Look behind the Label and Experiment

Sometimes it is difficult to tell what a wine will taste like from the label. Fashion and media can create a demand for a certain drink, for example, the Sex and The City ‘ladies’ made Pinot Grigio the drink for the girls and consumption went through the roof. This grape variety is easy to pronounce with a twang to it and people felt comfortable asking for it in restaurants and bars.

Chardonnay took a bad turn when it was over-oaked and over produced in the early noughties in the States. There was a backlash when ‘ABC’ – Anything but Chardonnay was a phrase used by those who bought into the negative publicity. What some people don’t realise is that Chardonnay is one of the principle grapes used in Champagne and also Chablis. Quality really depends on the producer, so how can the consumer get an idea of what is quality just from the label?

In the Old World, labels are the subject of rules and regulations going back years. The idea was fair, a bit like cheddar cheese, let’s put a protected name on the area so consumers can be sure that they are buying champagne from champagne for example, but does this necessarily mean quality? It gives reassurance but can depend on so many variables, mainly good old Mother Nature, so there can be excellent growing and ripening years when a vintage is declared but there can also be poor years.

All we can be sure of is we can only try by trial and error when selecting our favourite wines. Recent studies have shown that only half the people on a blind tasting trial could not differentiate between a relatively cheap and an expensive wine. This is not good news for the fine wine community. They say that the New World wines are ‘easier’ to taste i.e. single grape varieties or two blends are more fruity than aged wines which have taken on other flavours from the ageing process such as vanilla, toast, herbs and aromatics.

What you can tell from the label of all wines is the alcohol content. Producers are now producing wines of 11 – 12% in white and trying to lower the 14.5% in reds. Consumers demand this as we become more aware of units and strength of what we are drinking.

The Old World is now putting grape varieties on the label as consumers become more aware. However you may never know the mystique of Chateauneuf–du-Pape as this can be blended from up to 13 different varieties.

The New World nearly always states the grape variety and blend on the label. It is common practice to use 80% of the first named grape and 20% of the second for example Syrah and Grenache in blends.

The World of Wine is evolving and we the consumers can be King or Queen. Riesling is making a comeback, especially from the Alsace Region. The wine industry is experimenting. I think I owe it to them to experiment with them, don’t you?

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