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Varietal info on French bottles

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While doing reseach on White Bordeauxs, I have visited some of theBay area's wine shops and noticed that more and more French wine have actual varietal listings on the back lable. And while I am pretty sure it is the importers doing, in my mind this is a very positive sign. Taking some of the mystery out always helps. Really good for blended wines.

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  1. The names on the labels (Bordeaux, Chablis, Champagne) will usually tell you what grapes are used in the wine -- the percentages might vary somewhat, but the blend of grapes has to match up, or it can't bear that particular name and will be relegated to "Vin de Pays" or worse, "Vin du Table".

    I know it's not as intuitive as having the cepages listed, but I find the French labeling more accurate -- if the label says Bordeaux Blanc, or Champagne, or Chablis, I know about how it will taste.

    Not so with wines simply labeled with the kind of grape, with no notice as to the terroir or the style.

    18 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      I understand both approaches, but It helps to have more information than less. In my Bordeaux search, I'm finding that any more than 30% Semillon makes the wine a bit "oily" to me but the 100% SV blanc misses the boat for me on the mineral side. Having percentages on the bottle is giving me some guidelines.

      1. re: budnball

        Why should the French be any different than the Americans??? Neither one lists varietal percentages on their labels an overwhelming majority of the time. It's the exception in BOTH countries . . . and the French label is in fact more specific!

        For example, take a Sauvignon Blanc from California. In order to be a varietal wine, 75 percent of the wine must be made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. But what's the other 25 percent? (Let's presume that information is *not* voluntarily printed on the back label.) Any ideas?

        I don't. Anything I would say would be a complete WAG (wild a$$ guess) on my part. Legally it could be Sémilion, Sauvignon Musque, Chardonnay, Muscat -- even Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Pinot Noir! All would be perfectly legal, perfectly acceptable.

        Now, take a dry white Bordeaux from, say, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. I may not know the exact percentages from the label here either, but I know that it can *only* contain Savuginon Blanc, Sémilion, and Muscadelle. And if I am that concerned about percentages, well, at least I can always look up the plantings of the vineyard in a book. Since the wine is only produced from the chateau's own vineyards, I know that will be very close to the percentages of the final wine.

        Cheers,
        Jason

        1. re: zin1953

          I guess I self edit when I wine shop now. If the bottle doesn't have certain info, I just put it down and move on. More info better than less. Does it hurt anyone to put percentages on the label?. I appreciate the tradition of classic old world labeling, but a little sticker in back in English helps greatly in impulse buying. At least for me.

          Except for Pinots, most the wine I currently drink are blends.

          1. re: budnball

            Like you, I'm partial lately to blends, especially the Rhone varietals, red or white. Shopping with a pal recently noticed one we've enjoyed as a daily sipper called Clayhouse Adobe White. The 2008 I'd had a while back was 64% Viognier and 36% Roussanne, iirc, this bottle was the 2010 and gave us a good chuckle when we read "46% Viognier, 27% Sauv Blanc, 16% Grenache Blanc, 9% Other White, and 2% Chenin Blanc. Had fun speculating about that "other white" ... hmmm Thompson Seedless from the central valley?

            Cheers,

            Dave

            1. re: budnball

              >>> I guess I self edit when I wine shop now. If the bottle doesn't have certain info, I just put it down and move on. More info better than less. Does it hurt anyone to put percentages on the label?. I appreciate the tradition of classic old world labeling, but a little sticker in back in English helps greatly in impulse buying. At least for me. <<<

              So, you wouldn't buy a Château Lafite because the percentage of the grape varieties isn't on the label? Or you'd pass on a bottle of Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf-du-Pape because they don't list the percentages on the label??? What about a bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne? or -- just to change countries for a moment -- that bottle of Fonseca Vintage Porto? Is it ***crucial*** for you to know that the bottle of (e.g.) Musigny in front of you is 100 percent Pinot Noir, versus 98 percent Pinot Noir and two percent Chardonnay?

              Now, OBVIOUSLY, I am having a bit of fun here, picking examples of truly excellent wines, but I am a bit curious as to where you draw the line. When *will* you buy -- or perhaps i should ask, WHAT will you buy -- without knowing the percentages?

              Cheers,
              Jason

              1. re: budnball

                Why put the bottle down, if you like the wines?

                I am with Jason here, in that I know what the allowed varietals (and the likely varietals) are, and the exact % is of no real concern - either I like the wine, or I do not. Pretty simple.

                Same in the US, and lets take a Bdx.-style blend as an example. I know that there are five grapes, that might be in that year's blend. I do not care if it's more heavily oriented to Cab. Sauvignon, Cab. Franc, Merlot, or the other two. One great vintage of Cain Five, was actually "Cain Four," as the Merlot was not deemed adequate for that year's blend. So long as the wine delights me, I could care less, except from a purely academic standpoint.

                Maybe it is just me,

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I guess you are missing my point. I am at a place in my wine journey where my tasting notes are focused on the grape. And while I know that wine is a combination grape, ground and grower, for me, at this time, this is where I am. I will not buy wine without such info on the label NOW. It does not mean that I won't ever, it means that now I am trying to trust my own palate in a way that makes sense for me.
                  I am not buying "great wines" and "great vintages" before I am ready to understand why they are considered great and I am in no hurry. Old world wine with their labels will be there when I am ready for them.

                  And the percentages do make a difference when dealing with the white Bordeauxs that started me down this road. At least to me

                  1. re: budnball

                    But even with a California wine featuring the grape variety prominently on the label, you still aren't focusing on the grape unless what's inside is 100% of that grape.

                    And with Bordeaux Blanc, I would guess I could pour you two glass of wine containing the same grape variety assemblage from the same vintage, and they could be completely different experiences for you.

                    So one needs to take into account many factors of the finished product -- grape variety, producer style/treatment, where the grapes are grown, vintage, etc.

                    Even finding a wine that is considered "varietally correct" still comes with the disclaimer for the are in which the grapes are grown.

                    1. re: Brad Ballinger

                      I get all this. However if I am making an impulse purchase of a wine that i don't know and a vintner that I don't know, having more information is better than less. That is all I am saying. The label can not tell me how the wine tastes, but it should give me an idea.

                      And yes, you could likely pour me 2 different white Bordeaux with the same percentages and get a different taste note from me. But I am sure that if the balance is more then 30% Semillon I would taste that. I am focused on Semillon because it has a mouth feel and taste like no other white grape to me.
                      I can not afford the $75-200 a bottle cost of a name white Bordeaux, so I am looking for alternatives.

                      1. re: budnball

                        Lots of good Bordeaux Blanc available for less than $75/bottle. Some of them even have muscadelle in the blend.

                        1. re: budnball

                          I do not think that you "get it." Some producers DO list the % of the various grapes, but many do not. That is how it is, whether you are satisfied, or not.

                          Hunt

                      2. re: budnball

                        >>> I guess you are missing my point. <<<

                        No. Not really. I understand your point. I just disagree. The label on a French bottle provides me with MORE information than a California label.

