Tuesday, 28 May 2013

What's in a Name? - New World versus Old

Firstly some housekeeping. I flagged up at the end of my last blog that I would be writing about my local vineyard next. Unfortunately I have not yet had chance to do the tour of the place with the owners and I would like to wait until I have done that before I write about it even though I know it well. Hopefully next time.

On Day 1 at wine school the first thing you learn is about how, historically, winemakers name their wines. Well actually, that is not quite true. The first thing you learn is that white wine is not made from white grapes and red wine is not made from red grapes and that rosé is definitely not made by mixing red wine and white wine together.

What I mean is that old world wines from France, Italy and Spain most prominently name their wines based on place rather than the type of grape variety. This is why we get Rioja, Chianti and Beaujolais instead of Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Gamay. In the new world winemakers make the name of the grape variety pre-eminent so we talk about the Chardonnay of Australia, Chenin Blanc of South Africa or Pinot Noir of New Zealand.

It's not an exact science but it is a good rule of thumb. I say this because there are some new world wine areas that are increasingly synonymous with a particular style of wine. Perhaps the best example these days would be Marlborough 'Sauvignon' from New Zealand.

Australian Burgundy anyone?
In fact if we go back some 25 years plus it was common place for the new world producers to use French names on their bottles so we had Australian Burgundy or Chablis for example. Even in Europe this practice existed to a certain extent. Spanish Cava (which I have to say is a fabulous way to start an evening) was commonly called Spanish Champagne, I suspect primarily to encourage British consumers to buy when in the Costas on the early package holidays of the 1960s and 70s.

Of course this practice no longer exists due to the European Law Protected Geographical Status regulations which protects the status of many local specialties including many British ones including Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton cheese. See, Europe is not all bad.

For Australian wines the process took a little longer and only on 1st September 2010 did the practice become illegal although in reality Australian winemakers has stopped using French names when their wine became all the rage in the 1980s.

Over the last 20 years in the time that I have worked in the hospitality trade the knowledge of the general public about wine has increased about 100 fold. These days virtually anyone who drinks wine will know what grape varieties they like to drink. And they will ask for wines by grape variety. I am confident that of the many people that come in and ask for a glass of Merlot if I offered them a glass of St Emilion (leaving aside price issues and I do know that a lot of St. Emilion is blended with Cab. Franc and a little Cab. Sauv) many would say 'no thanks just the Merlot please'. And that really is a great shame because the best wine will always be French.

A classic selection of French wines - How many grape varieties can you see named?
With the massive advancement of Australian, Californian and more recently Chilean and New Zealand wines the vast majority of the public know only grape varieties and not the classic regions and I for one am very sad about that and am making it my aim to encourage people to learn more.

One of the common questions I ask my staff, and they always forget, is what grape variety is Chablis? It causes so much confusion and discussion. In fact I am too embarrassed to repeat the answer one of my staff gave to me to this question. But hey, I'll never give up trying to educate. Oh, and of course it is Chardonnay by the way.

If you enjoy what you're reading why not book a wine tasting with me. See my website at www.gloryofwine.com or follow me on twitter.

Until next time thanks for reading and enjoy your wine.