Archive for January, 2009
Hey, U.S. peeps – you folks who are still on the inaugural high – have you ever scoffed with national pride at the wine labels from other countries?
“Ha,” you might scoff to yourself when perusing the aisles at your favorite wine shop, “I’m glad that wine labels from my country don’t have anything to hide, and aren’t hard to read. Like those crazy German wine labels that the 1WineDude talked about. I scoff at those!“
Hang on there, scoffer, and pay attention, lest you become a suckah. Just because U.S. wine labels don’t use foreign words with 27 consonants in them doesn’t mean that they are simple. Not to worry, though – Dude here is gonna hook up UP!
First, we should talk about the stuff that has to (by law) appear on a wine label if that wine is sold in the U.S.:
- Brand: Usually the same as the producer, but not always. It’s almost always prominent text in big font on the label, and the brand is almost always an intellectual property of the producer.
- Varietal or Type: The label needs to state if you’re making fruit wine, for example, or mead. For grape wine, you can use the grape varietal name: the wine needs to be made from at least 75% of the stated varietal (except in OR, where it’s 90%).. Some generic names are still legally permitted, such as “sake” and “vermouth.”
- Bottler & Importer: Name & address of who bottled the wine, and int he case of imported wines who imported it.
- Alcohol: This is ALWAYS on the label. Yes, it is. Sometimes the font is just so small that you can’t read, but it IS there. I promise.
- Sulfite & Health warnings: Required by law (for sulfites, this is if the wine exceeds 10 ppm, which is about 99.99999% of the wines in the world) but are almost entirely useless. Don’t get me started on the whole sulfite thing.
- Net Contents: Usually stated in ml. As in 750 ml (the volume of a standard wine bottle).
The following are usually not required but you frequently see them on quality wines:
- Appelation: Where the grapes originated. For most geogrpahic descriptions on a wine label, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must have come from there. The more specific the geography, the higher the minimum percentage: 85% for AVAs, for example.
- Vintage: The year the grapes were harvested. 95% of the wine must have been harvested & crushed that year (though I’ve no idea how you’d prove that…).
- Vineyard name: If used, 95% of the grapes must have been grown there.
And you thought there was nothing to U.S. wine labels….
But wait… it gets even trickier!
The more perceptive among you might have noticed that the back label of wine bottles usually have a statement by the name of the producer such as “Produced By” or “Cellared By”. There is a reason why they are different: they have legal definitions:
- Cellared By, Selected By or Vinted By: The producer crushed less than 10% of the grapes.
- Made By: They crushed 10% of the grapes.
- Produced By: They crushed 75% of the grapes.
- Grown, Produced and Bottled By: 100% of the grapes come from land owned or controlled by the winery and the winery crushed, fermented, aged & bottled the wine in a “continuous process.”
- Estate Bottled: Pretty much the same as “Grown, Produced and Bottled By” but the winery is located in an AVA (the same one where the grapes were located).
Not so simple, eh Mr. & Mrs. Scoffer?
And finally, the following terms look impressive on a label, but have no legal meaning whatsoever:
- Special Selection
- Old Vines
For more detailed information on wine labels, check out WinePros.org. Proceed with knowledge… and caution.
The Journal of Wine Economics has just published a study authored by Robert T. Hodgson titled An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition. The reported findings should make the fodder for about 10,000 wine blog articles over the next few weeks.
The study tracked the ability of wine competition judges to replicate the scores that they gave to wines (during blind tasting competition) at the California State Fair. The study found that (emphasis is mine):
…judges were perfectly consistent… about 18 percent of the time. However, this usually occurred for wines that were rejected. That is, when the judges were very consistent, it was often for wines that they did not like…
Let the blood-letting commence!
I fear that the media will take hold of this and start to sound the death knell for the ability of so-called experts to taste and rate wines (again), or use it to shake up an already arguably unfavorable view that wine appreciation and competition is the height of snobbery.
Neither are true, and this study does little to bolster either point. Why? Because wine tasting is, at its heart, heart a subjective exercise.
The study is clear on its intentions, which was not to shake up the world of wine competition, but to “provide a measure of a wine judge’s ability to consistently evaluate replicate samples of an identical wine. With such a measure in hand, it should be possible to evaluate the quality of future wine competitions using consistency as well as concordance with the goal to continually improve reliability and to track improvements associated with procedural changes…”
To understand why this study doesn’t ring so true with me, I need to give you a little detail on the mechanics of the study:
When possible, triplicate samples of all four wines were served in the second flight of the day randomly interspersed among the 30 wines. A typical day’s work involves four to six flights, about 150 wines… The judges first mark the wine’s score independently, and their scores are recorded by the panel’s secretary. Afterward the judges discuss the wine. Based on the discussion, some judges modify their initial score; others do not. For this study, only the first, independent score is used to analyze an individual judge’s consistency in scoring wines.
