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Let’s be real, the world of wine is a convoluted, confusing mess. I mean, just look at how many different brands are on the shelf at your local grocery store. It is baffling! Which wines are good? Is it worth it to buy a $70 Pinot Noir, or will aPinot noir under $30 suffice? Nobody wants to feel like a confused fool, or overspend on bad wine, but sometimes it seems like you need a Ph.D. to decipher what is said on the wine label (and we’re not even talking international wines, there you need to learn another language).

So, to help you search through the variety of key terms and buzzwords and find the best wine for you at a good price, we decided to create a little glossary to show:

  1. What some commonly used terms mean.
  2. What these terms indicate to the consumer as far as price and quality.

For this blog, we decided to focus on words specifically associated withthe vineyard. After all, that is where the grapes begin their journey into wine.

Estate grown:When “Estate Grown” is written on the bottle, that usually means that the winery owns or controls 95% of the grapes that go into the bottle. Unfortunately, though, there is no legal definition of the term “Estate Grown” so it doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the wine’s quality or value.  Therefore,it is best not to make your decision based on this label.

Sourced fruit: Technically this is not a buzzword because it is rarely on the label, so it is tough to know whether a wine is sourced(Lucky Rock wines are 100% sourced, and we make an effort to put the counties on our label). We use the term “cuvee” Pinot Noir (basically meaning “blend”) to indicate that we take the best-sourced grapes we can find to make our wine. This approach can be less expensive than owning and farming one’s own vineyards and allows more flexibility to balance the price and quality. Despite what your wine snob uncle may say after a few glasses of overpriced Merlot, sourcing grapes is not “bad” or lead to “inferior quality” when compared to estate grapes. But this strategy is almost always more affordable per bottle than estate.

Single Vineyard:Self-explanatory, right?  A single vineyard wine (well technically 95 % of the said wine) comes from a single vineyard. Usually, that means that the winery found this specific vineyard to be of a high enough quality for it to be bottled separately. Because it is from just one vineyard, you will typically see single vineyards as much more expensive than most other wines. These wines represent a time and place and that is what you are paying a premium for. We recommend buying a winery’s “blend” wines (which are usually a blend of multiple vineyards) to see if you like the style, before jumping into the pricey single vineyards.

Cuvée:On the other side of the spectrum from single vineyard wines, come the blends or cuvée wines. Again, this is typically not mentioned on the label, although, we at Lucky Rock are damn proud to display the “County Cuvée” on our label and even tell you which counties in California we blend from and the percentage of grapes from each county. Blended winescan be made using estate fruit and sourced fruit, and, by far and wide,comprise most of the wine market. Because there are so many different cuvée wines out there, there is a wide range of quality. While single vineyard wines can be better for aging and generally are saved for more special occasions, cuvées are your everyday drinking wines and made to be soft and smooth and consumed right after you buy them. So our recommendation is to find a couple of producers that you like(we make the list?), and stock up on theircuvée wines.

Disclaimer: Not to be confused with “Red Blend”, which typically goes on the label instead of a varietal for a wine that has less than 75% of any grape (That is a whole other article).

Sustainable:We have previously written about this buzzword, and if you want to see the previous blog post go tothis link. We don’t want to drone on, but we feel that sustainability is extremely important, mostly from a philosophical standpoint. What does it mean to us? Well, if a wine is farmed sustainably that means all precautions are taken to ensure that the environment around it- including soils, rivers, and wildlife- isn’t harmed by the farming practices. Can the wine be more expensive as a result? Sometimes. Is sustainable wine always better quality? Not always. It just depends on what your values are.

Hopefully, these explanations will help you better select the best wine on your next trip to the grocery store. If anything, you can ask better questions of the wine steward and they should be able to point you in the right direction.  If you have any more key terms that you would like “demystified”, let us know and we will run another blog on the subject.