                        This has nothing to do with "buying 'great wines' and 'great vintages'," if by "great wines" you mean famous names. OTOH, it has *everything* to do with buying wines that taste great . . .

                        1. re: budnball

                          "I am trying to trust my own palate in a way that makes sense for me."

                          I'm not sure what that has to do with knowing or not knowing the grape varietal in a wine.

                          1. re: budnball

                            Then you might want to stick to the domestic (US) wines, where the % of each grape is listed.

                            Good luck,

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Or rather, stick to those FEW domestic (US) wines that bother to list the percentages of each grape . . .

                              Ridge -- IN
                              Mount Eden Vineyard - OUT

                              Phelps Insignia -- IN
                              Phelps Eisele -- OUT

                              Ah well . . .

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I agree. Especially when one gets into the various, and often very good, proprietary wines (usually Bdx. blends), there might, or might not, be varietal percentages.

                                One winery, that seems hell-bent on producing 100% varietal wines is Cline, though not sure if they have also begun blending, beyond the ATF allowances?

                                Hunt

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  More info, the better. For years, wine writers used to "reveal" that a Pomerol was really just a merlot, and a Volany, pinot noir, and wonder why the French eat don't, at least for export, capitalize on the American obsession with varietals. I doubt knowing the specific percentages in, say, a Chateauneuf du Pape may matter much, but among other blends, it might: a grower in the southern Rhone might think it smart to trumpet their 60% syrah CdR--if only until grenache becomes more popular. Portugal I believe requires percentages of varietals, and this has helped steer me to those wines whose principal varietals I've learned to like more than others. I sometimes wonder how relatively low-profile but otherwise potentially attractive blends (think, Rosso Piceno vs Rosso Conero ) might benefit from some varietal information on a back label--if those varietals themselves conveyed a sense of identity.

                                  1. re: bob96

                                    It isn't a question of "more info = better; less info = bad" -- certainly not in terms of the quality of what is in your glass. But even in terms of knowledge . . .

                                    Rather, the keys are a) in terms of labels, what is required, and what isn't?; and b) what one actually DOES with that information.

                                    I'm not saying anything you don't already know, but European wines are not based on varietals but rather on location. With the exception of Alsace (and that's due to its German connection), varietal wines were -- and still are -- the *exception* not the rule, and *generally* denote a LESSER quality wine. Think of the varietal wines which bear the designation Vin de Pays d'Oc or Vin de Pay des Jardins de France. And let's not forget these only came about in the last quarter of the 20th century.

                                    Portugal, BTW, does not require percentages.

                                    To add to the problem of percentages, historically, one must remember that the majority of estate-bottled European wines composed of multiple varieties have typically been mixed in the VINEYARD -- in other words, as field blends. In contract, most New World vineyards (there are a few notable exceptions, to be sure) are planted in blocks, and any blending is done in the WINERY.

                                    The result? With many European wines, the specific percentages found in any given wine are IMPOSSIBLE to know. The most one can hope for is to know the percentage of the vineyard (for example, 73 percent of the vines are Variety X, 15 percent is Variety Y, and 12 percent is Variety Z).

                                    But then there is the question of what one does to the information -- or rather, how one uses the information. In other words, what does knowing that Wine A has 60 percent Syrah, while Wine B is composed of 50 percent Syrah actually tell you in terms of flavor?

                                    Going back to the OP's comment of

                                    >>> I'm finding that any more than 30% Semillon makes the wine a bit "oily" to me but the 100% SV blanc misses the boat for me on the mineral side. <<<

                                    I have had any number of wines that were 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc that showed tons of minerality, while wines that were 100 percent Sémilion that weren't "oily" or "waxy" at all!

                                    In other words, I have always found it easy to make broad generalizations, but very difficult to make specific ones . . .

                                    Cheers,
                                    Jason

                  2. Varietals aren't flavors, places are.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Agreed.

                      Chardonnay -- even 100% Chardonnay -- tastes VERY different from the Napa Valley compared to the Santa Cruz Mountains, let alone in Burgundy, Chablis, or Champagne. . . .

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Boy howdy, I thought I just didn't like the grape until I was introduced to some very nice French examples and since have even found a few from CA that I enjoy.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I will ONLY buy in, about 50% here.

                          Think about the differences between general Cab. Franc, regardless of the earth, where it is grown.

                          To me, it is a combo, but maybe I am missing something important?

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Well . . . if you're going to get TECHNICAL about it . . .

                            Actually, if you REALLY get right down to it, there are three factors -- location (location, location), the specific variety/varieties one is using (after all, you don't want your Chenin Blanc to taste like Zinfandel), AND the hand of the winemaker -- who can EASILY "over-ride" the character of the terroir, and o the grape, through (for example) the heavy-handed use of oak.

                            Cheers,
                            Jason

                      2. When I'm buying a French wine with which I'm not familiar, I'm a lot more interested in who the importer is rather than the grape percentages. The grape percentages tell me nothing because they tell me nothing about the care with which the wine was made, whether there were excessive yields, etc. By contrast, I more or less know that if a certain importer has chosen to import this wine, it will meet my threshold for being a good wine. For that reason, it's much easier for me to pick out a good French wine at random than a unknown California wine where I can't rely on an importer's seal of approval.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: omotosando

                          Agreed on all counts . . .

                        2. Adding that information on the bottle does not add/remove anything from the quality (good, bad) of the wine.

                          it is just a cultural and marketing thing.

                          But if that prevent you from buying wine, then that is your loss.
                          No biggie

                          1. concentrating ONLY the grape when buying wine is a bit like concentrating ONLY on the paint color when buying a car.

                            It narrows the playing field down a bit, but it doesn't guarantee you'll get any other aspect you'd like to have.

                            1. I think part of the reason it's not usually printed on the label is that the % will vary from year to year depending on how the weather was, and with French AOC wines everyone knows what the permitted varietals are (if you don't you can google it).

                              1. I open 3 bottles a week. I have gone from clever names and pretty bottles to specific varietals and mostly a specific region, Santa Cruz Mountains. And while my way of choosing currently seems limited, to others, I can not buy every good bottle of wine, no matter the region, quality, or price. I have never bought a wine from Spain or Italy, not because I don't like them but because I don't know them yet.

                                I was not making comment on the style of old world labels, nor was I comparing "old" to "new". I just happened to be buying a French wine for a change and noticed that there were more bottles with info printed in English. Good business practice I Imagine.

                                I have no illusion that varietal info tells me anything about the quality of what is inside. But as here are plenty of wine with no such info on bottle, there are plenty that do. Nobody buys every good or even great bottle they come across. Everyone edits their purchases. In another year I will have moved on to "terrior" or importers or some such.

