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Wine Labeling: Simply Confusing

April 11, 2012 01:56 PM ET | Sharla Blanz | Permanent Link

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A friend of mine loves Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and with good reason. It’s a fresh aromatic white wine with grapefruit tastes and bright acidity. But would she enjoy it just as much by a different name?

Whenever we get together I bring a bottle of Sancerre and state: “This is Sauvignon Blanc also, but it’s grown in France so it’s labeled by the region.” She’s heard me repeat this over and over again, but is too polite to respond like my children would, “I know, I know, you’ve told me a million times.”

Granted, it took me something like a million tries to finally memorize which grape varieties are grown in which regions in France, Italy and Spain. Generally, European wines — with the exception of wines from Germany, Austria and a few other countries — are labeled by region. For example, Sancerre is a white wine from the Loire Valley region of France produced with Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

In America, the wine industry has made this simpler thanks to Frank Schooner, an American wine writer and merchant, who in the 1960s began promoting varietal labeling for consistency in marketing. Consumers could then recognize the wines they enjoyed by seeing the variety clearly stated on the label. Brilliant!

The most familiar wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But here’s where the European wines get confusing. French red Bordeaux is a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while a red Burgundy is 100 percent Pinot Noir. If you see white Burgundy or Chablis from France this wine is produced from only Chardonnay grapes. Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc, and white Bordeaux is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

A number of European wine producers are now including the grape variety on the label for obvious reasons – it’s easier to identify the wines. So pick up a bottle and compare the similarities and differences of the same wine variety grown in different wine regions.

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Comments
So true!

I couldn’t agree more. As a wine consultant I spend more time than I should explaining labels, they certainly don’t make it simple. While you mention that German wines do say the varietal, all the other info they put on there regarding the grape ripeness when it was picked, really confuse the American consumer. Although, I do think there is usefulness in the German labeling system, it’s not common knowledge. I guess since I opened that Pandora’ box I have some responsibility to explain it with help from germanwine.net.

Kabinett - the first level of ripeness, produce the lightest wines.

Spätlese - later harvest, medium level of ripeness, makes a medium weight wine.

Auslese - specially selected, usually later harvest, makes medium / heavy weight wines.

Beerenauslese - usually referred to as "BA" it’s a wine selected by individual berries, makes a heavy bodied wine.

Trockenbeerenauslese - usually referred to as "TBA" made from individually selected dried berries, makes a very heavy bodied wine.

Eiswein - special term given to wines whose bunches were harvested while frozen, it must by law have the body of at least a "BA." Eiswein can be more concentrated than a TBA.

Posted by: Anthony, Uncorked Consultants, Mendham, NJ | Apr 13, 2012 15:31:30 PM |


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