Wine News: one helluva Merlot,, French wine strikes and England the new Champagne

Wine News: one helluva Merlot,, French wine strikes and England the new Champagne

While the week comes to an end, it is getting time for some wine news from the Internet: the miscellaneous, the bizarre, the enlightening. Let's start with Spar. 'Spar' means 'save money' in German (and, as I understand, also in several other languages such as Dutch, Danish or Norwegian) and I always took it for a smallish continental food retailer, until I found out that it actually is one of the world's largest. Maybe it is this international aspect of the business that has convinced Spar to go local with regards to wine. In the UK, Spar is now selling wines with the labels translated, well, not into English, but into regional dialects. While I could spend quite some time to ridicule this move, I will just quote the Guardian's short article on the subject:

So instead of a straightforward plain English description of what you might find when you pour yourself a glass, if you are in Somerset you get this: "Alright my luvver, eers one helluva Merlot. Be stinkin hummin a sivvies thar be bleddy ansome wi yaw croust or oggy. Purfect ta share wi yaw pardy as i' aiin ta eavy. Mygar be a purdy wine! Churs!"
While in Liverpool you are promised: "A totally boss bottle of Merlot which smells o' blackberry, choccie, a brew and toffees. Juicy and complex like, this bevey is top wi most scran 'specially me ma's scouse. Tellin ye, this is deffo a bevey that will leave youz and youz mates made up over yez Sayers pastie."
As well as being borderline unintelligible, the descriptions also include what might be considered baffling wine-speak, albeit with a regional accent. In Newcastle consumers are told the wine has "legs leik a thoroughbred", while in Scotland the label describes "a youngane's colour wi cherries an black fruit on the nose" – if you can't understand that in English, is it really any clearer now?

Interestingly, Spar's wine controller is quoted saying that ultimately Spar's wines will speak for themselves - judging from the few I had from Spar I think a better and more eloquent move would be to just sell silly wine labels. I would actually buy a few, my luvver.

While Spar is going into comedy, another large retailer has made a very different decision. A couple of weeks ago have announced that they will stop all plans to sell wine in the USA, effective immediately. I do not know very much about the US wine business, but it seems that there is an insane amount of regulation that, for instance, keeps out-of-state retailers from selling wine to most US states. There are also a few other legal oddities in the US wine business that may amuse or sadden you.

While the Americans indulge in wine federalism, the French do what they always seem to do when unhappy: go on strike. It seems that on average wine growers' incomes have dropped between 22-35% in 2008, with some regions even hit worse by the recession. This is obviously hard, but I still have my doubts that more state regulation or intervention in the agricultural sector really is the answer. The French, however, are also upset about other issues, such as having to print the calorie count on wine bottles. I can understand that having a colour-wheel with calorie, salt etc. levels on the front of a wine bottle would be very annoying. On the other hand, I strongly support information on calories on all sorts of packed food and as long as it could be a small print on the backside of the bottle I doubt this would really diminish my enjoyment of wine too much. Looking at the log files of the Wine Rambler site I see that my post on calculating the calorie count of wine is still one of the most read, so there is definitely some interest.

While the French go on strike, the Chinese tiger is ready to jump into the wine business. Or not quite, Jordan Calinoff argues in the Global Post. While China apparently has become the world's sixth largest wine producer, almost all its wine is consumed domestically, which, in the light of a population uneducated on wine, seems to lead to a focus on very cheap, low quality wine. Calinoff also writes about the Chinese climate, that is a challenge in itself for producing good wine.

There is another wine making country that has (or perhaps had, thanks to global warming) some climate issues: England. The Independent features an article on the English wine business that gives a nice overview. Apparently, there are now

'416 vineyards and 116 wineries with an average annual production of around 2 million bottles. This figure is set to grow, due to a 50 per cent increase in vine planting in the past four years. The vineyards extend all over southern England to Cornwall in the South-west and as far as York in the north. Parts of the South-east share the same geological strata as classic wine-producing regions such as Chablis and Champagne.'

While the English South-east dreams of becoming the new Champagne, the Austrians do appear to be quite happy to just be themselves, as the Gault Millau has chosen the best Austrian wines of the year. The Blaufränkisch and Grüner Veltliner grapes dominate the top five red and whites, with a Gelber Traminer (2008 Spätlese by Giessauf-Nell) being the top white - a grape I have never had a chance to taste. Yet.

A grape the Wine Rambler has look into a lot recently is Silvaner (celebrating its 350th anniversary in Germany this year). It seems we are not the only ones noticing that this grape variety is underrated. The Wine Dude has just published a post praising Silvaner, but also calling it an untimely grape. As it now is time for me to move on to something else, I will conclude with a quote about untimeliness in wine:

The problem is that Silvaner, in the words of Jancis Robinson, "is not a wine for our times." This is because Silvaner does not exhibit bombastic flavors and aromas. Instead, it more subtly transmits the terroir in which it’s planted.

Cheers to that!

Submitted by Julian Thursday, 05/11/2009

Although always sceptical of corporate wine marketing, I enjoyed the dialect wine descriptions immensely. But you're right of course: It's not wine marketing that should have regional character, but the bevey. Because blackberry, choccie, a brew and toffees sounds as bland a red-wine taste in Liverpool as anywhere else. Tellin ye...