When I was first getting to grips with wine in the dim and distant past, I never had the benefit of appreciating wine by grape variety. Wine was all about location, as the name on the bottle indicated: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône and so on. Since the New World was never hamstrung by the pedigree of location or brand, it turned the label upside down and opted for all those grape varieties it had pinched from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône and elsewhere.
Talking to students today, almost the first thing I, and they, mention is grape variety. The type of grape a wine's made from gives an instant handle on the many nuances of flavour and variety of styles, a much broader palette than the wine routes more travelled in the Europe of yesteryear. It's much easier to explain, for instance, the affinity and the differences between sancerre and Marlborough sauvignon blanc, between white Burgundy and chardonnay from anywhere, or between the Rhône and syrah/ shiraz worldwide.
It seems at times as if the northern and southern hemispheres have become parallel but separate wine worlds, with Europe dominated by location and regulation, the New World, including California, a playground for grape varieties. The more complex reality however is that Europe has started to embrace grape variety as a marketing term while the New World in its turn is discovering that there are indeed locations that suit some grape varieties better than others – in a word, terroir.
Do you still always think of France as the yardstick? Some would swear that Chablis is the one true spot in which only a chardonnay such as Patrick Piuze's 2009 Chablis Terroir de Fyé, around £15.50, The Butlers Wine Cellar (01273 698 724), Caviste (01256 771080), Vineking (0870 850 8997), can display such pristine peachy purity. Others would point to Australia and de Bortoli's 2008 Yarra Valley Estate Grown Chardonnay, Victoria, £16.49, Oddbins, a wine with that peachy purity of flavour and an added dimension of nutty complexity.
There are those who might call the 2009 Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Sancerre, £9.22 (25 per cent off), the quintessence of sauvignon blanc in its most aromatically nettley and gooseberry-like manifestation. Others would argue in favour of ex-Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd's 2010 Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, £14.95-£16.29, Swig (0800 0272 272), The Colchester Wine Company (01206 713 560), as a superior, New Zealand style with passion-fruit concentration and grapefruit zest.
These affinities and differences apply equally to reds. Some would point to the northern Rhône as the only place for the unique delicacy and pepperiness of cool-climate syrah as expressed by Vincent Paris' 2008 Cornas, Granit 30, £23.95, Jeroboams shops, London. Others might suggest that other cool-climate locations, such as New Zealand's Hawkes Bay, show that syrahs such as Esk Valley's aromatically Tabasco-spicy, intensely blackberryish 2008 Gimblett Gravels Syrah, Hawkes Bay, £14.95, Jeroboams, can match France for character.
They in turn would have to answer to Australia, the Victorians in particular, who'll say that no one does cooler-climate shiraz (their term for syrah) like they do: just look for instance at the liquorice-spicy and elegantly black fruit and herb character of the 2008 Innocent Bystander Shiraz, £9.99-£10.62, The Wine Reserve (01932 866 682), Bennetts Fine Wines (01608 661409). And no one would be wrong.