A wine's appellation in the U.S.
In the U.S., the term appellation is used loosely, according to Patsy McGaughy, the Communications Director for Napa Valley Vintners.
"In the U.S., it's all about place and where the grapes grow. It has nothing to do with production or process, so it's best to think about it more like a ZIP code," she said.
Determined by the federal government, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a special wine-growing region that shares similar geographical and cultural characteristics. Napa Valley is a good example, which became California's first AVA in 1981.
"We think the place is special because of its unique history, climate, geology and soil" she said.
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To be labeled an AVA, the grape variety or the wine making process does not matter, only 85 percent of its grapes must originate from the area. But wines that are labeled by political boundaries require from 75 to 100 percent of their grapes to come from that particular county or state.
The importer: A reputation to trust
Listed on the back of a label, importers choose and select wines from foreign countries, some specializing in French, Italian, or German, etc. A good tip is to find an importer with a good reputation and shared similar taste.
"If you find an importer whose palate you agree with, and you consistently stick to their style, you can always refer to that importer in the wine store or in a restaurant, and get wines from them that you happen to like and trust," Bastianich said.
Vintage: Harvesting the grapes
Listed on labels as the year the grapes of a wine are harvested, vintages are important because wine is an agricultural product.
"Mother nature has a lot to do with the quality of the wine in the bottle. And it's really dependent on the growing season of that year," he said.
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So knowing which vintages are better than others and recognizing them on a label can help determine quality when selecting a wine.
Alcohol: How much in a bottle?
By law, every label of wine lists its alcohol percentage by volume. Wine is nothing more than fermented grape juice, and the sugar content of a grape directly corresponds to its potential alcohol. The more sugar concentration in a grape, the higher the potential alcohol in the wine.
"Some white wines might start out at 12 percent, some California and heartier wines might go up to 16-17 percent," Bastianich said. "There are wines that have 8 percent alcohol—we don't drink those, disgusting.