Decoding The Top 5 Most Confused Wine Terms Comparisons

There are wine words that are so often confused and misused. It's not only us everyday folks who love to enjoy a glass as we relax on the couch that get them wrong. Even wine professionals who work in the industry often mix up these wine terms. 

But we are here to set the record straight by decoding The Top 5 Most Confused Comparisons of Wine Terms.

Variety vs. Varietal

The easiest way to differentiate the two is to remember that one (variety) is a noun and the other (varietal) is an adjective.

"Variety" is used to refer to different types of grapes. Did you know that there are more than 10,000+ varieties of wine grapes in the world? 

However, only around 1300 are used to make wine. Of these, only a handful are known by the general public. These include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Barbera, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz.

"Varietal" describes a wine made from a single or dominant grape variety. Such wines are called varietal wines. Traditionally it's New World wines that are labeled by varietal. In contrast, Old World wines are labeled by region (i.e., Bordeaux wine refers to a wine made in the Bordeaux region of France)

In the US, for a wine to be varietally labeled it has to have at least 75% of the dominant grape variety. This figure jumps to 85% for wines being exported to the European Union. 

One final thing to note, the same varietal will not always taste the same. The growing conditions, the production techniques and the storage process can all affect the flavor, which is part of what makes wine tasting such a varied experience.

Related: The Modern Gentleman Guide to Ordering Wine

Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine

All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Sounds confusing? This statement will make sense in a minute, I promise.

"Sparkling wines" are wines that have been saturated with molecules of carbon dioxide gas, which makes them have a fizzy or bubbly appearance. Sparkling wine undergoes two separate rounds of fermentation—one in the wine barrel and a second in the bottle itself. When sugar is added to the yeast, the two react and create carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is trapped and bottled for your enjoyment. 

"Champagne" is a sub-category of sparkling wine. It gets its name from the Champagne region of France, which accounts for 60% of France's sparkling wine production. 

The rules of making Champagne are strictly enforced through French national laws, EU regulations and international trade agreements and treaties.

Here are the main requirements:

  • Only sparkling wines from the Champagne region can be called Champagne. If they are made anywhere else, they are simply referred to as sparkling wines. 
  • Champagne is made with only a few varieties of grapes, all of which are grown in the rich soil of the Champagne region. These grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. They are often blended together to create a unique complexity, body, and aroma, giving Champagne a distinct, delicious taste and a refreshing effervescence.
  • For a bottle of sparkling wine to be labeled Champagne, it has to be produced using the méthode champenoise. This is the slowest and most costly way of making sparkling wine as it requires the fermentation to take place directly in the bottle. 
  • Wine producers who use méthode champenoise to make the sparkling wine outside of the Champagne region have to also use a different name for the technique; often, méthode tranditionalle is the substitute term.

Other popular types of sparkling wines include Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain.

Viticulture vs Viniculture

If you heard the terms viniculture or viticulture, you have likely heard them used interchangeably.

"Viticulture" is an umbrella term used to broadly refer to the science, study, and production of grapes. This relates to all aspects of the cultivation and harvesting of any type of grapes, whether wine or table grapes. 

Though technically defined as the cultivation of grapes specifically for winemaking, "viniculture" is also used to refer to the process of making the wine itself. Simply put, viniculture focuses on those grapes that are going straight to winemakers.

To further complicate things, viticulture is often mentioned alongside another wine term, "Enology," which is the study of winemaking.

There you go!

Winery vs. Vineyard

A "vineyard" is a plantation—of any size—that grows grapes meant to produce wine. It is often the first thing that comes to mind as we imagine driving through wine country: Beautiful rolling hills covered in straight rows of grapevines as far as the eye can see.

Related: Top 10 Facts About Napa Valley

A "winery" is a licensed property that makes wine. The term winery typically encompasses the property, winemaking equipment, warehouses, bottling facilities, etc. Basically, everything that's involved in the winemaking process.

Simple enough, right?

Here's one more thing you need to know about the difference between a vineyard and a winery…

A vineyard can have a winery on-site to produce wine from the grapes it grows. That said, many actually sell all their grapes to outside wineries and purely act as a grape-grower. 

A few, however, have tasting rooms on-site for wines they have outsourced elsewhere. If that's the case, it's still referred to as a vineyard, not a winery.

When a winery says it makes "estate-grown" wine, that means it has its own vineyard. Conversely, a winery can operate without having a vineyard by making its wine with grapes brought in from outside vineyards.

A great example of this is a relatively new phenomenon (urban winery) whereby producers choose to locate winemaking facilities in a city or town setting rather than in the more traditional, rural locations. 

In both cases, many wineries have tasting rooms on the premises and offer visitors tours of their winemaking operations.

Aroma vs. Bouquet

Contrary to common belief, aroma and bouquet don't mean the same thing. 

"Aroma" is used to describe smells associated with a young wine. It results from the vaporization of certain elements found in grape skin. 

When made into wine, each grape variety and the terroir offer a unique set of aromas called primary aromas. 

These aromas typically fall into three categories:

  • Fruity: peach, blackberry, apricot, black currant, 
  • Herbal: bell pepper, oregano, mint, black pepper, thyme, fennel, eucalyptus
  • Floral: roses, lavender, iris, violet, lavender

The fermentation process enhances the development of the aroma of the particular grape variety.

On the other hand, "Bouquet" describes the smell of a wine that has been aged for a considerable period of time. Bouquet is a re­sult of the slow oxidation of the wine's fruit acids, esters, and alcohols. We are talking years for a wine to develop a bouquet.

As the wine matures, the aroma diminishes in dominance. At this stage, it's just one of the contributing elements to the developing bouquet of the wine, along with the oth­er factors of wood used in the barrel, tannin, and bottle aging. 

For premium mature wines, the aroma may disappear, leaving only the complex smell of a mature bou­quet.

You'll find more complex smells such as coffee, caramel, cocoa and earthy tones such as smoke, leather and mushrooms.

Bonus: Old World Wine vs. New World Wine

Our list wouldn't be complete without a comparison of Old World and New World wines. Rather than only giving you the simple definitions, we will do you one better.

Here's a whole article covering everything you need to know about Old World Wine vs. New World Wine.

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