The wine heads (how does one become a “wine head” anyway?) of the European Union and the United States have finally resolved a 20-year argument over naming wines. Without getting into too much winespeak, the new “Wine Accord” basically says that US wineries will not use established European place names for generic wine labels (such as “chablis”, “burgundy”, “chianti”, or “champagne”) .
The Accord is a step in the right direction, however it is completely worthless due to a ridiculous “grandfather clause” that allows current US labels to continue using the generic names. In other words, Gallo will still sell “Hearty Burgundy”, Korbel will continue calling their bogus sparklers “champagne”, and there will still be jugs of mountain “chablis” littering the shelves of wine shops in the United States.
The casual wine drinker probably cares less what the US labels say—especially those that drink from jugs and boxes—but in the grand scheme of things, this issue really should bother wine consumers of all levels.
For the non-geek, the issue in a nutshell goes like this: in Europe, to put “Champagne”, “Chablis”, “Chianti”, “Burgundy”, or any other place name on a label, a winery MUST follow very strict guidelines in the making of that wine. There are any number of regulations for each region, but for a simple example, a white wine labeled as “Burgundy” must contain 100% Chardonnay grapes grown within the Burgundy region of France. So if a bottle has 2% Sauvignon Blanc, then you can’t call it Burgundy—because that little bit of Sauvignon has made it something else.
Some may say this is nitpicking … I think it is crucial. After all, what would you think if Chevy started marketing a 4-cylinder SUV as a “Rolls Royce” ? What if Omaha Steaks started selling a cut called “Argentine Beef” or “Australian Prime”, when in fact it came from Nebraska? Would you feel cheated? Lied to? Scammed?
It’s essentially the same thing with “Mountain Chablis”, only worse, because the majority of the population thinks “chablis” is a cheap white wine — when in fact real Chablis is an exquisite, expensive wine. Likewise, Americans have been led to believe that any sparkling alcoholic beverage is “champagne”. And have you ever seen the look on a person’s face when you give them a glass of white wine from Montrachet and tell them it’s Burgundy? “Are you nuts,” they respond, “this isn’t even red!” Suffice to say, this practice of using legitimate names for illegitimate marketing purposes has effectively dumbed down a nation, and destroyed the reputation of respectable, high quality wines.
For years, Americans have been miseducated about wine with these generic names being bandied about. And the ignorance will continue as long as Korbel is allowed to sell “champagne” and the jug wines can be labeled “chablis” or “burgundy” based on their color.