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This appellation, that wine appellation.  The appellation word gets tossed about left and right, and if you’re a visitor to wine country you may have no idea what it means.  And, worse yet, you might feel silly about asking.

We all know that the quality of grapes has a major part to do with the quality of the wine.  But, where it is grown gives at least 75% of the characteristics of that particular wine you love so much.  Appellation is a fancy word for the region, meaning a combination of the climate and soil, where the grapes that make up your favorite wine are grown.

Areas that are hot and dry during the day, and that cool off at night, such as Sonoma County and Napa, create superior wines.  (Particularly with some volcanic soil tossed into the mix.)  Napa and Sonoma County have an extraordinary number of microclimates.  This creates very distinctive flavors from the grapes grown in each region.

The pros call these areas AVAs.  What we call appellations.  It’s not an official name, but it is very real.  Just check the label of your favorite wine.  Chances are it will read “Russian River,” as referred to by its appellation.  (It also means that if you enjoy wines from one appellation, you may well enjoy wines from the same appellation.)

It’s not just the winemakers, or those with a well-developed palate who notice the difference.  When you experiment and open your senses, you’ll notice the difference, too.

:  The same sort of wine made from one appellation may taste very different than the same wine from a different appellation.  Do you love a hearty red zinfandel?  Try the difference between a Zin made from grapes in the Dry Creek appellation than one made in Southern Sonoma.  The climate in the Dry Creek region holds very little morning mist.  Sonoma is near the San Francisco Bay Area, and morning mist blankets the region daily.  You’ll find the Dry Creek Zins are often heartier.  Better?  No.  Simply different!

As with all things, let your taste and love be your guide in authentic wine country.