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Tag Archives: wine terms

Winebits 374: Wine snobs, wine grapes, lawsuits

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wine snobsBecause we’re better than you are: The Wine Spectator reports that the next big grape will be cabernet franc, mostly because of its “gossamer structure.” The Wine Curmudgeon has absolutely no idea what this means, because, as the article points out, I’m one of the many who aren’t hip enough to appreciate the grape. Plus, there are cabernet franc wines at trendy places in Manhattan. Plus, quotes from sommeliers. Need we say more? This is the kind of wine writing that makes me grit my teeth, knowing I still have so much work to do.

Something besides the usual: The always erudite Andrew Meggitt writes that wine drinkers should not limit themselves to the usual, but should be willing to experiment with wine made with different grapes and from regions that aren’t California. And, somehow, he doesn’t use the word gossamer once. Meggitt, the winemaker at Missouri’s St. James, has been working wonders with norton for more than a decade, and also recommends vignoles, chambourcin, and riesling. Maybe I can introduce him to the writer at the Spectator.

Bring on the attorneys: How else to explain this sentence? “Beam Suntory’s lawyers have argued that a reasonable consumer would understand that having ‘handmade’ on a label does not infer that no machines were used throughout the entire production process.” No wonder my mother wanted me to go to law school — you can make words mean what they don’t, and get paid lots of money for it. This is from yet nanother deceptive label spirits lawsuit, arguing that it’s not possible for a multi-million case brand to be handmade or handcrafted or artisan. So far, the suits target spirits, but the Wine Curmudgeon’s advice makes sense: Don’t wait for a judge to tell you to change your labels.

Winebits 355: Underage drinking, lawsuits, drunks

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wine news underage drinkingYou can’t learn from me: A study reported at the Partnership for Drug Free Kids found parents can’t teach their children responsible drinking. The catch? One definition of teaching responsible drinking is parents buying the booze for a beer bash. Sigh. How about parents letting their children have wine with dinner, to show them it’s not something unusual or forbidden? The study’s approach, to demonize booze, reminds me of the way we tried to demonize sex for teenagers, substituting abstinence for education. Which didn’t work very well. As I wrote when I was writing that sort of thing: “Teach kids to make intelligent decisions, and they’ll make intelligent decisions. Tell kids what not to do, and they’ll do what they’re not supposed to do every time. Isn’t that one of the first rules of being a good parent?”

Even more lawyers: One of the first things I wrote here discussed fake wine terms; that is, those that appear on the bottle to describe wine but have no legal meaning and are used to confuse consumers. Now, it looks like we’re going to see some definition, with lawsuits filed against spirits producers who used the terms handmade and local, both of which have no legal standing but are used all the time. Even though the Wine Curmudgeon is not a lawyer, he has some advice for the producers they should listen to: Settle. You know, as well as I do, what’s going on here. And you don’t want to put that in front of a jury,

No more, please, I’m a drunk: This item probably deserved its own post, complete with interview, picture, and my incredibly erudite comments in praise of the writer. But given that I’ve already written something like this and I don’t want to bore you, this will have to suffice: Janet Street-Porter, writing in London’s Daily Mail, has had her fill of government agencies telling her she is an alcoholic. “Two glasses of wine a night doesn’t mean I’m a drunk.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Terroir as a brand, and not as something that makes wine taste good

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terroir as a brandDoes terroir — the idea that the place where a wine is from makes it taste a certain way and helps determine its quality — exist? This question has generated reams of cyber-ink over the past five or six years, pitting those of us who think terroir matters against those who think we’re bunch of old farts and that technology has made terroir obsolete (if it ever mattered at all).

Now, the second group has an unlikely ally, a French academic who claims terroir is a myth, and that what the wine tastes like doesn’t matter to its success in the marketplace. Rather, says Valéry Michaux, director of research at NEOMA Business School in Rouen, the “best” wines have more to do with their brand and how well producers in the same area work together to market that brand.

In one respect, this is not new. Paul Lukacs, one of the smartest people I know, has argued that terroir is a French marketing ploy dating to the 1920s. What’s different about Michaux’s approach is that it claims that a wine’s brand is more important than terroir, which is about as 21st century, post-modern, and American business an approach as possible. Especially for the French.

Michaux’s theory says that the soil and climate in Bordeaux doesn’t make Bordeaux wine great; rather, it’s the producers in Bordeaux agreeing on what the wine should taste like and presenting a common front to the world. She cites the cluster effect, seen in both sociology and economics, where disparate parts of a whole come together for a common purpose. “The presence of a strategic alliance between professionals contributes significantly to the development of a single territorial umbrella brand and thus its influence,” she writes. “A strong local self-governance is also essential for a territorial brand to exist.”

It’s like saying no one reads what I write here because it’s well-written, offers quality content, or is even especially true. Instead, they like the idea of the Wine Curmudgeon, be it my hat, my attitude, or my writing style, and I should promote the latter to be successful

Michaux’s analysis is both correct and completely off the mark, because she misses the point of terroir. Of course, terroir can be a brand. Look at what Big Wine has done with $10 pinot noir, which doesn’t often taste like pinot noir but is successfully marketed as such, or the idea of grocery store California merlot, made to be smooth and fruity and not particularly merlot-like. But the difference between cheap wine and cheap wine I recommend, the quality that makes the best cheap wine interesting, is often terroir, the traditional idea of the sense of place where the wine is from.

But to argue that Bordeaux or Burgundy or Napa makes great wine because the producers agreed to make a certain style of wine and to market it with a common approach is silly. For one thing, my dogs know more about marketing than most wineries do. But what matters more is quality, because the best wines from Bordeaux are incredible in a way that has nothing to do with a strategic alliance but with where the grapes are grown, how the grapes are turned into wine, and the region’s history and tradition. Why does cabernet sauvignon from Napa not taste like cabernet from Bordeaux? Terroir is a much better explanation than a cluster effect.

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