Did you know that 18 different grape varieties can be used in a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Or that Burgundy wines are actually labeled as Bourgogne even though everyone calls it "Burgundy"? Or, that Super Tuscans are considered some of the best quality wines coming out of Tuscany, but that they aren't allowed to use the Tuscany DOC/DOCG designation normally reserved for high quality wines from Italy? There's no disputing that Old World labels are not the easiest to decipher! But why must they make our lives so hard? #winoproblems
The reason that Old World wine labels have the region of origin rather than the grape variety on them is because there is more of an emphasis on terroir rather than the specific grape variety in the Europe. The designations (such as AOC, DOC, IGT, etc.) will dictate what grape varieties are used in the wine along with very strict rules that the wineries must adhere to in order to put that designation on the bottle. That's great if you live in Europe and know what the different regions means, but for us that live here in the U.S. and didn't necessarily grow up drinking the stuff, it's confusing.
Old World labels are very different from New World wines that either tell you the grape variety on the front label or the back label. As with anything in wine, there are always rare exceptions, but most people would agree that New World labels are much less confusing because it's normally very easy to tell what grape variety is actually in the bottle. And although grape varieties can show very different expressions of styles and flavor depending on the region, climate, or winemaking style, we still use them as an indicator as to what you can generally expect to be in the bottle, and it's helpful to know what grape variety is in there to tell if you're going to like the wine.
Still confused? We could go for days talking about each European wine region, and the types of grapes they use, but here's a cheat sheet to help you decipher some of the most popular Old World wines out there - and what's actually inside the bottle: