Old world wine

Old world wine regions can be difficult to understand, but Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier Scott Harper says their wines can be highly rewarding to drink. He has taken some of the mystery out of three of the greatest old world wine regions with brief descriptions and two wine recommendations for each region. You can add these to your collection or get you started drinking the delicious wines of these great old world wine regions.

Old world wine

Italy, Franciacorta

old world wine

A bottle displaying the
Franciacorta DOCG logo seal.
Photo by Nautinut.

South of Lake Iseo in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, just northeast of Milan, lays the old world wine region of Franciacorta. Franciacorta has quietly become Italy’s finest sparkling wine. It is one of the best in the world, perhaps because it is quite small, just a fraction of the size of Champagne. Or perhaps for its unusual and difficult to pronounce name. The mostly likely root of the name is a result of the region being riddled with a long tradition of monastic foundations. The lineage of the region’s name is based on the words “franca curte.” That means free of taxes. The monastic orders were tax exempt. Franciacorta is made in the same method as Champagne. In Italy it is called metodo classico or classic method. It uses the Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) grapes as in Champagne but adds Pinot Bianco. Non-vintage Franciacorta must be aged on the lees (yeast) in the bottle for at least 18 months. Vintage Franciacorta, called Millesimato, is the product of one year. It must be aged 30 months on the lees (yeast). During this time, which is longer than Champagne’s minimum requirement, the lees enrich the wine. That gives it a delicious yeasty fresh baked baguette flavor, as well as a tasty spice quality. Franciacorta can be labeled in a few ways. These labels include Dosaggio Zero (driest), Extra Brut (bone dry), Brutdry, Sec-dry to medium dry, and Demi Sec-Sweet. Most of what you see will be Brut. There is also a Franciacorta produced called Saten. It is 100 percent Chardonnay, lees aged 24 months with slightly less pressure than regular Franciacorta.

Recommended Franciacorta:
Brut Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige
Saten Majolini 2009

France, Burgundy

Burgundy can be one of the most difficult wine areas to understand. That only adds to its mystique and interest. It has long been considered the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Most producers outside Burgundy compare or contrast their Chardonnay or Pinot Noir to wine from the region. It has more legally defined wine areas than most countries. A couple easy things to remember are that white Burgundy is made from Chardonnay. Red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir, except for Beaujolais. That is is made from Gamay. The hierarchy of Burgundy is Regional, Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. This hierarchy is also reflective of the price of the wines. Regional is the least expensive. Grand Cru is the most expensive.

 Old World Wine

Vineyard in Côte de Nuits. Photo by Stefan Bauer.

There are five main regions in Burgundy. From north to south they are: Chabli, Côte d’Or (which is subdivided into Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. All the regions make white and red wine except Chablis. Chablis is exclusively Chardonnay. Within each of the regions there are villages. The villages can have the wines named after them. If the village has a Premier Cru, the village name will have Premier Cru after it. It may or may not include the name of the Premier Cru vineyard. Premier Cru is often abbreviated to 1er. Grand Crus vineyards do not need to have the names of the villages on them. They simply state the name of the Grand Cru. Most villages do not have Grand Crus. There are only Grand Crus in Burgundy. All of them are located in Chablis and the Côte d’Or.

Recommended Burgundy:
Red: Chambertin Clos de Beze Gerard Raphet Grand Cru 2005
White: Le Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche Grand Cru 2010

Spain, Rioja

Rioja is one of Spain’s finest red wines. Harper refers to it as red Rioja because it can come in two additional colors, a white and a rose. The red Rioja conjures up a full flavored terrific bottle of fine wine. It has a multiplicity of flavor making it one of the world’s classics red wines. The Rioja old world wine region is located in northeast Spain. It is named after the River Rio Oja. Rioja is divided into three sub regions. Rioja Alta is in the northwest. The region has the highest elevation of up 2000 feet. Rioja Alavesa is the northern most area. Lastly, Rioja Baja is in the lowlands of the southeast. The primary grape of red Rioja is the Tempranillo.

Old world wine


Tempranillo is the most important quality wine grape in Spain and usually makes up the majority of the Rioja blend. The secondary grapes are Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan).

Unlike American wines labeled reserve or grand reserve, the Terms Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva are defined by law. They indicate a progressive amount of oak and barrel aging. This ageing takes place in the traditional – believe it or not – American oak. Spaniards love it for its flavor of vanilla, coconut and dill, the less assertive French barrels or even a combination of the two. The Spanish government elevated Rioja to the highest classification of quality wine called Denominacion De Orgine Calificada (DOCa) in 1991. That means it’s from a controlled, described, quality wine region. Rioja sat alone at the top of this wine hierarchy for 11 years before one other wine was added in 2002: Priorato. No other wine has been added since!

Recommended Rioja:
Rioja Reserva Marques De Riscal 2009
Rioja Gran Reserva Marquese De Caceres 2004