Archive - May, 2007

Varietals on wine labels – 1

I have started numbering these posts right from the start as I am sure this is a theme I will return to in future.

In brief, conventional wisdom states that the “New World” succeeded in bringing wine to the masses, certainly in the UK, by eschewing all that boring and confusing regional stuff and telling it like it is by stating right up front what varietal(s) the wine was made from.

Consumers, by definition, were interested in purchasing more and better wine but were put off by all those regional and quality indications, such as “Bordeaux Superieur”, “Denominazione di Origine Controllata Chianti Rufina” and “Qualit├Ątswein mit Pr├Ądikat”. Too many words, languages and funny letters.

So in marched the honest speaking Aussies and Californians with their Chardonnays, Cabernets and Merlots. Sales of these wines took off and now they out-sell the Old World wines that are “stuck in the past” and “don’t understand branding”.

But how true is this really? More importantly, if people do believe in the pre-eminence of the varietal as a brand to sell the wine, how useful is it, and has it led us down a blind alley?

On the positive side, it is certainly true that simple, well designed and consumer-friendly labels made a big difference. The new wines were specifically designed to appeal to new wine drinkers, not those who knew, or pretended to know, about these things. This was true of the wines themselves as well as the packaging.

These new wines changed all sorts of conventions at the same time, not just the varietal labelling, so analysing why they worked is complicated. The label designs were fresh. The names were pronounceable. The styles were easy drinking and fruity. The alcoholic content from these warmer climates was often higher (and was still being used as a shorthand by consumers for better value in wine). There was even some consumer marketing and sales promotion and they were available in new kinds of wine shops like Oddbins and even, god forbid, the supermarkets. And, of course, they were “new” and “cool”.

However, the easiest thing to point to is the listing of the grapes on the front. But does this actually help?

My own view, and something I realise I will have to come back to if I am not to post a whole essay, is yes & no, but mainly No! I think that they are driving us to a blind alley from which the only escape is to return to the original ideas of regional labelling.

But I think I had better save this for another day.

A question

A question for a dreary Wednesday morning:

(I am trying to get my head around this and I am sure many people will have different views)

How important is the varietal on the wine label?

Any thoughts? Has anyone come across any diverging views?



Not a lot of time to blog or read others’ posts as this week is the London International Wine and Spirit Fair – LIWSF – at ExCeL

Worth a visit if you can justify being “in the trade” in any way. Surely blogging is a form of journalism and entitles you to a Press pass?

More news in a week or so.

Alcohol makes people lose their senses. Shock!

Although this topic has been & gone in the media recently I thought I would add my 2 cents’/pennies’ worth as it does relate to my thinking on Wine Culture.

Should “children” under 15 be allowed to drink at home whilst supervised?

Unequivocally YES! The whole discussion is ridiculous. The alternative is unenforceable, a complete over-dramatisation, focused on the wrong problem and also, simply put, wrong.

They key is supervision and sensible parenting. Do we want to start assuming parents are not generally sensible and issuing “baby licences” before allowing anyone to have a child? Sound like an invasion of privacy to you?

What are they trying to address? Stopping reasonable people from educating their children or increasing teenage alcohol and drug abuse? Does anyone really think that home consumption is to blame? If you are trying to involve parents in the issue, is positive support not better than meaningless threats of legal action?

We cannot remove the allure of getting pissed on too much alcohol to try and impress peers or as escapism from boring lives. However, we can demonstrate our own mature attitude to alcohol by talking about it and sharing it, with an understanding of its negative effects on children of course. Hopefully this will then encourage the younger generation to have a more sensible and mature attitude to alcohol.

We are bombared routinely by nanny state style announcements like this which are encouraged by the media, then further sensationalised for their own purposes. They only serve to further enflame extremist commentators, which of course gets even more media attention. Eventually they move on leaving confused parents in their wake.

I will leave others to discuss the power and responsibility of the media, but it makes me wonder, both as a parent and a member of the wine trade, how we can have sensible and positive discussions about alcohol without such silly headlines.

Which brings me on to wonder about the legal drinking age. What should it be? 15? 18? 19? 21? Can anyone remind me of the justification for Americans being the only ones to have to be 21 to drink (but not join the army, vote, pay tax, etc.)?

Alcohol really does get people to lose their senses, but it seems that it has that effect on some people whether they are drinking or not!

On glassware and wine experience

I have never been a big believer in the Glassware cause. When I read that Riedel has launched their latest glass design especially for drinking Mavrodaphne or whatever, I usually ignore it.

However, I have been away for a week staying in what was otherwise a very nicely furnished cottage in Cornwall. Unfortunately, their choice for wine glasses was limited to a heavy glass beaker in the shape of a martini glass.

I didn’t really care as we were not drinking expensive wines most of the time. However, when we did buy some better wines (including a Pipers Brook PN from Tasmania with thanks to David McWilliams at BinTwo in Padstow) the wines were obviously great, but really struggled to show their true colours.

It makes you wonder how many people are put off wine by a combination of selecting the wrong wine for the occasion (Zinfandel with Fish & Chips?), poor storage (reds stored next to the cooker!), wine faults and poor glassware. Any one of these could be enough to turn away those who did bother to open a bottle, and they are more than likely to turn up in combinations.

Of course glassware is the least of these, but it nevertheless shows that you need to consider many different issues if you are to understand how others see and interact with wine, even potentially minor and uncontrollable variables such as the choice of glassware.

Next time I’ll pack some better glasses, just in case!

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