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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why is Chablis called Chablis?

—Tripti S., India

Dear Tripti,

This might seem like a trick question, but it’s actually a very good one. Chablis is a region in France, and wines from there are named Chablis. If you’ve never had real Chablis, do yourself a favor and try one. They’re some of the best Chardonnays I’ve ever tasted, typically with a flinty, steely edge.

But there are other wines called Chablis that have nothing to do with the region in France, or even with the Chardonnay grape. For many years, the United States didn’t restrict the use of words that refer to well-known European wine regions. So, terms like Sherry, Champagne, Burgundy, Chianti, Port and Chablis were attached to wines that may have been nothing like their true namesakes. In those days, “Chablis” was just a generic way to say “white wine” to some consumers.

U.S. wine law has changed, so no new wines may use these geographical terms incorrectly. But wine brands that already used these terms are “grandfathered in” and allowed to continue, as long as the term appears next to the wine’s actual appellation or place of origin.

—Dr. Vinny

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