                                Except for this white bordeaux search, I have not bought a bad wine in over 2 years. I have had several eye opening wonders. For me this is progress.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: budnball

                                  Wine is such a broad topic that we wanna find ways to make it easier for us to understand. I think some of us on this thread can easily forget how intimidating it all was for us in the beginning (and still can be). I too started by sticking with one varietal for say a month so I could grasp specifically what it was about. And the varietal could be from anywhere NZ, France, US, etc. And I found that they could all be very different and there was no one Pinot or Cab character that I could identify. Moreover I'll bet that you discovered Semillon because you liked Sauvignon Blanc and wanted to try a "French" version. So whatever you're method you'll keep making these little discoveries. That's what makes it fun.

                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    But then, learning about the wines, the varietals, the regions, the producers, etc., are certainly part of the fun, at least for me.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Agree. It's never about any kind of quality assurance, and the information is only as valuable as the user makes it to be (and I]m not talking about promotional descriptions). For those learning, exploring, and getting a sense of what varietals can (and maybe should) taste like--in the context of place and grower, if course--then the information can make better consumers. From a strictly marketing perspective, how much more Bergerac, say, might have been sold had "merlot" been listed as part of the blend, if only by someone interested in comparing the taste with a California varietal. Doesn't work everywhere, of course, but I know it's greatly helped me get a sense of what ti expect in a wine before I buy it--I'm not a big collector or full time connoisseur, but an everyday drinker who loves expanding and deepening his world of taste. And then, as budnball says, editing it back to what I value most.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Yes agree completely. When I said "little discoveries" I meant all those things you've mentioned as well.

                                    2. re: budnball

                                      Re: your white Bordeaux search. You really should try De Lille Cellars' Chaleur Estate Blanc. Made in a Bordeaux style from approx 75% SB and 25% Sem. IMO it is consistently among the 5 or 10 best white wines produced in the US.

                                      1. re: jock

                                        Amen! It's a GREAT wine . . . .

                                        1. re: jock

                                          Thanx for the rec. Will search 4 it.

                                      2. I used to represent a French wine importer and I sold a lot of French wine to retailers and restaurants. One of my favorite wines in the portfolio was a white Sancerre. I mentioned to one of my French customers that I wished that the label would mention "Sauvignon Blanc" somewhere. My customer patiently explained to me that this would completely diminish the idea of Sancerre. As has been suggested by other posters, Sancerre is not a Sauvignon Blanc, it is a Sancerre. I now run a small boutique wine and beer store. I still feel that from a purely practical perspective (i.e. sales) that it would be helpful to the winemaker, consumer, retailer and importer if the varietal(s) were mentioned on the label. I purposely place my California "Cabs" among my red Bordeaux. As other people have noted, California Cabs oftentimes are not single varietal. In other words, California Cabs and Bordeaux reds are oftentimes Cab/Merlot blends. My hunch is that positioning the red Bordeaux among the California Cabs helps me sell Bordeaux to people who were looking for a California Cab and vice versa.

                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: justinmcinerny

                                          Some of that varietal concern in the US might be addressed if one stocks wines by varietal vs location/region., but that might not play into the scheme of the retailer. I have seen both, and each makes sense, but that is just to me.

                                          I spent a lot of time, decades ago, memorizing many of the varietals in each region of France (Châteauneuf du Pape excluded, as I still cannot recite all possibilities... ), to help in my education. Actually, when I see a varietal listed on a FR wine, I normally turn the other way, but that is just me.

                                          Hunt

                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            >>> Actually, when I see a varietal listed on a FR wine, I normally turn the other way, but that is just me. <<<

                                            Broad generalization, but -- with the exception of Alsace -- I completely agree!

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Yes, it WAS a "broad generalization," and you did correctly point out an exception. Thanks for that.

                                              Hunt

                                          2. re: justinmcinerny

                                            It seems that wine is one the business that trades on tradition to harm of letting new drinkers in. Your approach is a novel one that hurts no one and yet allows newbies a way to see the natural connections between old and new world wines.

                                            1. re: budnball

                                              >>> It seems that wine is one the business that trades on tradition to harm of letting new drinkers in. <<<

                                              Remember that 1) not all new drinkers are, or even feel harmed in any way; 2) the new wine drinker from -- for example -- France, Spain or Italy doesn't get this varietal nonsense and cannot understand how an area that is great for growing, say, Sauvignon Blanc can also be good for Chardonnay and Riesling . . .

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Yes, few "new drinkers" were harmed in any way...

                                                I am not sure if it's realistic to expect some producers, who have been doing it, just as it is today, for over 600 years (fill in your own timeframe), just because some drinkers, or potential drinkers, in the US want things done, similar to how it is, in the US. Matter of fact, I can hear the discussions now, and have actually entered into some of them, as the Ch. owners talk about the US market, say in Bdx.

                                                Hunt

                                              2. re: budnball

                                                >>> It seems that wine is one the business that trades on tradition to harm of letting new drinkers in. <<<

                                                Let me just say that a) not every "new drinker" is, or even feels, harmed in any way, shape or form by non-varietal labeling; b) while I applaud the approach Justin is taking, it is hardly novel nor is it new; c) there are plenty of "new drinkers" in places like, say, Spain, France, Italy, etc. who look at this varietal labeling thing and just don't understand how an area supposedly good for growing (e.g.) Sauvignon Blanc can also be good for growing Chardonnay and Riesling!

                                                Cheers,
                                                Jason

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Harmed was the wrong word. Discouraged would be more accurate. It is an attitude of exclusivity that I struggle with. A derisive and dismissive attitude that says "Did you hear him? What a fool? He can't tell the difference between a this and a that."

                                                  Is it really that off the wall to want to know what it in my bottle? Are my questions that ridiculous?

                                                  1. re: budnball

                                                    Hey bud, you are not talking to me, but for what it's worth...I don't think you are being ridiculous....but you are being *different*. When you are different- people feel compelled to point out a more tried and true path. Especially when you post on a wine board :)

                                                    It is sort of like deciding to try different vegetables- and only tasting them in alphabetical order. If you miss one- you start over. This would not be the way most people would go about choosing new veggies to try, because there are more effective ways to find things you like.

                                                    I say, whatever makes you a happy camper and resonates with your learning style is what you should do. I suspect at some point, you won't care about the percentages on the label, you will have discovered another way of choosing- and that will be fine too. The fun is in the exploring anyway, no matter your method! Cheers!

                                                    1. re: budnball

                                                      Ah, yes . . . and so you think that the retailer looks at you -- or someone like you -- "Did you hear him? What a fool! He can't tell the difference between a Côte de Beaune and a Côte de Bourg!"

                                                      Then again, I can hear the retailer saying behind the Frenchman's back, "Did you hear him? What a fool! He can't tell the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Vert!"

                                                      The point is that it's all about what you know. There is no difference in the wines, in the labels -- you know that Sauvignon Blanc is a grape variety because you've "grown up" with varietal wines. A European would grow up knowing regions, but may not know what grapes go into a specific wine -- only that there is a BIG difference between a Côte de Beaune and a Cote de Bourg.

                                                      In other words, what is "easier" is only easier because you are used to it . . .

                                                      BUT . . .
                                                      >>> The fun is in the exploring anyway, no matter your method! <<<

                                                      Absolutely!!!

