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Category Archives: Wine terms

The craft wine dilemma

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craft wine dilemma

Which is craft wine and which isn’t?

How do you describe a wine that isn’t made by a multi-national and that doesn’t sell millions of cases? Is craft wine the proper description? And, if it is, how do you prevent the multi-national from describing its product the same way?

That’s the craft wine dilemma, as producers try to find terms to separate their wine from mass-produced grocery store plonk — even if their wine isn’t all that different.

There is no legal definition of craft wine, and borrowing the term from beer doesn’t help. Craft beer, which is assumed to be made by small, independent producers, is driving what little growth there is in the beer business, but craft beer includes Shiner and its 6 million cases and Boston Beer’s Sam Adams and its $2.9 billion in sales. Both belong to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group, demonstrating how empty the term is. Consider (and allowing for a 24-can case of beer vs. a 12-bottle case of wine) that Shiner would be tied for 12th on Wine Business Monthly’s top 30 U.S. producers list, just ahead of Bogle, and Boston Beer would be among the top three or four biggest wine companies in the country by sales.

The Brewers Association trade group guidelines don’t help much either, offering lots of PR speak (“Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy”) and little else. Also complicating matters: The rash of lawsuits over the past year from disgruntled consumers suing craft brewers and distillers because their craft products don’t seem to be that much different from the products made by multi-nationals, save for higher prices. No wonder there was such a spirited discussion on Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog this summer about the subject, looking for the best way to describe what Wark calls wine made by a “small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery.”

The craft wine dilemma reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” If an 8 million case producer like Delicato Family Winery uses the term hand-crafted for some of its wine, does hand-crafted have any meaning? On the other hand, can a producer that mostly fits Wark’s definition be called a craft winery if its idea of quality is to make an overoaked fruit bomb designed to get 98 points and cost $100?

Establishing legal (or even trade group-agreed) definitions for craft and similar terms is the obvious solution, but most of the wine business will burn down the blog and carry me off with pitchforks for suggesting it. Still, given that some plaintiffs have won their craft definition lawsuits, maybe that idea is worth considering. Otherwise, it will be a long time before anyone solves the craft wine dilemma.

 

Adding new wine terms to the dictionary

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new wine termsWine is famous for using terms that no one can understand, so why not invent even more? Because the last thing we want to do is to help ordinary wine drinkers understand what’s going on, right? Hence, these new wine terms. (And I swear I made all of them up. Honest.)

The ukelele: Someone who proclaims each new wine as the greatest ever — until the next trend comes along. Always forwarding articles from the Internet about Greek and Georgian wine, as well as gruner veltliner.

• “Let’s reboot this brand:” Favorite phrase of wise guy wine marketers who think changing the label and charging $4 more for ordinary grocery store wine will fool consumers and convince industry that premiumization is the next big thing.

The wanker: Wine drinker, usually a man, who can find a flaw in every wine he has ever tasted. Also prone to proclaiming that the previous vintage of a wine was much better than the current vintage, even though he said the same thing when the previous vintage was the current vintage.

The whiffet: Someone who always apologizes for the wine they drink, regardless of quality, and is constantly saying things like, “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about wine.”

• “Running up the score:” Used to describe ratings-obsessed wine drinker who always adds points to whatever he bought (also usually a man), as in “Yeah, that Parker 97 was awesome, and I got such a deal on it” when it was actually a 92, the points were given by a clerk at his local retailer, and it cost $13.

Scrooge McWine: Wine drinker (and again usually a man) who says loudly and often that all wine is overpriced, regardless of whether it costs $100 or $5. Sometimes, but not always, a wanker.

Image courtesy of Wine Ponder, using a Creative Commons license

Residual sugar in wine, with charts and graphs

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residual sugarOne of the blog’s most popular posts over its 8-plus year history is about residual sugar. That’s because it uses English instead of winespeak to describe what residual sugar is and what makes a sweet wine sweet. And that residual sugar is the sugar from the grapes that’s left over after fermentation; more residual sugar makes a sweet wine, and the absence of residual sugar makes a dry wine.

Two things are missing from that post: Nifty charts and graphs, mostly because the Wine Curmudgeon is not a charts and graphs guy, and an update that better describes how dry wines can seem sweet thanks to post-modern winemaking techniques, which include adding sugar or something similar (corn syrup, grape juice concentrate) to the almost-finished product. That’s one reason why a dry wine with 14.5 percent alcohol, where there is an absence of residual sugar, can seem sweet.

Plus, I never really explained how residual sugar is measured and the various levels of sweetness, since it confuses me. I have problems with g/L, which is grams per liter, as well as converting it into percentages, which I do understand.

But, thanks to two terrific websites, we not only have charts and graphs, but more insight into adding sugar to already-fermented wine, as well as how to measure residual sugar and what the measurements mean. My thanks to Liquid Party Works, which has one of the former and some of the second (which you can find at the link), and to Frank Schieber at MoundTop MicroVinification, whose chart detailing sweetness levels is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen (even if it’s not all that pretty). That’s the one at the top of this post.

White zinfandel, for example, would be in the 3 percent category, while a dry riesling and some sweet reds, like Apothic, would be in the 1-3 percent category. Doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

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