The Key Differences Between American and European Wines

Wine is wine, right?

The production methods don’t change too much no matter where the wine is produced. Winemakers still have to maintain their vineyards, harvest the fruit, process it and ferment the juices, and ultimately bottle their wines. Granted, there are some small variations in the production process depending on the producer. But generally speaking, not a lot changes in the production method used by winemakers.

And yet, the wines made in Europe and America have many differences.

Some of these differences come from the grapes used and the specific methods a producer leverages. Others are more practical changes that can affect how you figure out what type of wine you’re getting and where it comes from. Either way, there are plenty of differences between American and European wines that you need to know about. And in this article, we’re going to list the key ones.

Difference No. 1 – How the Wines Are Labelled

If you check a European wine’s label, you’ll see that it tells you exactly where the grapes used to make the wine were grown. Take Italian wines as an example. The DOC or DOCG label applied clues you into the region of production. You’ll usually find more details about this region and the specific producer on the bottle, as well as information about the grapes used to make the wine.

American wines don’t tend to have this regional information. Instead, the labels on American bottles only tell you the grape variety used in their production. What’s more, the grape can only be listed if it makes up 75% or more of the wine.

This is a big difference because of the effects a region can have on the taste and quality of a wine. Taking Italy as an example again, the country is split into multiple winemaking regions. These regions are further divided, with each sub-division growing different grapes, having variations in soil, and experiencing specific microclimates. All of these things have impacts on the wine produced. For example, a grape grown in volcanic soil will usually have different mineral qualities than the same grape grown in clay-rich soil.

European wines allow you to track these differences because they tell you about the region. American wines don’t because you only know the grape and have no information about where it was grown.

Difference No. 2 – Diversity

America has long been known to produce fruit-forward wines that focus less on complexity and more on accessible drinks that have high acidity. By contrast, European wines run the full gamut from fruit-forward wines to more complex examples that can take a lot of exploration to fully appreciate.

The point we’re making here is that there tends to be a lot more diversity in European wines. Again, this comes down to different regions and growing conditions, which affect the grape. You need to do a little more research when buying a European wine than you would need for a typical American wine.

However, this trend is starting to change over time. As Americans become more in tune with how regional differences can affect their wines, we’re seeing a migration of production away from California. America’s wine-making base is the reason why so many of its wines are fruit-forward. As we see producers setting up in areas of the country that have different climates, we’re likely to see more variety in American wines. After all, the country is more than large enough to offer plenty of regional variety.

Difference No. 3 – Approachability

Speak to any European wine buff and they’ll tell you that many of the wines they consume are best enjoyed with food. Though this is often the case for American wines, you’ll often find these wines can be consumed alone and still enjoyed to their fullest.

Again, this comes down to the fruit-forward nature of American wines. They’re designed to be more accessible, which allows drinkers to enjoy them however they see fit. Of course, you can do the same with European wines. However, some European wines express themselves best when combined with certain foods.

Difference No. 4 – Mentions of Sulphite

All American wine labels have to tell the consumer if the product contains sulphites. These chemicals are often used in the wine production process to help preserve the wine. European wines have no such requirements, meaning the consumer has to do more research to determine the presence of sulphites.

As a general rule of thumb, if a European wine is certified as organic, natural, or biodynamic, that’s a good indicator that it contains no sulphites. For wines without these labels, you’ll need to look into the production method.

Difference No. 5 – How Cooperatives Function

Both European and American have cooperatives. But their function differs. In Europe, a cooperative is a group of winemakers that pools grapes, production ideas, and resources to produce wines under a collective banner.

In America, cooperatives tend to exist to rent space to smaller wine companies that may not be able to afford to operate on their own. The small companies maintain their own branding and grow their own grapes. They just use the cooperative’s resources to avoid having to dedicate more of their own money to the production process.

Difference No. 6 – Alcohol Volume

An interesting quirk of American wines, especially those made in California, is that alcohol volumes have climbed over the last two decades. As such, you can usually expect an American wine to get you drunk faster than a European one.

This isn’t a hard and fast difference. Many European wines have high alcohol volumes too. However, the continent as a whole trends toward lower volumes than those found in American wines.

The Final Word

We didn’t write this article to make any points about which is better between American and European wines. Instead, consider this an exploration of how different cultures choose to produce and market their wines. No matter which country you buy from, you can always find great wines if you look hard enough. At Xtrawine, we want to make your search easier by providing access to great wines from all over the world.


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