Wine labels that mean less

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Embroidering wine labels with terms like exclusive, reserve, private collection, limited release and single vineyard is a cunning way of adding perceived value to wine without necessarily doing so. Adding value should mean giving you something extra. But what value does piling on the verbiage add?

At least the New World has helped decode the label by adding the grape name to their wines, whereas the French, to their cost, have held out against doing so. The Tapiwey really does smell and taste refreshingly of sauvignon. But terms like reserva and single vineyard borrow from the European tradition to add a false sense of kudos.

In some parts of Europe, the words "riserva", or "reserva", bring with them a legal minimum ageing period, but by and large its overuse has debased the coinage. European producers might use a single vineyard name to denote a location whose characteristics have been recognised over a period of time. The Vigna del Sorbo, for instance, in the 2001 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva (around £28.95, Bennetts Fine Wines,01386 840392; Noel Young Wines, 01223 844744; Reid Wines, 01761 452645) is a genuinely great, modern sangiovese-based chianti whose soils and southerly vineyard exposure bring richly concentrated, textured dark cherry fruitiness to this wine. With no such history, a single vineyard could be a vast block of young vines.

The term "old vines" is another offender, suggesting a wine with a level of concentration and quality derived from venerable, low-yielding old vines. A reputable producer such as California's Seghesio distinguishes its genuine old vine zinfandel from other bottlings because the grapes for the wine come from vines planted between 40 and 100 years ago. In the 2002 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel (around £23.50, Bacchus Wine, 01234 711140; Bennetts Fine Wines; Noel Young Wines) you can taste that intense black cherry fruit richness with its pepper and spice. The problem is that there's no legal definition, so "old vines" are only as old as the first vine they planted.

Europe's wine producers have resisted the New World's labelling freedom and winemaking flexibility, and as global competition hots up Europe is currently taking more steps to prevent Californian producers using strictly defined appellation names such as chianti and chablis. As a trade-off, it's more willing to allow the New World to bandy about amorphous terms like "château", "clos", "ruby", "sur lie" and "vintage". The irony is that California, and other New World countries who have had to promise not to use the European appellations, no longer need European traditions. Why would they want them when the marketing of appellations is so out of touch with the new world of wine?

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