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French wine labels


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#1 chefzadi

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 02:57 PM

This seems to turn off a lot of wine drinkers. How much do you think that the old world labeling system versus the new world varietal based labeling system has hurt the French wine industry. It seems most non-Francophones are comfortable throwing around names like Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay etc... But they get stage fright when it comes to French names (yes I know those are all French words, I mean the names of the villages or chateaus, etc) . I would imagine that this is more so with the growing mid and lower market customer. And yes I think that there are some very drinkable French wines that compete with Costco prices for New World brands.

I've always thought that the simplest step forward in marketing French wines to Americans for example would be to put a damn sticker on the bottle that mentions the grape variety or blends used.

Your thoughts, observations are eagerly anticipated.

Edited by chefzadi, 15 February 2005 - 02:59 PM.

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#2 Eric Asimov

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 09:15 PM

You know what? You're absolutely right that Americans are not initially comfortable with French wine labels, nor with Italian, Spanish or Austrian labels, to say nothing of German.

What does this mean? Aside from the language difficulties, it sets at odds two completely different ways of thinking of wine. The European way, for the most part, associates specific wines with specific places. No need to call a wine "pinot noir.'' All red wine from Burgundy, practically speaking, is pinot noir. When you get a red Burgundy, you know what you're getting.

You can't say that about American wines. Get a red Napa wine and what is it? Cabernet? Merlot? Syrah? Pinot? Zinfandel? It could be any of those and more. The thing is, Americans have not been making wine long enough -- centuries for the Europeans -- to know what grows best where. This knowledge will slowly accumulate and, global warming notwithstanding, the day may come when you order a Spring Mountain wine, and you'll know its a Napa cab. But not for a while.

I will say that for true enjoyment of wine, a certain amount of homework is necessary to get maximum enjoyment. Nobody wants to hear this, but it's true for wine just as it is for any other area. If you're really interested, it's fun to learn the rules of different countries, one by one. For more casual drinkers, maybe it's too much effort.

The downside is the increased use of "Yellow Tail'' -style merchandising in an effort to make foreign wines more accessible to Americans. I think, in a small way, it helps people get past an initial intimidation. But the cost is mass-produced wines that make a virtue of innocuousness instead of wines that have a real sense of place.

#3 chefzadi

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 09:31 PM

But Eric, the French have been last in line to use "yellow tail" merchandising. They are still debating this. In the meantime we are losing market share, we are "dumping" surplus wines (good stuff). Terroir (sense of place) can only thrive as long as the farmers and winemakers can at the very least meek out a living.

Burgundy wines, you know what you're getting, I know what I'm getting. But faced with this label (in a way the most confusing and the most precise, depending on who is doing the reading) doesn't it turn off a large part of "bread and butter" market share?
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#4 Bux

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 11:12 PM

The French are catching up in term of marketing wines like the new world in the Languedoc, where you find vin de pay wines with the name of the grape prominently displayed on the label. They've even got the "yellow tail" syndrome going with brand names. I've seen Ribit Red and Arrogant Frog labels, unless those were on the same bottle. I've just seen a white wine from a respectable (previously respectable?) producer, being sold under the brand name of "Attitude." In what may have been a typo or sheer homage to to the name, it was advertised on the circular that arrived in the mail as on sale for $12.49, but regularly selling for $10.99. Now that's an attitude.

Many older wine drinkers decry the loss of terroir or just the loss of variety with the new brand name wines that seem to have no character, but I think Eric hits on what may be an even bigger loss. It's not as much fun to drink these wines as there's nothing to learn about them. Traveling in the provinces of France, it was fun to discover a wine I wouldn't see in the U.S. I remember drinking a vin gris or a vin d'oignon (for the color of an onion's skin) in the north of Burgundy. It was crisp like a Chablis and I had it with my first andouillette. I'm going to guess it was 35 years ago and I haven't seen it again. I wonder if it's still made. Let others drink Meursault and Le Montrachet, I thoroughly enjoyed discovering Michel Guérard's refreshing Tursan. I was about to say that wine is becoming a brand name beverage like beer, but beer is actually becoming regional again.

I was lucky I suppose to be able to do a bit of traveling in France as I was learning about wine. French wines were my geography lessons. Burgundy was such a funny place. All the towns were named after wines. Actually that's not as backwards as it seems. Most of the towns in Burgundy did attached the name of the most famous vineyard to the old town name with a hyphen, so all the wines of Pulingy and Chassangne took on the mantle of Montrachet. Let's not pretend the French didn't know a thing of two about marketing in their day.
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#5 chefzadi

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Posted 16 February 2005 - 08:21 AM

I think that I might have been unclear about labels. I meant that an additional tag (even hanging off the neck of the bottle) would help. I don't want to see the terroir based labels go. I don't see it as an either or situation.

I saw a bottle of French wine at Traders Joes labeled with the just the variety. I think that there was a single line mentioning the region. On the back it said distributed by Trader Joe's. :sad: Does it have to come to this before other options are considered.
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#6 Boris_A

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Posted 16 February 2005 - 12:28 PM

But, for example, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where 13 varieties are allowed to be blended in the assemblage, which one should be printed on the label? I must say I absolutely dont' care if in a certain vintage a wine is dominated by Mourvèdre and in another vintage by Grenache.

Most Bordeaux (assemblages) are pretty much like those "Napa Meritage Red" or "Walla Walla Valley Red".

With others examples, I think the variety is almost meaningless. For example, Syrah or Shiraz is a kind of a red variety chameleon. You can have all kind of Syrahs in very different aromatic profiles.

There is some "double labelings" now (mostly with vin de pays), but for me, it's more a sign of a growing number of consumers who are concerend more with the label/technical data than with the wine itself. How about residual sugar levels or pH-value?
Maybe the French should add a small label tag on the backside of the export bottles with the percentage of the varieties indicated. It would be mostly meaningless statistics, but harmless as well. :wink:

Edited by Boris_A, 16 February 2005 - 12:29 PM.

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

#7 chefzadi

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Posted 16 February 2005 - 12:47 PM

We've all pretty much established ourselves here as having more knowledge about French wines than the average bear. :raz: I've given a few lectures on French wine and food to novices and have found that the first thing that gets them into the comfort zone in knowing which varietals are in the bottle or used predominantly in the area.
"Oh yeah, I'va had a pinot noir before or I didn't know Chablis is made from Chardonnay. I like Chardonnay!" Again I'm talking about more beginner wine drinkers, just to get them into the comfort zone of trying. And this market is one that French winemakers really need to tap into so that they don't end dumping huge amounts of surplus wine.

Yes Boris a little tag would be mostly meaningless, but harmless as well, but I think it make it easier to sell to a rather large segment of the market. Vin de Pays is good place to start. :wink:
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