By Wine Varietal

With American and other "New World" wines, the varietal name comes first and then comes the appellation(locality) name.  

       If you know where something comes from, you know something about the thing in question?.... Sort of like your parents wanting to know about the other kid's parents of the person you are dating?  Once you know where the wine comes from, the more specific the location, the more you can pinpoint the location on a map, not only you will know everything about the grapes used, wine making practices, how it should taste  etc. also the more the wine will cost you.  Europeans used to drink the local wine and that kind of system was fine when you have to know a small number of local appellations for a similarly small number of local dishes which go with these wines.   This system is not well adapted to the modern world which is more  pluralistic and international tastes.   At one distributor I worked for in Massachusetts, we carried 12,000 individual wines from all over the world.  

A total neophyte in wine could cope with the more simplified and easier to mentally organize varietal names.  It takes study to understand the appellation or Old World system   Going varietal was a great boon to the New World. It was a great marketing move by New World Wineries.  Is it easier to market thousand of brands from many entire countries with a system  as simply as chardonnay than as  Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet or Chassagne-Montrachet, small places in a very limited production in Cotes-de-Beaune France which is, you guessed it, chardonnay.  The snob factor, however, in knowing  European wines is hard to resist?

With European wines the appellation (locality) is more important and the varietal second --whether a varietal or a percentage of a varietal is either allowed or not depends on the rule for that appellation (locality).  

This  appellation based system is better for people like me with an academic bent, a former professor.  It is like the old system of classification with index cards that every American child was taught to organize their thoughts, and then some.  Think of classifying wine like   I. France     I.A  Bordeaux    I.A.1.Medoc      1.A .1.a   Margaux     Going back to chardonnay from Puligny-Monrachet mentioned above, we would have France, then Burgundy, then Cotes-de-Beaune , then Puligny-Monrachet then there is the further classification of wines from that region into hierarchies of different levels based on the actual vineyards: Premier Grand Crus, Seconds Grands Crus  and Troisiemes Grands Crus.  In other words, the "government" guarantees that if you use a certain appellation on the level, you will abide by the rules of that appellation, but I digress.

To help you decide, here are some common varietals arranged by body or mouthfeel :  

Body/“Mouthfeel” of the More Common Varietals – Lighter to Heavier

These are broadest of generalizations but at least it is a frame of reference for beginners.  This advice holds true especially if the wine is under $12.00 a bottle retail.  Semillon, for example, is totally different if you are talking about an expensive French Sauternes, a rather sweet white wine. This is only a sketch to start building your wine knowledge.

Whites         Lighter to Heavier

  1. Riesling                            Less Body
  2. Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
  3. Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc
  4. Chardonnay
  5. Semillon                                to
  6. Malvasia
  7. Chenin Blanc
  8. Viognier
  9. Gewurztraminer             More Body


  1. White Zinfandel
  2. White Merlot
  3. White Cabernet

Red       Lighter to Heavier

  1. Beaujolais (Gamay)   Less Body
  2. Pinot Noir
  3. Cabernet Franc
  4. Sangiovese
  5. Merlot
  6. Cabernet Sauvignon
  7. Barbera                           to
  8. Zinfandel
  9. Aglianco
  10. Nebbiolo
  11. Syrah/Shiraz
  12. Mourvedre
  13. Petite Syrah
  14. Malbec                     More Body