Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

generic, wine, one named after a wine type (and usually borrowed European place-name) as opposed to a varietal, named after the grape variety from which the wine was made. The term has been used particularly in australia and the united states. Under American law, wines labelled as generics may be made from any grape variety or blend of varieties, and called either after their colour (red, white, rosé) or after places. With nothing else to call their results, early california wineries borrowed European place-names shamelessly. Before prohibition one could buy, not just St-Julien and Margaux made in the state, but wines named after particular châteaux. After Prohibition, stricter laws limited the borrowings to a handful of so-called semi-generic names, most commonly Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Rhine, Sauterne (sic), Sherry, and Port, but did nothing to demand even the faintest approximations of the original in terms of grape varieties or style. Chablis could and can be just as sickly sweet as Rhine, and both can be made from thompson seedless or any other white grape. Burgundy, Chianti, and Claret could all come from the same tank, and probably have done. Towards the end of the 1980s, Red Table Wine, White Table Wine, and Rosé began to replace place-names on many of the more reputable labels. However, Chablis, Burgundy, and other borrowed names remain in widespread use by a number of large-volume producers, giants gallo foremost among them. A wine agreement between the US and EU finally drafted in 2005 permitted the continued use of these semi-generic terms on established brands for an unspecified period.