Somerled’s European vacation!

Wine / Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Hands up who’d like to go on a European holiday?!

While I can’t physically take you to France and Italy (right now!), let’s do a bit of armchair travel. While we’re at it, I might be able to answer a few questions about wines from this part of the world.

Questions (which had always puzzled me) such as…

Why do people refer to some European wines by their region or style and not their variety?

What actually is a Burgundy, Bordeaux or Chianti? And how do people know what they’re drinking when they have one of these wines?

If you’re like me and you’re already confused, then look no further…!


Some wines regions are so famous for the variety of grape grown there, that all you need to do is mention the regions and most people know what you’re talking about.

There are a number of those regions in France. For example…


Burgundy (aka “Bourgogne”) may be small in size but its influence is huge in the world of wine.

It is home to some of the most expensive wines in the known universe (but also some tasty and affordable ones too!).

Basically Burgundy grows two grape varieties very well. They are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And that’s pretty much what they stick to.

So, a red Burgundy (or Bourgogne Rouge) will almost always be Pinot Noir and a white Burgundy (or Bourgogne Blanc) is Chardonnay. It’s become so synonymous with these varieties that the words are used interchangeably.

You’ll find a wide range of styles across five key areas. They are…

  • Côte de Nuits: famous for its top pinot noir
  • Côte de Beaune: rich chardonnay; elegant pinot noir
  • Chablis: minerally, flinty chardonnay
  • Mâconnais: great-value, riper chardonnay styles
  • Côte Chalonnaise: the white grape aligote and sparklings (because we know that sparkling wines are generally made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or a blend of both).

The climate in Burgundy is very similar to that of the Adelaide Hills which is why we’re pretty good at growing these varieties too.



The Bordeaux wine region extends 60 miles along three rivers – the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne – to create an ideal setting for winemaking. It is complemented by a temperate climate with a short winter and high levels of humidity courtesy of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Bordeaux is known mostly for Cabernet and Merlot. But when people talk about a Bordeaux wine, they’re usually talking about a blend, not just one variety. Although you will find Brodeaux wines that are straight Cabernet or Merlot.

The Bordeaux blend is usually made up of all or some of these grapes…

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and tannin
  2. Merlot for softness and fleshy ripe fruit
  3. Cabernet Franc for lightness in body, aromatic finesse and peppery perfume
  4. Malbec for flavor intensity, complexity and tannins
  5. Petit Verdot, which is used in small amounts for color adjustment and tannin

As you can see (or probably not, because it’s way too small… sorry!) from the map, the Bordeaux region is broken up into smaller wine-producing areas all known for their particular style.

Médoc and Graves (or “Left Bank”)

This area is known for its bold and tannic wines. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates. The Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot (in that order of proportion).

Libournais  (0r “Right Bank”)

This area in Bordeaux is known for its red clay soils that produce bold plummy red wines with a dominance of Merlot (then Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon).  They are moderately bold, but generally have softer, more refined tannins. For that reason, they are a really good place to start when you’re exploring the wines of this region.

Entre-Deux-Mers “Between 2 Tides”

The area between the 2 major rivers of Bordeaux is called Entre-Deux-Mers. This area produces both red (predominantly Merlot) and white wines (usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon). Wines have grapefruit and citrus notes with zippy acidity.

Sauternais Sweet Wines

Sauternes and its surrounding regions are along a particularly dank portion of the Garonne River. Morning fog causes the white grapes grown in the area to develop Botrytis. This fungus causes the grapes to shrivel and sweeten making one of the sweetest white wines in the world.


Just a quick word on a word you may not have heard for a while…


Claret is a British term used (unofficially) in reference to red Bordeaux wine.

The term “claret” is sometimes used (again, unofficially)to refer to Bordeaux-style red wines produced elsewhere, such as the United States.

It’s a very old-fashioned term though, and one that (given it doesn’t officially mean anything) is probably on the way out.


I’ve spoken a lot about Champagne in the past, so I’m not going to dwell on this one. Most of us know that it’s a French wine region AND a type of wine.

So, when you call the wine in your glass Champagne, we know that it’s going to be white and sparkling. It also means that it’s made from Pinot or Chardonnay or a blend of both (and maybe a bit of Pinot Meunier thrown in).



Whenever I think of Chianti I think of that scene from the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t… I won’t spoil it for you (or click here if you don’t mind a spoiler)!

So what is it?

Again, it’s both a wine region (in Italy) and the name used to describe wines that come from that region.

The Chianti region is located in Tuscany and the grape most commonly grown there is Sangiovese.

For a Chianti to be a Chianti, it must be produced in the Chianti region and be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. While most Chiantis are 100% Sangiovese, some winemakers in the region like to blend the Sangiovese with a little Cabernet, Merlot or Shiraz.

Like all of the wines I’ve spoken about so far it comes in its own highly recognisable bottle – the classic bottle in a straw basket, known as a fiasco. I’ve posted about Burgundy and Bordeaux bottle shapes before. Check out this blog post for a reminder.


OK… I admit this was a pitiful replacement for an overseas holiday. BUT! I do have some very exciting news…!


With restriction eased in South Australia we have been busy making plans for our return.

The date is set… Thursday 11th June!

Book your possie for either a:

1/2 hour spot, 1 hour spot or 2 hour spot

and you will be able to enjoy all your favourite wines by the glass, platters and nibbles (in a slightly new format).

Best way to book is to flick an email to asap.

Our hours are 11-7:30pm, with last drinks still being at 7!

We cannot wait to welcome you back!

One Reply to “Somerled’s European vacation!”

  1. Hi Maree:
    More a question rather than a comment…
    I found your “European Vacation” notes both interesting and informative but was left wondering about shiraz which only seemed to get a brief mention right at the end.
    Given that several of my friends won’t drink anything other than shiraz and that part of my cellar is devoted to Somerled shiraz, I was hoping that you could give some time in a blog to where shiraz fits in the European scene.

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