Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it

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How do you select your wine?

Price is the first consideration but after that? By the year, region, producer? Well, usually it is by the grape variety, something that we take for granted but is actually a fairly new development. 

Traditionally we bought by wine by region. In fact, if you ask many Europeans which grape variety a red Bordeaux is or a white Sancerre, they wouldn’t know. They may know that a red Bordeaux is full bodied and rich and a white Sancerre is fresh, dry and light but the grape variety is not stated on the label, so often not thought of. 

This takes full advantage of the notion that wine has a sense of place and is therefore sold on the region’s name.
This is all well and good and France, Italy and some of Spain still label wine this way.

Some regions don’t even allow the grape to be named on the label. But what about us, the consumer? Doesn’t that make it incredibly complex, prohibitive and a bit snooty? After all you have to learn all of the regions and their nuances. 

Enter the New World of wine. Since the 70s and thanks to the Americans, we now label our wine by variety.

And doesn’t it make it easy. We can say, ‘I like a sav, but I don’t like a chardonnay. Or ‘shiraz is bit heavy, I’ll have a pinot’. Easy. It’s like buying apples, each type giving you different flavours and textures.

Ay, there’s the rub. To say ‘I don’t like chardonnay’ is simplifying wine. Central Otago makes very different chardonnay to Hawkes Bay and then when you throw in the wonderful examples from Argentina, South Africa, California, Chile and the home of chardonnay, Burgundy, France, the statement ‘I don’t like chardonnay’ sounds a little bit silly. Have you tried them all? 

So the French were right after all. To a point. Let’s not forget that we also have the region on our bottles though much less specific. 

While it’s always better to make wine accessible, to fully appreciate wine and to get the most out of it, some learning is required. Each region will have its own take on a grape variety. 

So don’t bag pinot gris until you’ve tried the French Alsace version and Italian ‘pinot grigio’. If riesling is a bit sweet for you, try the Australian or Austrian dry versions. If Australian shiraz is a bit heavy, try New Zealand’s elegant Syrahs – same grape, different expressions.

See more at Paul Tudgay’s Wine Down site

Paul Tudgay is the Queenstown Resort College business hospitality manager, a part-time wine appreciation lecuturer and fulltime connoisseur