Deciphering wine-label mumbo-jumbo can be a matter of spotting what’s unsaid.
Issue 3960 6th May 2016
A robust Aussie red I tasted recently promised “black forest fruits, quince, blue damson plum, with hints of dried figs and prunes, coupled with cedary cigar box, blueberry and rosemary characters”. No mention of grapes …
Making sense of wine labels can be a bit of a challenge. One Marlborough pinot noir brings “delicious clarity to a confusing space”, according to its winemaker, who ensures his wine is impossible to resist by offering buyers “an intelligent fruit tannin profile”. Pardon?
Pinot noir producers often cram their back labels with details of site characteristics, vine age and clones, planting density, oak type and maturation period, clarification techniques, choice of closure … Confronted with all this technical information, how many consumers shy away, thinking they just want a decent glass of red?
Sometimes, the trick is to spot what has not been stated. If a winery based in Martinborough releases a “Wairarapa pinot noir”, or a Bannockburn winery markets a pinot noir identified only as “Central Otago”, don’t assume the grapes were grown in their home district. Wines labelled as “fermented with French oak” sound as if they spent time in barrels, but if there is no specific reference to barrels, they were probably aged in tanks, with oak staves or oak chips immersed in them.
It’s amazing how free some brand managers feel to bounce claims around. One Marlborough pinot noir I tasted recently claims on the front label to be the region’s “original”, but is now grown in a different sub-region and sold under a different brand.
Watch out for the gold stickers that adorn every second bottle. Around the world, ratings are getting higher and higher. Are the wines getting better, or are critics increasingly desperate to be noticed?
To be quoted by producers, critics need to dish out high scores. In one prominent Australian publication, more than 70% of the several thousand wines reviewed are rated 90/100 or higher.
Here, many of the stickers are from “independent critics” who are effectively PR agents, handing out consistently generous ratings while invoicing the wineries for their reviews. Some of the serious wine producers refuse to play this game, but others are openly supportive.
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