Keep it Real, Please

Old habits die hard, but die some of them must. An old wine industry habit whose time must surely be running out, is the permitting of a varietal wine to contain up to 15% juice different to that which is stated on the bottle. This means that a wine sporting Cabernet Sauvignon on the label only has to be an 85% Cabernet, with the rest of the bottle legitimately be made up of other varieties. Elementary, my Dear What-the-Fek…

This weird law falls under the auspices of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). So being a French body, the reasons for its existence are dense, murky and bureaucratic.

But whatever the explanations are, they cannot have a reason for existing in today’s world.

First up, if there is one thing that gives the story of wine substance and credibility, it is the talk of nature and purity; of unhindered craftsmanship and simplicity. Diversity of grapes, regions, soils, sunshine and aspect. Honesty in production and uniqueness in origin within the product range.


Yet in all this, a wine audience has to make sense of a product purporting to be produced from one grape variety, while simultaneously accepting that the end-product can legitimately be adulterated with a variety different to that what is read on the label.

That stunning Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc, laden with the winemaker’s inspirational descriptions of “varietal character”, “terroir-driven individuality” and “cultivar expression” is worth diddly squat if the wine is bumped-up with 15% Shiraz or Pinotage. I know – I’m sometimes into wine PR and have to communicate this stuff.

The allowed mongrelisation of single-varietal wines really has no place in the plethora of channels driving the wine story, one based on authenticity and that perceived unadulterated simplicity. It diminishes the value of Brand Wine. Not to mention diminishing the value of blended wines which proudly state, for example, the muscular influence a paltry 4% Petit Verdot has when added to a Merlot.

Hiccup number two for dropping this law is the changing face of the consumer. More informed, vocal and challenging than ever, what is the average wine drinker to make of the situation where the wine he or she has purchased is not all Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc, but 15% Shiraz or Colombard respectively?

I’ll bet my last sardine that if a litre of labelled cow’s milk was found to contain 15% undeclared goat dairy there would be a public outcry of grandiose proportions.

Whatever the reason for the 15% leeway is, surely it is time to go. Personally, if I want a Cabernet Sauvignon, I want and expect 100% Cabernet. If I am willing to veer off the pedigree route, I’ll choose a blend of Cab and something else myself rather than letting the producer do it for me in an undisclosed manner.

Old and tradition is good in wine, but sometime you’ve got to get with the programme.

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