Why don't the French say which grape varieties they are using?
I was often puzzled as to what I was buying with french wines. The rest of the world's wine producers are explicit and state the grape variety on the bottle.
Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and so on all sound very French, so why I wondered don't the french themselves put them on their wine labels?
The answer came from a gallic aquaintence called patrick who gave me a new word to add to my french vocab. The word is terroir.
After such a long history of wine production, many localities fought long and hard for their reputation as wine producers. In the days before international jet setting, Where a wine came from was the definition of whether it was good or not.
Local producers claimed (with justification) that the combination of the grape, soil, climate slope and expert knowledge of the local producers were the ingredients of a fine wine. These elements were collectively called the terroir.
So the French wines name their region on their wine bottles. Some regions stick to single grape varieties while others mix grapes. For example, white wines from Chablis all use the Chardonnay grape, and it then becomes the soil with its unique combination of clay and chalk plus the ammount of sunlight in different parts of the valley that seperate a cheap Petit Chablis from a massively expensive bottle of Chablis Grand Cru.
The bordeaux wines are famous for their amazing reds. Burgundy too is famous for its rich clarets.