A few posts ago I posted a question about how important the use of varietals on the label was. Andrew replied:
"Important. Various reasons but mainly as an indication to the novice (even the intermediate) on what to expect. A Pinot Grigio is different to a Chardonnay. Having said that how many could tell the difference between a New World Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon?"
Good point. I was following a specific train of thought and ignoring some other important issues.
If a particular producer has several different wines, made from different grapes in the same region, then of course it makes sense to label them as such if only to differentiate one from another. If I happen to want to buy something from "Montana", it matters whether I pick up a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling.
However, my "beef" (argument / issue / hang-up) is with the "tyranny" of varietal labelling in principle not simply as a differentiator, but as the main sales cue.
Producers from well established regions in France and other parts of Europe, are being told that one of the reasons they cannot sell their wines is that they don't list the constituent varietals on their label.
The issue is, for example, would the label "Chenin Blanc" be any useful indicator for a novice consumer of Savennieres? Would the blend of Carignan, Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache really enlighten a potential consumer of St. Chinian? In either case the consumers might get a shock.
What I wanted to get at is that if we restrict the entry level wine education to learning the "basic" grape varieties it is very difficult to broaden people's horizons beyond the usual suspects. It also makes selling blends more difficult (when these might actually be more approachable for beginners).
Most importantly, it perpetuates the dominance of "New World" brands that can market whatever varieties they want or are popular. If they can extend their range to include anything the consumer might recognise, why should the consumer look to a lowly regional European producer whose local laws and limited access to vineyards only allow him or her to plant one or two?
This question is almost too broad for a blog, so I apologise for the length and the ranting tone. However, I think that if we could address this issue we would see a way for a re-energising of quality wine sales that would benefit producers and consumers alike. Wouldn't that be worth it?