Understanding Old World Wines

Barolo and Barbaresco Wine

Italy’s Piedmont wine region is home to many famous red wines, among them Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which use Nebbiolo as the primary grape in their wines.

Bordeaux Wine

Red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Dry white wines are produced from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The sweet white wine Sauternes is a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle that have been exposed to the fungus botrytis, also known as the "noble rot." Being familiar with the smaller sub-region names like St-Emilion or Pomerol is useful as is the names of famous chateaus.

Burgundy Wine

Red wines made from Pinot Noir and white wines made from Chardonnay. Although technically part of the Burgundy region, wines from the area of Chablis (mainly Chardonnay) and Beaujolais (mainly Gamay) are referred to by their own names, not as Burgundies. Knowing famous vineyard sites and sub-regions is helpful.


Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the only three grapes that can go into the sparkling wines named after the Champagne region of France. It is illegal to use the name "Champagne" on a label to describe sparkling wines made anywhere else in the world.


The Sangiovese grape is the primary component of the red wine known as Chianti. There are actually seven different sub-zones of Chianti. Once an inexpensive table wine in a straw basket, Chianti now competes with the best wines in the world.


Port is both the city that gave the country of Portugal its name and the country’s most famous wine. Made from a variety of grapes, many unique to Portugal, the wines are fortified with brandy during fermentation. Wines range from simple and inexpensive white and ruby ports to expensive vintage dated ports.

Rhone Wine

France’s Rhone Valley is famous for red wines made from blends of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. White wines are blends of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.

Rioja Wine

Spain’s best-known red wines are from the Rioja region and are made from the Tempranillo grape.


The three grape varietals that go into the wines known as Sherry are not well-known. Palomino, Pedro Jimenez and Moscatel are the grape names, but what is most important to understand is that brandy is added to the wine and a complex system of blending wines of various ages achieves the end result.