say I caught the wine bug. I also learned how to pronounce Viognier that day and picked up this important lesson - just because I smell raspberry in a Cabernet Franc didn’t mean that someone added raspberry juice to the wine – overall, a pretty exciting day. Thus my introduction to wines like Petit Manseng, Tannat, Malbec, and many other varietal wines came by way of Virginia wine. Back then, if there was a wine I enjoyed, I learned to look for the name of the grape on the label when I visited other tasting rooms or the local wine shop. My knack for history and inquisitive nature led me to research the different grape varieties and seek out wines from the grape’s homeland as well as regions where the variety has thrived for centuries. This is when I learned about Old World versus New World wines. The catch was, I wasn’t seeking out grape names on a label at the local wine shop, but seeking out geographic regions for most of the Old World wines I was purchasing.

Sud-Ouest France Wines Lunch and Tasting

To make a long story short, wines from the Old World (Europe) are traditionally identified by the place of origin. The focus is not so much on the grape variety as it is on the place that produces the wine. Centuries of wine-growing experience has resulted in a firm determination of which varieties are best suited to specific geographical regions based on unique soil, climate type(s), and other factors. Additionally, each wine-growing region is steeped in centuries of age-old tradition and has appellation laws to preserve the character and integrity of the wine. The focus is on place; thus you’re purchasing a wine to taste the unique characteristics of that region and the wine is labeled to reflect this. New World (non-European) wines on the other-hand, “tend” to place more emphasis on the grape variety and varietal expression as opposed to regional expression. Putting the grape variety on the label is common-place and the average wine consumer finds a certain level of comfort and convenience in that. As a matter of fact, based on questions I asked on Twitter over the course of several weeks, the grape’s name and price are two top factors many consumers take into consideration when purchasing a bottle of wine. For example, when most people go to their local wine shop, they say, “I want a [insert grape variety here] for under $15.” The next time you visit your local wine shop, if you enjoy Petit Manseng, ask for something from Jurançon. If you favor a good Virginia or Argentinean Malbec, ask for a Cahors. If you enjoy Tannat, either Virginia or Uruguay, request a wine from Madiran. These are the same grape varieties, just different growing regions – in particular, the wine-producing region of Southwest France. A fun tasting idea would be to pick up some of these wines from your favorite Virginia producer and then find their Old World partners and have a (blind) comparative tasting with friends. Moral of this story: don’t limit yourself to just varietal labeled wines. Don’t be afraid to try new things when it comes to wine, especially if the price is right. For my Virginia wine lover friends -- there is a Chinon (Cabernet Franc), a Condrieu (Viognier), and Chablis (Chardonnay), etc., that may not sport the name of the grape on the label that you just may fall in love with. Think global, drink global, support local, and keep trying new things. Cheers!

Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned ...more to come!

CLICK HERE to visit Juice-Man Consulting's website.

CLICK HERE to follow Wines of Southwest France on Twitter.

CLICK HERE to visit BLT Steak's website. Great food and wine list!

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