                                                    2. re: zin1953

                                                      Of course not every new drinker is so harmed. Many take gladly to the task of learning about the relationship of varietals to their different locations and protocols. But for many it would be a net gain in knowledge, pleasure, and experience to explore the way, say, sauvignon blanc is expressed in New Zealand, Collio, Quincy, and Sonoma. Even given variations, the varietal(s) offer a place to start, a baseline. Does a new drinker start selecting based on importer? Also, I imagine there are drinkers in, say, Friuli, who have little problem accepting that one area (theirs) can be good for making superb wines from a number of varietals. Or drinkers in the province of Avellino, which makes terrific and distinctive wines from greco, fiano, and falanghina.

                                                2. Working in retail makes it very apparent that the overwhelming majority of wine consumers do not have the experience to know a wine by its source, but varietal labeling at least gives them a place to start their understanding of what the wine may be like. I'm solidly in the camp of providing customers with whatever makes it easiest for them to be comfortable with exploring new areas of wine.

                                                  I have to agree with budnball on this. I'm not saying that French wine (as a prime example) MUST put varietal information on labels. I'm simply saying that I think doing so would allow at least American wine consumers a path to easier familiarity and comfort with French wine. I'd also think that American wineries would want to add labeling that helps international consumers in the same way.

                                                  To me it's a simple "language" issue. If you don't speak "terroir" or "origin" you are at a disadvantage as an inexperienced American looking at French wines. Varietal labeling is at least one way of conveying what's in the bottle that is certainly more generally understandable than memorizing what wines from a certain French region are like................ when you're not familiar with them.

                                                  In my shop I put the Cab and Merlot blends in the same area as the Bordeaux too. It was one way of helping to demystify things for my customers who needed that help.

                                                  Just sayin'.

                                                  22 Replies
                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                    This has never been a matter of "right and wrong," but rather one of familiarity. *MY* point in this is simply that -- were "budball" (or any other "new drinker") having this conversation on a European equivalent to Chowhound -- the question would be reversed: "Why can't the Americans label their wines by region? All these different grape names . . . it's so confusing!"

                                                    In other words, it strikes me as a "why can't the ___________ use what's familiar to *us*?" type of question . . .

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      Jason, I didn't mean to imply right or wrong either. As you can tell from the last sentence in my second paragraph, I DO see both sides of this, though this seems problematic at best with American wine. I've actually found this subject interesting for a long time.

                                                      While I DO think that a bottle of red wine with the single name To Kalon on its label would be understood by experienced Cab lovers, I know that the 'average' consumer would be mystified.

                                                      In your statement that "The label on a French bottle provides me with MORE information than a California label" are you generalizing to make a point, or are you really saying that a bottle labeled Chateauneuf-du-Pape really tells you more than one labeled x%Grenache/x%Syrah/x%Mourvedre?

                                                      Please remember that I am looking at this from the perspective of an inexperienced consumer, so my assumption is that we are not familiar with the specific producer or property.

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        >>> In your statement that "The label on a French bottle provides me with MORE information than a California label" are you generalizing to make a point, or are you really saying that a bottle labeled Chateauneuf-du-Pape really tells you more than one labeled x%Grenache/x%Syrah/x%Mourvedre? <<<

                                                        The premise is not accurate.

                                                        Overwhelming, the "top" wines in the US are varietal wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Riesling, Zinfandel, etc., etc. And -- also, *overwhelmingly* -- the majority of varietal wines produced in the United States do *not* list each and every variety of grape used in the wine. That is . . .

                                                        Varietal wines must be made from not less than 75 percent of one specific grape, and -- realistically -- that is the only information you get. That is, you buy a bottle of Cache Phloe Sauvignon Blanc, and what do you know? That 75 percent of the grapes in the wine are Sauvignon Blanc. But what is the other 25 percent? I mean, *maybe* the wine is only Sauvignon Blanc, 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. But maybe it's not. Is the other 25 percent Sémilion? Maybe. But it could be Sauvignon Vert, or Chenin Blanc, or Chardonnay, or Colombard. The answer is "Yes, all of the above," in that it's perfectly legal, perfectly fine to use ANY cultivar you want . . . you could also use Zinfandel, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet, or any other grape you could possibly think of.

                                                        Yet under French law, I will know that NOTHING is in my bottle of Bordeaux Blanc *except* Sauvignon Blanc, Sémilion and, perhaps, some Muscadelle. Will there be any Chard? Any Riesling? And Chenin? No.

                                                        Ergo . . . .

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          If a French producer wants to sell more wine here, it seems like a small thing. Anything to help a customer find their product. It is not about legal requirements, it is about reaching out to new customers.

                                                          1. re: budnball

                                                            It may *seem* like a "small thing," but -- I mean no offense, but clearly you do not understand how labeling works, nor the costs involved . . .

                                                            Two simple examples:

                                                            First, as I mentioned above, many vineyards in Europe are planted by blocks, with different varieties planted within a single block -- or even within a single row. This is also true of older vineyards in California -- for example, while working at Louis Martini, we had seven vineyards; each vineyard has multiple blocks. The newer vineyards were planted by variety -- one per block. But in the older vineyards, the blocks are often listed as "Mixed Blacks" and "Mixed Whites." We know, for example, that the dominant variety planted in Block ______ is Cabernet, but exactly what percentage of this and that are present, no one has ANY idea!

                                                            Thus it would be literally impossible to calculate the percentages . . .even so, the labeling requirements are NOT based upon the percentage of vines in the vineyard, but the real percentages of grapes in the wine. It can't be done with block planting/block harvesting.

                                                            Second, while every winery/producer must conform with the label requirements of every nation in which their wine is sold, what is *typical* is that (e.g.) Château Lafite need merely submit their "regular" label to the Federal government (TTTB) with the addition of an import strip. But were they to *add* a back label to carry the percentages (and this, of course, presumes that they actually *know* the percentages and -- in reality -- that's dubious at best), they would first have to apply to the Federal government for permission to *add* a back label, and then -- every year there is any change to the wording on the label, the winery has to re-submit the label for approval -- time, labor, costs, and so forth adds up . . .

                                                            1. re: budnball

                                                              "If a French producer wants to sell more wine here, it seems like a small thing."

                                                              Even apart from Jason's perspicuous comments, French producers with reputations don't need to slap a varietal on the bottle to sell their wine. For instance, the late Didier Dagueneau didn't need to slap "Sauvignon Blanc" on his bottles of Pouilly-Fumé Silex to sell them for $100 a bottle because the wine developed an incredible reputation. I suppose at the low end of the market, slapping a varietal on the label might help a French wine sell to "low information" American consumers, but at the same time it might alienate more knowledgeable consumers. Sort of like if I see a cutsy name or a little critter on the bottle, I know it is 98% likely to be mass market plonk.

                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                              At that level I have to agree with you. The 'invisible 25%" is the culprit here. I'm always happier when an American wine specifies ALL of it's ingredients. But I'm really talking more about how the dominant varieties in the bottle are a better way for the inexperienced consumer to make decisions.

