Do wine labels provide sufficient information

Wine labels

Historically, people prepared food, and drank local wine with whatever they cooked. There was no fuss about grape variety, clones, vineyard location, soil composition and climate.

People drank wine when available, and often it was a “field blend” of various grape varieties. Growers never worried about buying vines from nurseries, or root stocks that were disease resistant, ripening characteristics and sensitivity to weather. If the season was cooler than “normal”, the wine was either harvested later than usual or it contained higher level acidity,

Monks in France and Germany paid attention to smoothness of wine, flavour, ad also to vines. They read, had libraries, recorded their agricultural discoveries for posterity and were keen to experiment.

Things changed when phylloxera arrived in the second half of the 19th century in France with a shipment of vines from the U S A,

It proceeded to destroy vines, and progressively advanced from vineyard to vineyard and region to region. It was until scientists discovered that American vines belonging to the vitis labrusca, vitis rotundifolia, and others were phylloxera resistant that then started grafting vitis vinifera varieties on these rootstocks.

Soil and root stock selection became important considerations, as well as suitability of climate and other important factors.

When the New World e.g Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa stated producing wine, a scientific approach was taken. Organoleptic characteristics of various grape varieties also became important.

In Europe (France, Germany, Italy, And Spain) a regional approach was taken. Wine drinkers referred to regions (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire, Cotes du Rhone, Champagne, the Rhine, Mosel, Tuscany, and Piedmont) rather than grape varieties. In many cases the wines were blended. Winemakers paid attention to flavour, colour, balance, and overall acceptability.

Many California wineries started marketing their dry white wines as Chablis. In reality they had no semblance to the true Chablis, and eventually wine drinkers caught on to the fraud.

Europeans, particularly French wineries were furious, but could do little to stop these sales strategies, since famous regions has nor “patented” their style of wine and its particular taste.

It was Robert Mondavi, who in the 1960’s, decided to market wine by grape variety, reasoning that people would remember a few grape varieties rather than geographic regions. Geography seems to be of less importance to North Americans in general.

There are more than 7000 grape varieties and counting. More hybrids are being bred by specialized scientists, and more old grape varieties are being revitalized in search of new and exciting taste dimensions. Now we know that the same grape variety planted in Bordeaux yields completely different wines to the one planted in California, or more specifically, Napa valley, or for that matter Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, just west.

Wine labels indicate mostly the grape variety according to the law. In some countries the wine must contain a minimum of 75 per cent of the grape variety on the label, in others 85, and in France 100 per cent.

The label should state the grape variety and the valley, or at least a region e.g. cabernet sauvignon of Napa valley, or cabernet sauvignon of Languedoc, shiraz of Barossa Valley etc.

People will argue that appellation on the label should suffice, but consider Washington State. This large state produces a lot of cabernet sauvignon and other grape varieties. The same grape variety planted in the Yakima Valley tastes different to that grown in Horse heaven appellation close by.

Then there is the question of alcohol content by volume. It may come as a surprise to many that the alcohol by volume indicated on the label may legally vary by + or – 1.1/5 degrees. This is a large difference and changes the taste, as well as the structure of the wine and which would not be permitted in other consumables or durable goods.

Then there is the question of back labels. Many contain useful information e.g name and address of the winery, acidity level, or pH, harvesting date etc. Some also contain description written by “poets” that are almost meaningless and fail to enlighten the consumer.

More important would be aging (if the wine is aged) information with regard to barrel wood origin, maker, size, length of aging, filtering etc.

There are many aspects to grape growing, wine making, packaging, transportation, distribution and retailing. Only the informed consumer can make intelligent buying decisions.

The onus is on the winery to provide meaningful information.

One Comment

  1. WOW, A fantastic concept and a superb recording. Thank you for this great work. Hope we will see and hear more of you in the near future.