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Wine Laws - Their pluses and minuses

Wine and the Market

Once upon a time we got to know wines by their region of origin, and that was defined by the local tradition. Chianti tastes the way it does, not just because of the method of vinification called 'governo', but because it's made from two local varieties - the San Giovese and the Canaiolo.

Once upon a time we got to know wines by their region of origin, and that was defined by the local tradition. Chianti tastes the way it does, not just because of the method of vinification called 'governo', but because it's made from two local varieties - the San Giovese and the Canaiolo. Because centuries of growers have used those grapes, the wine that they produce has become inextricably linked to the area. In much the same way the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are integral to claret and Chardonnay defines white Burgundy.

When wine legislation came into effect, the various governing bodies in the countries implementing them had much the same idea. What they wanted was first to protect the tradition and secondly they wanted to ensure that the methods of production remained true to their heritage. When a wine-maker looks for an Appellation Controlee or a Denominazione di Origine Controllata for his wine, that wine has to conform to the norms that have been laid down for the area in which his wine is made. The grape variety or varieties are defined as well as their percentages in the final blend, the method of pruning is specified, the final alcoholic content has a defined minimum and the exact area from whence the wine takes its AC is precisely delineated. In short, these laws are there to try to ensure that the historical character of a wine is preserved and guaranteed.

Like many governmental initiatives with good intent, it hasn't always had the intended effect. Markets and tastes are by their nature volatile, so if for example world taste moves away from Chianti, the growers in that region would find it difficult to respond, given the official shackling that the DOC laws impose. Heritage and tradition come with that baggage. Perhaps one of the finest wines from Tuscany, Antinori's Solaia, once came with the denomination of 'table wine', since it was made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. To qualify for a DOC in Tuscany no more than 10% Cabernet can be used.

In the New World growers had no such limitations. In California essentially all the vines were imported from Europe, and because there was no existing tradition, growers were free to plant whatever they felt best suited their terrain. In the early years they simply copied European styles - even as late as 1960 any white wine could call itself a 'Burgundy' and a red could style itself 'Claret'. But just as in the music business, doing cover versions of other peoples hits has never been a route to fame. The recent world-wide appreciation of wines from California, South America and the Antipodes has been driven by the growers there developing their own style of wine - not poor emulations of a regional French one.

Recommended wine

Montes Alpha Chardonnay Special Cuvee 1999

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