                                                              Remember, my presumption here is that inexperienced consumers, either here OR in France, wouldn't have enough knowledge to know what's produced under a specific name like Bordeaux Blanc. I guess you don't agree?

                                                              I'm curious as to whether you would change your comment on this if comparing a French wine with an American wine that lists 100% of it's varietal contents?

                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                >>> Remember, my presumption here is that inexperienced consumers, either here OR in France, wouldn't have enough knowledge to know what's produced under a specific name like Bordeaux Blanc. I guess you don't agree? <<<

                                                                How "new" is new? (I know, that's sort of like asking what the definition of "is" is . . . ) My point is that there is a HUGE difference between the newly 21-year old buying a jug of wine for the frat party at the local liquor store or supermarket, the ***very*** casual buyer who grabs a bottle of something to have with chicken tonight, and the person who -- albeit "new" -- is newly INTO wine and wanting to explore . . .

                                                                Budball (the OP) is certainly "into" wine enough to want to explore, to learn more, to expand . . . and so on. A person like this is NOT in the same category as the frat boy or the casual grab-a-bottle-while-at-Safeway/Trader Joe's type of customer. This is the type of consumer who *will* go to a wine merchant to seek out new wines to try. This is the type of consumer who was my favorite customer to deal with, one who wants to learn, wants to try . . .

                                                                So, in THAT sense, you are right: I do not agree. This individual already cares enough to WANT to know, to want to learn, and that is a very different person than the (for lack of a better term) "truly inexperienced" new consumer -- seriously, think White Zin rather than White Bordeaux . . .

                                                                /\/\/\/\/\
                                                                Analogy: I'm teaching my youngest daughter how to drive. She has been driving for three weeks, is still very cautious, nervous, and certainly doesn't know (or care) how to check the oil, the tires, etc., etc. Indeed, I'm sure that sort of thing hasn't even entered her consciousness yet. OTOH, my older daughter is no longer nervous when driving, knows how to check the oil, etc., etc. and took off this weekend for Santa Barbara (from Berkeley) to visit friends at UCSB -- her first road trip!

                                                                Now, I would say that *both* are still beginning drivers, but one is certainly more "into" it (and knowledgable) than the other.
                                                                /\/\/\/\/\

                                                                >>> I'm curious as to whether you would change your comment on this if comparing a French wine with an American wine that lists 100% of it's varietal contents? <<<

                                                                No offense, but this is a specious argument for me. Listing 100 percent of a wine's grape constituents is NOT required by law, and therefore is (on some level) irrelevant.

                                                                Now, were someone to propose a law REQUIRING that 100 percent of a wine's grape varieties be listed on the wine label, I would STRONGLY oppose it. First, it isn't practical for any number of reasons. But more importantly -- to me -- is that the percentages are (on some level) meaningless.

                                                                Bear with me, and I will explain . . .

                                                                Which is fuller-bodied. Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot? Regardless of what your answer may be, may I conclude that if Wine A contains a higher percentage of the grape you feel is fuller in body, that Wine A will be fuller in body than Wine B which has a higher percentage of the other grape variety? Is that a fair presumption? (And let's presume for the sake of simplicity that these are the only two varieties used in making the wine in question.)

                                                                And yet, I've had Cabernets that were fuller in body than some Merlots ***but*** I've also had many Merlots that were fuller in body than some Cabernets . . . and the same can be said for levels of tannin, etc., etc.

                                                                So what -- EXACTLY -- do these percentages RELIABLY tell you?

                                                                It's like the percentage of alcohol on a wine label. I'm sure you've had wines which were +15% abv that were hot and harsh, but I'm also sure you've had wines that were +15% abv there were NOT hot and harsh. (I know I have!) And, if your experience is anything like mine, you've *also* had wines that were <13% abv that were hot and harsh and wines that were <13% abv that weren't! So . . . what does the percentage of alcohol on a label *really* tell you, the consumer, about the wine?

                                                                /\/\/\/\/\

                                                                So let me return to Budball and the general category of "inexperienced consumers" who clearly are "into" wine and demonstrate a desire to know more, to taste more.

                                                                Personally, I believe that desire would provoke me -- in fact I know it would; it DID when I was younger! -- to pick up books, to read and learn as well as taste . . . in other words, I would take on the responsibility myself (because I *want* to) to learn more about the wines I was drinking / trying.

                                                                I've already posted previously about the advice that I *always* give my beginning students when teaching them about wines -- about seeking out 2-3 wine merchants to shop at regularly, and to listen to their advice; about keeping a notebook about the wines one drinks; about how to explore and expand one's horizons; and so on.

                                                                It's a bit like politics, perhaps. Do you vote for a candidate because of his/her looks? his/her party affiliation? Or are you "into" this (think it's important enough) to discover his/her positions on certain issues which are important to you? Some people buy a bottle because of the pretty label; others buy it because it's the label their parents/friends always buy. But others take the time to learn a little about wine and make a purposeful decision to try this / that / something different . . .

                                                                Cheers,
                                                                Jason

                                                                P.S. Sorry for the length of this post . . . .

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  Your post was certainly interesting but I'm not sure I understand. For example, what has the lack of a legal requirement to list 100% contents got to do with whether doing it would help consumers?

                                                                  Working in 'specialty' wine retail I find that most customers I meet know more about wine than the supermarket browser (they're comfortable enough to walk into a small shop) but are still totally lost in comparison with that person you're describing...... "one who wants to learn, wants to try". Regardless, those desires, in my opinion, do not automatically translate to plunking down bucks to learn. Even when they're more "into" wine most of these people still need some reassurance from what they can associate with in past experience. This is probably a far-too-analytic discussion, but all I'm suggesting here is that the more there is on the bottle for a person to identify with, the more comfortable they are likely to be.

                                                                  I suppose the underlying problem here is that American wines, in general, do not have the same predictable characteristics by origin that French wines have. So I'm simply suggesting that the more information supplied that an American consumer can relate to, the more likely they are to buy with comfort. I trust that a ToKalon Cab is going to be pretty awesome, but most of my customers have never heard of ToKalon. They HAVE heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, so at that's at least a bridge for them.

                                                                  As wine merchants we hope that more and more consumers want to learn and expand their knowledge. All I'm saying is that my experience places the majority at a step below where they can do that without help.. If all wine were hand-sold by knowledgeable staff, this would be less of an issue, but I still think the bottle can always help.

                                                                  I guess I see more 'lost' consumers than you do. I work at a small small boutique shop, not at a HiTime or Kermit Lynch. The consumer base I see is very similar to that of the store I used to own.

                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                    OK, let me see if I can explain / respond. . .

                                                                    >>> Your post was certainly interesting but I'm not sure I understand. For example, what has the lack of a legal requirement to list 100% contents got to do with whether doing it would help consumers? <<<

                                                                    1) It has to do with the fact that, having spent decades working for wineries and importers, and having to deal with the TTTB (née ATF), I deal better with legalities rather than hypotheticals.

