Behind the label

When most people buy wines in a shop or supermarket they rely on labels to help them decide if the wine is right for them or not. Front labels are all about marketing and drawing the eyes in to get people to buy. Millions are spent each day by wine companies hoping to capture your attention and cash. That could be from a catchy name, funny picture, interesting brand or a combination of all.

The back label contains a snippet of information and a description that will always say the wine inside the bottle is amazing. The usual descriptions tell you that this wine is soft, delicious, fruity, and will change your life.

The reality is very different as we all know.

You will never see a bad description or a description that says this wine is boring, harsh, thin or nasty. Even though in many cases that is exactly what the wine tastes like.

Buying by grape variety is not an exact science either. Cabernet Sauvignon for example can taste like green bell pepper and harsh from some countries and like the most beautiful blackcurrant juice from others.

Most people do not realise that any single variety wine sold in the UK only has to have 80% of that varietal within the bottle and the other 20% can be mixed up with all sorts of cheaper grape juice. This isn’t the case with higher priced wines but is prevalent in lower priced wines where the need to cut costs at any length is paramount.

This is seen so many times with Pinot Grigio where the majority of Pinot are blended with Garganega, Inzolia or Chardonnay. Many of these varietals are actually the main grape used but because lot of people have never heard of grape varietals such as Garganega or Cataratto Lucido and think they are growers names or places.

The next issue is what is used in the wines production. In the USA there is a huge movement to include all of these in the back label but in many mass produced wines this would mean a label that would be as long as the bottle!

So how do the supermarkets and shops still manage to sell wines at prices like £5.99 when the government duty alone is £2.60 before a single drop is put into the bottle!

The answer is in cutting all costs to an absolute minimum.

In the past wines were produced and bottled at origin but now many wines are shipped in huge containers to the UK and then bottled in the thinest bottles possible. The labels are low quality and the corks/nomacork/screwcaps are too.

The boxes the wine is kept in are also the cheapest available and the wine is made to be palatable and acceptable. No thought is given to vintage variation, terroir, individuality, story or history.

Many things are added to make these wines more palatable to the UK wine market. A great example is a well know Australian red where 16 spoons of sugar are added per bottle to make this truly dreadful wine appear to be drinkable. And this is a huge selling wine even though it cripples most people the next morning and does their waistline no favours at all.

Brand loyalty is fine to a certain extent but some well know wines are made to an exact recipe and contain juice bought in from many countries. This ensures consistency in each and every vintage but you are missing the beauty of wine and it’s vintage variations. Drinking these wines can make wine boring and it shouldn’t be like coca cola!

The practise of adding juice from multiple countries is used in the majority of mass produced wines but can also be used in better wines. The Primitivo and Negroamaro juice from Puglia used to be sold to Bordeaux and the Amazon growers as they needed a high alcohol wine with high fruit concentrate. They couldn’t get this with their wines in many years so they just added Primitivo from Puglia to bump up the flavours and alcohol. Luckily nowadays the Puglian growers have realised they have a high grade wine and have had superb success internationally with their wines. Many of the lesser growers still sell their juice to other countries though.

Labels will never tell you the true story and it often takes a lot of research to find out what a wine is actually made of.

Burgundy is a superb example where many bottles don’t even have a back label and the complex inheritance laws of this region mean that you can own a single row of vines in a Grand Cru vineyard and label your wine as grand Cru even though the majority of the juice is often from a lesser growing area within Burgundy. This is why this particular region in France is a minefield and provenance and grower knowledge is of the highest importance.

So how do you know what you get and who to trust. The simple fact is you don’t, this is the big elephant in the wine tasting room and one that most retailers will never admit to. So why not email us for the best advice on choosing the right wine for you.