Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What's in a name?

Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Rhein, Napa, Mendocino, Willamette, Yakima, Long Island, Finger Lakes.

~Each of the above is the name of a place where wine is produced, and the wine is uniquely identified by the general style of wines dictated by the type of grapes, the climate or a combination of the two.

Some of the above names have major currency while others have no particular currency with wine geeks. But that is not the issue of this post—wine geeks are generally followers; it is usually a matter of time and the discovery of some critic before wine geeks are awakened. That is why other names—names of famous winemakers or producers—remain in the news; after these names develop currency, the wines are priced out of most people’s range and usually out of the range of the wine’s deserved value. But this post is not about that—it is about place names.

~Frankly, I assumed that by now, with the reported growth in wine interest and sales in the United States, plus the supposed learning curve of wine knowledge in the country, that the subject of wine place names would no longer have to be addressed. But I find that even some daily wine drinkers do not know that Chardonnay is a grape and Chablis is not the name of an American wine.
~It almost pains me to have to report, as I have been reporting for twenty years, that Chardonnay is the name of a grape, and, because it is produced in so many styles, Chardonnay is not necessarily the name of a wine. Plus, Chablis, the real stuff, is produced from Chardonnay, but not in the United States.
~Recently, the European Union and the United States came to an agreement that the Europeans have been pressing to reach for decades. In the future, names like Chablis, Burgundy, et al., names of European places where wine is produced under strict regulations, will no longer be allowed use on American wine labels. (Another major offending wine nation, Australia has also agreed.)
~It is about time. Perhaps, after a decade or so, Americans will finally come to understand that names like Hearty Burgundy or California Champagne are an abomination, akin to a French wine producer labeling his wines Napa Valley or Finger Lakes.
~Maybe one day all American wines will stand on the merits of their own location and style rather than some standing on the merits of deservedly recognized European places. It’s going to take at least a decade for this to happen, first because people are generally slow to change; second, because the EU agreed to a so-called “grandfather” clause that allows that American producers who had been misusing European place names before the agreement can continue to do so. These producers will stop doing so on their own accord after enough time has elapsed for the general consumer to finally understand the reason behind their use of the names, which is not savory.

To a related subject: on the Internet Wine Lovers Page a recent discussion ensued concerning the word claret.

~Claret is a British word that is now but hasn’t always been used to identify red wines from Bordeaux. Generally, few people have any idea concerning the word’s etymology—there are a number of wine writers from the past who have tried to enlighten, but few people in the present either don't care to be enlightened or simply aren’t.
~In any event, the Bordelais, the producers of wines of Bordeaux, as far as is discernable, have never referred to their wines by the name claret. With that in mind, the question is: whose name is it, and what is its legal standing?
~Unlike the word Meritage, which has little meaning but is trademarked and so has legal standing, claret belongs only to British wine consumers. It is not the name of a place and it is not a trademark. It has no legal standing.

The word claret may have developed a few hundred years ago from a particular French wine of a similar name, but it is uncertain how it came about plus, it appears the wine in question was not a Bordeaux red. Our own Bob Ross has promised to post the results of his research on this word. Sit tight. Bob’s in no hurry…

~While I am on names, do you know how many wine grape varieties grow on this earth?
~I am told about 10,000 wine grapes exist (I am also told that Italy alone is host to about half that number).
~With 10,000 wine grape varieties grown worldwide, why is it that we generally hear and read about a few dozen at best?
~I shall take up that subject in a future post.
~In the meanwhile, check out these links for a combined discussion on claret and Meritage, and for the EU/US place name agreement: claretage, EU/US,

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
January 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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