                                                                    2) I am not sure knowing 100 percent of the varieties in a bottle is truly all that helpful. See my comment above re: abv, for example.

                                                                    >>> Working in 'specialty' wine retail I find that most customers I meet know more about wine than the supermarket browser (they're comfortable enough to walk into a small shop) but are still totally lost in comparison with that person you're describing...... "one who wants to learn, wants to try". <<<

                                                                    I would respectfully disagree, They (the customers) are at a "speciality" wine retailer, and NOT at a Safeway or Trader Joe's. Presuming they have a choice (i.e.: they aren't in Pennsylvania, or some other control state), the fact that they made that choice says a lot. Not everyone goes to a Kermit Lynch or a Hi-Time (but I think those are two different classes of customer, too).

                                                                    >>> I suppose the underlying problem here is that American wines, in general, do not have the same predictable characteristics by origin that French wines have. <<<

                                                                    Agreed!

                                                                    >>> So I'm simply suggesting that the more information supplied that an American consumer can relate to, the more likely they are to buy with comfort. I trust that a ToKalon Cab is going to be pretty awesome, but most of my customers have never heard of ToKalon. They HAVE heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, so at that's at least a bridge for them. <<<

                                                                    I'm more of a cynic, apparently. Experience has taught me that the average consumer will not use "extra" information "properly" -- just look at "Parker 98" to see what I mean . . .

                                                                    Cheers,
                                                                    Jason

                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                      1.I don't see putting all the varieties in a wine on the label as a hypothetical. A winery can do it if they so choose, regardless of any government authority. In my opinion it would be helpful to consumers.

                                                                      2. In MY opinion it IS helpful to a large number of consumers. Helpful at a different level than for those to whom it could be meaningless or misleading, but more helpful than being absent.

                                                                      I think we're talking about two different levels of consumer. In my world I've found that the mere act of entering a specialty wine shop does not mean a consumer is always capable of what you seem to believe. Most are more capable than the Two-Buck-Chuckers at Trader Joe's, but on average the majority are not able to absorb and retain what a wine will be like from where it's sourced. Certainly MORE can, but most can not.

                                                                      >>I'm more of a cynic, apparently. Experience has taught me that the average consumer will not use "extra" information "properly" -- just look at "Parker 98" to see what I mean . . . <<

                                                                      So let's not give it to them? Every day I have customers express preference for the characteristics of specific wine by variety. That's their major frame of reference unless they've actually tasted the wine they're looking at and, even then, that's how they identify their likes and dislikes. Am, I missing something? BTW...what is "Parker 98"?

                                                                      I really don't want to belabor this much more. I'm actually not sure it's productive as we seem to be slightly off kilter somewhere. I understand you and you understand me, but we're missing somewhere/something in between.

                                                                      Best, as always.

                                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                                        >>> 1. I don't see putting all the varieties in a wine on the label as a hypothetical. A winery can do it if they so choose, regardless of any government authority. In my opinion it would be helpful to consumers. <<<

                                                                        I don't care if a winery *wants* to put each and every grape variety found in a wine on their label. If they WANT . . . but "want" is different than "require." It's the requirement that is impractical -- and impossible to comply with.

                                                                        >>> 2. In MY opinion it IS helpful to a large number of consumers. Helpful at a different level than for those to whom it could be meaningless or misleading, but more helpful than being absent. <<<

                                                                        In my experience, the less overall experience/knowledge one has to begin with, the more likely one is to *misinterpret* information and make assumptions. For example, the less experienced consumer is more likely to think that a higher alcohol level will *automatically* translate to "hot" and "harsh" -- regardless of any and all other contributing factors in a wine.

                                                                        I am not only a cynic, but -- despite my years of working for Liquor Barn -- I am also a "traditional" retailer, one who believes in hand-selling, in developing a relationship with the customers and, in so doing, develop a "customer for life" (or, at least, for the long-term). Even in a store with tons of POP on the shelves, etc., etc., I would still ask if I can help them, ask questions, and *listen* to the answers. That sort of consumer service doesn't exist at Trader Joe's, Safeway, BevMo, or Costco -- and it certainly doesn't happen online.

                                                                        I know you're in Orange County. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, I was working retail in Hermosa Beach, on the Sunset Strip, and in Beverly HIlls. Only the latter was a true wine merchant (no distillates); all the other locations were "traditional" liquor stores, but with an expanded wine selection. We had walk-ins from the beach wanting a 6-pack of Coors and a pack of Marlboros; we had people browsing and picking up Chivas Regal and a bottle of wine with "a pretty label"; and we had people looking for a good bottle of wine for dinner tonight. We also had people who would buy a case of Dom Pérignon at a time. It was pretty easy to tell in which "group" a person "fit."

                                                                        >>> So let's not give it to them? Every day I have customers express preference for the characteristics of specific wine by variety. That's their major frame of reference unless they've actually tasted the wine they're looking at and, even then, that's how they identify their likes and dislikes. Am, I missing something? <<<

                                                                        And don't they get their major frame of reference by the varietal that appears on the label? I agree that a Cabernet Sauvignon is different than a Pinot Noir, and that it's easy for a customer to -- broad generalization -- voice a preference for one over the other. But what happens when they discover that the wine is 75 Cab and 25 Pinot? Might be a great wine . . . they might LOVE it . . . but they'd never try it if they think they "hate" Pinot. Can't imagine a Cab-Pinot blend? Just substitute Merlot for Cab.

                                                                        >>> BTW...what is "Parker 98"? <<<

                                                                        In an ideal word? It's a term I would never have to hear again for the rest of my life!

                                                                        >>> I really don't want to belabor this much more. I'm actually not sure it's productive as we seem to be slightly off kilter somewhere. I understand you and you understand me, but we're missing somewhere/something in between. <<<

                                                                        Agreed. But all is good in the end . . .

                                                                        Cheers,
                                                                        Jason

                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          Once again we seem to be 10 or 20 degrees off center. Seems like we're talking about exactly the seem thing but, I think, seeing it in opposite perspective. Frustrating.

                                                                          I'm guessing that all of this changes a lot depending on where the customer falls on the knowledge and interest scales. I'd agree that hand-selling with descriptions and profile references is best. Maybe we should just leave it at that. ;o]

                                                                  2. re: zin1953

                                                                    I am not a student and reject the concept that to appreciate wine one must become one. I do not intend to run a wine shop, become a sommelier, or own a vinyard.
                                                                    You seem to read much more importance to the Varietal listing then I do. All I want to know is what grape is in the bottle, I can take it from there. I don't expect label to tell me anything more than the type of grapes used, no more, no less. I am not making any assumptions about quality, or how it was shipped or any of that.
                                                                    I find it interesting that you would oppose a law for labeling all varietal info because <<First, it isn't practical for any number of reasons. But more importantly -- to me -- is that the percentages are (on some level) meaningless.>>. Why is the content of your product not important to your consumer? I am not asking for trade secrets or in house recipies. I don't hear people questioning the Alcohol levels on bottles and yet that is a relatively new thing. Why does wine have to so mysterious?

