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Wines by Origin (2) - Branding by area revisited

Wine Making Areas

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering in print if the current marketing thrust - that of selling wines by the grape variety to the almost complete exclusion of any other way, was in fact helping wine-drinkers. I have always been a supporter of introducing wines by grape variety, it makes remembering a wine easy and it makes finding a wine that might please easier on a restaurant's list or on a supermarket's shelf. That ease of recognition is a big boon to people who are new to wine, but as your tastes develop and your palate alters, the cracks in the system become more apparent.

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering in print if the current marketing thrust - that of selling wines by the grape variety to the almost complete exclusion of any other way, was in fact helping wine-drinkers. I have always been a supporter of introducing wines by grape variety, it makes remembering a wine easy and it makes finding a wine that might please easier on a restaurant's list or on a supermarket's shelf. That ease of recognition is a big boon to people who are new to wine, but as your tastes develop and your palate alters, the cracks in the system become more apparent.

Let's take a variety at random - Chardonnay. It's the great grape of Burgundy and makes perhaps the finest white wines on the planet, wines like Corton Charlemagne and Batard-Montrachet. It has been planted with great success in America, South Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe and South America. In fact, as you look through supermarket shelves or off-licenses you could be forgiven for thinking it's the only white grape. It comes in a huge variety of styles, from heavily oaked Australian examples to the luscious, complex wines of the Burgundy.

Quite apart from the fact it can come from just about anywhere on our planet and therefore from many different climactic conditions and soil types, there are other things that affect the style of the finished wine, not just the grapes themselves. They can be pruned hard to give a low yield of say 30 hectolitres per hectare that will give an intensity to the wine. The grapes can come from old vines giving once again lower yields, but more concentration of flavours. There are marked differences in the flavours imparted by various yeasts, and that too is in the control of the wine-maker. And there are big clonal differences in the Chardonnay variety itself. The Chardonnay of the Cote d'Or is not the same grape as the Chardonnay on the Cote de Beaune, in the Maconnais or in Chablis. If you transplanted the very slightly Muscat flavoured Chardonnay of Macon to Meursault, the resulting Meursault wine would taste very different than it usually does. If those clonal differences are evident in France alone, imagine how much more exaggerated they are between France and Australia.

With all of these variables playing their part, a wine made from just the Chardonnay grape can vary enormously and as a result the word 'Chardonnay' on a label will tell you little about style of wine to expect. Perhaps there is a case to be made for labelling wines again by their terroir and letting its geographical origins tell us about what style of wine to expect.

Recommended wine

Viognier, Laurent Miquel, 2002

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