As a wine professional, I have encountered several wine misconceptions while engaging with the general public. Regions are mistaken for grapes, wines are sometimes confused with other wines, and region names are often used as generic descriptions.
Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I have observed:
Region Versus Grape
When asked for a Rioja recommendation, I usually steer someone towards my favorite grape, Tempranillo – the most produced red in the Rioja region of Spain. When once making the recommendation, I was asked, “What is that?”, the person mistakenly thinking Rioja was actually the grape. France can also be very confusing for some. I have crossed paths with many who have told me that they love Sancerre wine, thinking it is a grape. If I try to recommend another Sauvignon Blanc, they turn up their nose and tell me they do not like it. They are always very surprised to learn that Sauvignon Blanc is the primary white grape of Sancerre, a region in the Loire Valley. Sadly, the biggest misconception to me seems to be Chianti, which is a region in Tuscany, Italy. When I start talking about Sangiovese, the most cultivated grape in Chianti, some people look at me like I have two heads.
Zinfandel Versus White Zinfandel
When recommending Zinfandel wine from California, I have come across a number of people who have looked at me in horror. Just from that look, I know immediately they are confusing it with White Zinfandel. Before I can even explain, some will blurt out, “No – I do not like sweet wines!” When I finally clarify, they are relieved to hear that Zinfandel is a robust, red grape grown widely in California and that White Zinfandel is basically the rose’ or “blush wine” produced from that grape. Sadly, it seems Zinfandel has gotten a bad reputation because of its use to make White Zinfandel, but things are changing, be it slow for some.
Champagne Versus Sparkling Wine
Nine times out of ten, when someone asks me for Champagne I know they are asking for a sparkling wine. No matter, I will show them the Champagne, note the look on their face when they see the price and then lead them towards a less expensive sparkling wine. To be called Champagne, there are rules that must be followed. It has to be made from all or any of the three different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the Champagne region and must be produced using the Champagne method. It is this method that makes the Champagne expensive because it is long and labor-intensive. For fine sparkling wines outside of Champagne this same arduous method is used, but it is called Traditional Method. Cheaper methods are used to make less expensive sparkling wines around the world.
For the most part, people are receptive to learning something new about wine. It is, however, hard to correct or educate everyone – sometimes you have to pick your battles. I find this true with this last misconception, since the word “Champagne” has become such a universal word to describe sparkling wine. Sometimes I don’t even correct people and only offer an explanation when asked. No doubt the French are just delighted that so many Americans refer to all sparkling wine as “Champagne”. And it must just tickle them, too, when we mix it with orange juice at brunch and pair it with our French toast!