                                                                    1. re: budnball

                                                                      "All I want to know is what grape is in the bottle?" If you get that without specific percentages, is that okay for you? Of course, you know that there's more to wine than variety of grape. But, to Jason's point, in some instances it would be IMPOSSIBLE to get you specific percentages.

                                                                      "I don't hear people questioning alcohol levels." Not exactly sure what you mean, but alcohol levels have to legally be on the label for wines sold in the United States.

                                                                      1. re: budnball

                                                                        Me thinks thou doth protest too much . . . that is to say, you seem to be a) getting upset, though that may be my interpretation of your comments, rather than your intent, and b) taking these comments to an extreme never intended . . .

                                                                        >>> I am not a student and reject the concept that to appreciate wine one must become one. I do not intend to run a wine shop, become a sommelier, or own a vineyard (sic). <<<

                                                                        No one said a college degree was required, or even suggested that it was; and trust me, no one here thinks you're going to run a wine shop, become a sommelier, or own a vineyard. So, perhaps we can stick to the points at hand, rather than clouding the issue.

                                                                        Most people who seek out different wines to try, rather than repeated buying (e.g.) KJ VR Chardonnay, do so out of a curiosity and a desire for discovery. No one has suggested you enroll in classes, but -- to MY way of thinking -- that curiosity and desire makes you a student OF SORTS: you want to discover what you like, and what you do not, and (for example) you have already concluded that 30% Sémilion in a White Bordeaux is about your limit. (>>> I'm finding that any more than 30% Semillon makes the wine a bit "oily" <<<) Ergo, you are already learning things about your palate, and thus (again, to *my* way of thinking), you are on a journey of discovery.

                                                                        >>> You seem to read much more importance to the Varietal listing then I do. <<<

                                                                        You lost me there. I have no idea what you mean. Sorry.

                                                                        >>> All I want to know is what grape is in the bottle, I can take it from there. <<<

                                                                        And don't American varietal wines tell you just that?

                                                                        >>> I don't expect label to tell me anything more than the type of grapes used, no more, no less. <<<

                                                                        But since all that is required is what variety accounts for no less than 75 percent of the wine, aren't you (almost) always disappointed? I mean, the number of labels out there that give you a complete, 100 percent list of the varietal composition of a wine are but a tiny fraction of what's in the marketplace.

                                                                        >>> I am not making any assumptions about quality, or how it was shipped or any of that. <<<

                                                                        Again, this clouds the issue and presumes people have said that you WERE making those assumptions. I don't recall anyone doing so.

                                                                        >>> I find it interesting that you would oppose a law for labeling all varietal info because {{{First, it isn't practical for any number of reasons. But more importantly -- to me -- is that the percentages are (on some level) meaningless}}}. Why is the content of your product not important to your consumer? <<<

                                                                        OK, so let me ask you a question: are you reading my posts, or just skimming them? I ask because I quite clearly (or so I thought, at any rate) explained WHY requiring 100 percent varietal content labeling is difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, I've actually done so twice in this thread. Rather than repeating myself for a third time, may I respectfully suggest you go back and re-read one of the posts already containing such an explanation.

                                                                        Also on this site, I have told the story about the then-ATF's proposal for ingredient labeling. What follows is from a post I made two years ago:

                                                                        /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                                                        3) Also keep in mind that the government has, from time to time, tried to force ingredient labeling on wine. The last serious proposal was to force the labels to read something like this:

                                                                        WINE: grapes, water, sugar, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                        It was pointed out to the ATF (this was before the ATFE/TTTB split) that, under their own regulations it was illegal to add sugar and water to wine made from Vitis vinifera grapes.

                                                                        WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                        The California wine industry pointed out that many people drink (e.g.) Brewer's Yeast for its potential health benefits, and that while it was true yeast did ferment grape sugar into alcohol, there was no actual yeast in the waine, and it would be false to claim there was.

                                                                        WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                        Then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chimed in and said that if indeed there was enough sulfur dioxide in the wine to truly act as a preservative, they would have to declare the wine "Toxic to Human Health."

                                                                        WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx x xxxxxxxxxxxx.

                                                                        /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                                                        Now I include that here to illustrate that not even the Feds find labeling easy.

                                                                        But more to the point in terms of grape varieties . . . if a jar of grape jelly says "Concord Grape Jelly" on the label, is it 100 percent made from Concord? What variety of strawberries is used in that jar of "Strawberry Preserves"? What kind of peaches are in that jar of jam? I don't know; I'm just asking.

                                                                        Just so I can understand YOUR position, let's take four bottles of dry white wine, *all* labeled "Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc."

                                                                        -- The label on Bottle No. 1 has no added information as to grape content than that.
                                                                        -- The label on Bottle No. 2 has the added information that the composition of the wine is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.
                                                                        -- The label on Bottle No. 3 carries the additional information that the wine is 82 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 18 percent Sémilion.
                                                                        -- The label on Bottle No. 4 tells you the wine is 82 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 11 percent Sémilion, and 7 percent Viognier.

                                                                        What does that tell you about the wines? about what to expect?

                                                                        No, no -- I'm being quite serious. What does that additional information tell you about what that wine will taste like?

                                                                        >>> I don't hear people questioning the Alcohol levels on bottles and yet that is a relatively new thing. <<<

                                                                        What is "a relatively new thing"? Again you've lost me. Placing the alcoholic content on wine labels has been MANDATORY since 1933 and (I think) it was required prior to Prohibition as well. And if you don't think people question the alcoholic levels of wine, you haven't been reading *this* site, let alone very many publications.

                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/470749
                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/401172
                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/521878
                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/814529
                                                                        . . . and so on.

                                                                        Again, from a previous post of mine, this one from 2007:

                                                                        /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                                                        (F)or wines sold in the U.S., labeling the alcoholic content of a wine falls into categories. These are based not upon quality, but upon taxation.

                                                                        "Table Wine" is defined as wines containing 14.00 percent of alcohol by volume or less. Wines in this category must declare their alcohol content on the label in one of three ways: 1) By printing the phrase "Table Wine" on the label; 2) by printing a range of numbers (e.g.: "11-14% alcohol by volume") on the label; or 3) by printing a specific number on the bottle (e.g.: 12.5% alcohol by volume).

                                                                        Keep in mind that, for wines 14.00% alcohol by volume (often abbreviated as "alc. by vol.") and below, the specifc number on the bottle must only be accurate within +/-1.5%, with a "hard ceiling" of 14.00%. That is, a wine labeled "12.0% alc. by vol." can, in reality, actually contain between 10.5% and 13.5% alc. by vol. A wine labeled "12.5% alc. by vol." can, in reality, actually contain between 11.0% and 14.0% alc. by vol. BUT, if a wine is labeled "13.5% alc. by vol." can, it will contain between 12.0% and 14.0% alc. by vol. -- that's the "hard ceiling."

