February 14, 2011

A Name Game

Generic Name

    A ‘jug wine’ bearing the name of one of the classic Old World wine regions.

For decades Canada and a few other new world wine regions have been producing and selling huge quantities of low-end wines that infringed on traditional and legally protected European wine names. In 2003 Canada and Europe signed an agreement that would see the end of generic wine names in Canada. What’s bothersome about this agreement is the 10-year horizon. Generic wines are made predominantly by huge wine conglomerates that regularly churn out new names and new labels for their low-end wines. So why do they need 10 years to switch the few names that are applied to some of the worst wines available?

You can still find these wines on store shelves, principally in Ontario, the US and Australia. Borrowed names include champagne, port, sherry, chablis, burgundy, ‘sauterne’, chianti, and a few others. Usually the only resemblance these wines have to their namesakes is colour. For example, California chablis is usually made from a very cheap grape whereas true chablis is 100% chardonnay. Canadian sauterne is an interesting interpretation. It’s a dry white wine whereas Bordeaux’s sauternes is a prized sweet wine. And aside from being low end, the wines are banged into shape using any winemaking technique that is legal -- including additives – and are the vinus equivalent of no-name bologna.

The one problem with phasing out the European wine names is that it leaves port- and sherry-style wines out in the cold. The name port, for example, is well understood and has been used to describe these wines for decades. Once it becomes illegal to use these names, fortified wine makers will have to get creative to find a new way to refer to these wines generally. (I know of a wine called ‘Starboard’ but that’s perhaps too esoteric.)

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