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[updated June 17, 2005]

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I am unclear about the current regulations in the United States about the percentage of the named grape in a bottle of varietally named wine. I think that each state used to set the amounts; however, I was told recently that it is now a function of the national government. What is the situation? Who sets the limits, and what are they?

—Dale L., La Grande, Ore.

Dear Dale,

In the United States, federal law sets the standards for the wineries. Regulations enforced by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB—formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, or BATF—state that in order to give a wine a varietal name, at least 75 percent of it must be made from that grape variety. Oregon has adopted stricter laws, requiring a minimum of 90 percent for a varietal (except for Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be labeled as such with a minimum of 75 percent, as long as it's blended with other Bordeaux-type grapes).

For a wine to be labeled with an appellation, at least 85 percent of the grapes must have been grown there; for it to have a vintage date, 95 percent of it has to be from that calendar year (although some vintners have recently proposed dropping this to 85 percent).

State laws, which vary, cover shipping and distribution. That's why it's legal to have wine shipped to your home in some states but not in others.

—Dr. Vinny

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