In summary: the judges weren’t consistent when faced with tasting hundreds of wines in a day, and there revised scores (based on panel discussion – which can have a huge impact on how you would evaluate a wine) weren’t used.
If the study proves anything, I think shows that trying to judge hundreds of wines in a day is a first-class non-stop ticket to palate fatigue, even for experienced wine judges.
Now that I think about it, blind tasting is so notoriously difficult that I give the judges in this study credit for being consistent almost 20% of the time. That would be a respectable hitting percentage in baseball (not sure… I don’t follow baseball actually)…
While the media may latch onto this one, the study hinted that there is some modicum of possible salvation for the madness surrounding wine competitions in general – not by way of wine judges, but by way of the ultimate judges of wine: the Consumer.
…a recent article in Wine Business Monthly (Thach, 2008) conducted as a joint
effort by 10 global universities with specialties in wine business and marketing found that consumers are not particularly motivated by medals when purchasing wine in retail stores. If consumer confidence is to be improved, managers of wine competitions would be well advised to validate their recommendations with quantitative standards.
Interesting conclusion. And a hopeful one.
(images: legaljuice.com, wine-economics.org)
With the recent review I penned for WCDish.com, I’ve had restaurant wine lists on the brain lately.
Which means that this post will likely be ill-timed, given the dearth of restaurant-goers in an economy that is wading knee-deep in layoff announcements. Oh well – timing was never one of my strong suits.
Anyway, as a semi-educated wine geek, I fully appreciate that I might approach a restaurant wine list in a slightly different way than the average diner, in that I might have a deeper knowledge of what the foreign word mean, or what the wine is supposed to taste like from region XYZ.
Which is not to say that I think I’m smarter than the average restaurant-goer; quite the contrary, as I can tell you that 90% of them will be able to calculate an appropriate tip faster than I can (I like words – math… not so much). It just means that I’m probably geekier about wine than the average restaurant-goer.
But… at the restaurant table, while I may have more trouble with tip calculation due to my mathematically-challenged brain, my wine list perusal goal is no different than the average restaurant goer’s: find a good bottle of wine at a decent price that will go well with dinner.
Which is why I think that huge-ass restaurant wine lists suck.
Tyler over at Dr. Vino recently posted an article about a Tampa restaurant (Bern’s) that might be of interest to those who will be traveling to Tampa to watch the STEELERS trounce the Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII. Bern’s boasts 6,800 selections and more than 500,000 bottles. I don’t even want to see that wine list.
For me, dozens of pages detailing hundreds of choices of wine amounts to two things:
- A brief curiosity as I look up something geeky say softly, to no one in particular, “Wow. They have a bottle of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux that costs more than my car…” (this might have appeal to boring wine snobs, but if that’s your clientelle then I am probably not coming back to your restaurant anytme soon)…
- …that quickly becomes a big distraction. If I am at a dinner with a group of like-minded wine geeks, then by all means bring on the wine cellar curiosities. Chances are that I’m not, however, and a huge wine list distracts from the dinner conversation and enjoyment that I should be having while I try to reason with the weighty tome of vino choices.
And the wine geeks out there will appreciate that it’s always you that has to pick the wine – and the larger the wine list, the faster it will get tossed your way by the other dinner guests.
Here’s an example:
A few years ago I took a trip to Vegas (baby, Vegas) and caught up with some old college friends of mine. We decided to grab dinner at Aureole, the restaurant with over 800 bottles of wine, which are stored in a glass tower and retrieved by babes on hoists.
The wine list is a tablet PC with a touch screen, with which you can browse and search the wine offerings. Sounds like a time saver, but it turned into exactly the same type of curiosity / distraction. While trying to settle on one of the 800+ bottles, I spent too much time looking at the bottles of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux* that cost more than my car, and not enough time enjoying the conversation with my friends.
And after all, what’s better – oohing and ahhing over a list of stuff you can’t afford to drink, or drinking something good and sharing it with friends?
In my book, there’s no contest.
Kind of like there’s no contest in the upcoming Superbowl…
(images: picasa/chung, m-kerho.net)
* – Not a real producer. At least, not that I’m aware of, anyway…
Hey Y’all (did I just type “Y’all”?) –
A quick hit to let you know that my first piece for WCDish.com is now available on the WC Dish website.
The article details a recent dining adventure I shared with WC Dish founder and Dishious vlog star Mary B. at the Philly-area Asian-fusion spot Teikoku, during which we sampled on-menu items paired with specific selections from Teikoku’s new “elements”-inspired wine list.
Much goofiness ensued.
Though I regretfully report to you that, despite the clear and irresistible opportunity that the wine list presented us to make serious Earth Wind & Fire references, at no time during the dinner did I don a glitter cape and silver space-man jumpsuit.
I hope to make restaurant-hopping wine-list reviews with Mary for WC Dish a regular occurence. Enjoy…