                                                                        Above 14.01% alc. by vol., there is a +/-1.0% tolerance, with a "hard floor." A wine labeled "14.2% alc. by vol." may be anywhere from 14.0% to 15.2% alc. by vol.; a wine labeled "15.6% alc. by vol." may actually contain anything between 14.6% and 16.6% alcohol, etc., with a cap at the next level where the tax rate changes.

                                                                        So while I certainly agree far too many wines are far too high in alcohol, it's good to remember that what you read isn't always what you get . . .

                                                                        /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                                                        It may be good to remember that EVERYTHING on a wine label has a built-in tolerance, a "fudge factor" if you will, in order to make making wine possible. For example, one has to keep wine barrels either completely full or completely empty of table wine, or the wine will spoil. Thus, winemakers "top up" barrels all the time. But what if there is no more 2017 vintage wine to use for "topping." Well, US law permits up to 5 percent of the 2018 vintage to be used *without* losing the ability to vintage date the wine. So seeing "2017" on your wine label means that at least 95 percent of the wine was made from grapes harvested in the calendar year of 2017. What's the other 5 percent???

                                                                        OK, so now you know the vintage isn't guaranteed 100 percent accurate, the varietal content isn't guaranteed 100 percent accurate, and the alcoholic content isn't 100 percent accurate . . . what about the producer?

                                                                        Well, if the label reads "Produced and Bottled by Jean Deaux Winery," then Jean Deaux crushed, fermented, aged and bottled it . . . well, at least 75 percent of it anyway.

                                                                        If it reads "Made and Bottled by . . . ," then Jean Deaux made it, right? Well, at least 10 percent of it.

                                                                        If it reads "Vinted and Bottled by . . . " or "Cellared and Bottled by . . . " or any number of other designations, it means they bought the wine.

                                                                        Wine isn't that mysterious. Not at all. But in order to know that Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape and St.-Émilion is a region, you have to learn it -- the same as you had to learn that the brake pedal is to the left of the gas pedal, or that Scotch Bonnet peppers are hot while bell peppers are not . . .

                                                                        Cheers,
                                                                        Jason

                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          So believe nothing that is on the label because it is all bull? Is that the message?

                                                                          My mistake on the alcohol dating.

                                                                          By the way, these Sauvignon Blancs are making my red wines taste too sweet when I go back to them, but that is a whole 'nother thing.

                                                                          Oh and I would be more inclined to try bottles 3 and 4. To me the whole point of the blend is to smooth off a bit of the SVblanc's acidity, or minerality. And give it some depth, but hey that's just me.

                                                                          And like I said, this is what is working for me, now. Next year who knows. But it is mostly a fun journey so
                                                                          Cheers!

                                                                          1. re: budnball

                                                                            You DO tend to take things to extremes, don't you?

                                                                            No, if -- and it's a BIG if -- if one can distill that all down to a single catch-phrase, I'd say believe what's on the label, but understand what it means . . . and what it doesn't.

                                                                            1. re: budnball

                                                                              "So believe nothing that is on the label because it is all bull? Is that the message?"

                                                                              Not sure where that came from? In most wine-producing regions, there are certain laws, but they DO differ. So it becomes an "it depends" situation.

                                                                              Even with regards to Vintage Port, the most highly regulated wine on Earth, there are major differences - take the 1994 Taylor-Fladgate and their "cousin's" wine, the 1994 Fonseca. Both come from the same "allowable grapes," and from quintas near each other, but they ARE different wines!

                                                                              The world of wine is not black, or white. It is many, many shades of gray, and to try and distill it to extremes, is like jousting at windmills - little will be accomplished in the end.

                                                                              Hunt

                                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                                              As the thread has gotten quite long, and there have been some odd tangents in it, one thing that I do not recall seeing discussed (ignore me, if I am wrong there) is that varietal, while useful, is not the end-all-be-all, when it comes to wines.

                                                                              Let's think locally (US, and then California), and take one varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon. Compare a Napa Cab (if it was 100% Cab) from, say To Kalon (Beckstoffer Oakville), Sullivan (Rutherford), Milat (Oakville) and then Hafner (Alexander Valley, Sonoma). All are California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, BUT each is different. Heck, take Diamond Creek's four vineyards, all within sight of each other, Red Rock Terrace, Gravelly Meadow, Volcanic Hill and Lake. Those are each different wines, in the same vintage!

                                                                              Now, let's go to France, and take the different vineyards in Bordeaux, plus add in another four varietals (often a fairly set formula, or maybe variable), and knowing the exact varietals in that year's blend, is not that big a deal. One is talking about the place where the grapes grew, plus the winemaker's vision for the wine.

                                                                              That does not even factor in Jason's observation, that there ARE also "field blends," due to plantings over the decades, or centuries.

                                                                              Knowing varietals, and percentages (as much as is known) is not a bad thing, BUT it does not address the final taste profiles of the wine - too general to know, unless one knows much more, like the winemaker, and any "house-style."

                                                                              In the end, it is the wine, and not the parts, that accounts for one's enjoyment..

                                                                              Hunt

                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                No argument from me. ;^)

                                                                    2. re: Midlife

                                                                      For this part of an "education," I would suggest that one look into the varietals of each region, whether France, Spain, Portugal or Italy.

                                                                      Because of the strict laws, there can only be certain varietals used, in the regional wines.

                                                                      As Jason mentions, were this conversation on a Euro-board, the question would be, "how can America have Cab, Chard, Sauvignon Blanc, Zin, Merlot, and many other varietals, from the same region? Do they NOT have laws?"

                                                                      Personally, I like having a chart of the various varietals, in my Euro-wines, but that is not all that common. Heck, it's not even common with US blends, under a proprietary blend. One has to search for that blend, in that year. Sort of like Cain Five only having four possible grapes in some vintages. Should they have called it Cain Four?

                                                                      Just some observations and thoughts,

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                2. In the age of the Internet, it strikes me as somewhat anachronistic to complain about "obscure" (to an American) French wine labels and needing to spell out varietal information on the bottle. For instance, if I'm not familiar with Vouvray, all I have to do is to go to Wikepedia to learn that it is Chenin blanc though the obscure and minor grape Arbois is permitted but rarely used. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vouvray_...

                                                                  Now what I wish which would be helpful to me is that retailers selling online listed not the varietal of the imported wine, but rather the importer. If I could search their inventory by importer that would greatly simplify my wine buying. The larger online retailers such as K&L do let you search by grape, so if I do a search for example for the grape Chenin Blanc, Vouvrrays and Savennieres will come up, as well as California wines using the chenin blanc grape. But as Jason points out, I actually know more about what the French Chenin Blancs will taste like than the California wine, since both Vouvray and Savennieres have a unique terroir.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: omotosando

                                                                    The varietal info is also provided more often here in France now.

                                                                    If you don't see it, and you don't know the wine, just move on.

                                                                    I often say that I don't taste the labels, but I am always interested in the composition of blends. I know the preferred grapes, and here in the south of France most wines are blends.