Rod Byers: A wine trend outside the bottle
The start of a new year always generates stories about trending foods, fashions and fads. Over the years I have written about new wine packaging, alternative bottles and quirky gadgets. This year I want to write about a trend that isn’t happening, but should be, more informative wine labels.
The label is often the gateway to the purchase of the wine. Most people, before even going into the store to purchase wine, know how much they intend to spend and typically the varietal they intend to buy. Unless they are unusually brand loyal, they look at all the choices in their range. That makes the label the gateway.
Selecting a wine can be complicated. As much as we profess a fondness for certain varietals, it is often the style of the wine that we like. Find a different variety that replicates your style and you will like that wine as well.
If you enjoy rich, oak-infused Chardonnay, and you try a barrel fermented Chenin Blanc produced in the same opulent style, you will like it, even if you claim to dislike Chenin Blanc.
Conversely, if you find your favorite varietal produced in a different style than you expect, then you likely won’t enjoy it as much.
Labels could be more helpful with that.
LABEL DESCRIPTIONS LACKING
Sadly descriptions of the wine found on many back labels are seldom illuminating. Talk of warm days and cool nights, flowery descriptors, or artistry and dedication to craft can only take you so far.
How often do you read a back label and find little connection to what’s in your glass?
The geographic locations listed on the bottle are confusing as well. The location that looks more like an address, usually found on the back label, only says where the wine was bottled and whether it was produced at that site or just bottled there. It says nothing about where the grapes are from.
To find that information you need to look directly above or below the type of wine it is. Known as appellations, they are required to be there. The biggest catchall category is California, grapes grown anywhere in the state. More restrictive is county, most specific are American Viticultural Areas or AVAs.
That is important information but again, doesn’t say much about the wine.
TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE WINE LABELS
So what could a label do to be more helpful?
There are interesting things going on with temperature sensitive wine labels. Taylor Wines (taylorwines.com.au) released a wine label with a temperature scale on it and specific brackets pinpointing the perfect temperature for that wine. The neat trick is that the label shows you the current temperature of the bottle so you know which way and how much to move it.
It’s true, enjoying wine at the proper temperature enhances the flavor. Taylor found too many of their customers were drinking their whites too cold, usually straight from the fridge, minimizing flavor.
Even when you’ve found the right temperature, you still don’t know what’s in the bottle.
A better solution and one that could be implemented almost immediately and at practically no cost would be to put a scale on the back label describing the wine’s style.
Winemaker Scott Harvey (scottharveywines.com) started doing that on his back labels in 2008.
“We started with the ends of the scale saying ‘100 point judging style’ and ‘Food Style.’ In the 2009 vintage, we changed it to ‘New World Style’ and ‘Old World Style’,” he explained.
Harvey recognized that Zinfandel came in a wide range of styles. He cited Seven Deadly Zins as an example of the new world style: ripe, jammy, higher in alcohol, lower in acidity. Harvey produces Zinfandel in an old world style: less extracted, lower alcohols, higher acidity, and he thinks, more food friendly.
“I want the customer to be able to get the type of wine they like to drink. I don’t want them buying my wine, expecting the new world style and being disappointed. The scale lets them know and helps them in making their wine selection decision.”
Think of it like the thermometer on the can of peppers telling you how hot they are.
Different wines could use different scales. Some whites would register dry to sweet. Others whites would span light to full-bodied. Reds could use different variations of light-bodied to full-bodied.
Uinta Brewery (uintabrewery.com) takes it a step further putting four scales on their label including hops, malt, body, and color. It gives you a really good idea of the style and what the beer is going to taste like.
What if you have no idea what the flavors of malt or hops are, or no clue what old-world versus new-world means?
“We are always explaining it,” Harvey said, “but they grasp the concept quickly. We get a lot of positive comments from people that are looking for lower alcohol, higher acid wines. So, I think it is helping sales.”
Anything that makes it easier for people find the kind of wine they like is a good thing, and maybe some day, a trend.
And if you insist on a trend for 2017 that you will find, look for hard seltzer, bottled water with alcohol. It’s a thing.
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. You can find information about his wine classes at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.
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